Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 2015
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2015 The Tribune Co.
Page: 8A


The proposal to give only civil citations to juveniles for possessing 
marijuana may sound reasonable, but Hillsborough County officials 
should be skeptical.

Unless accompanied by rigorous safeguards, a civil citation program 
will likely result in more drug abuse and more crime.

Don't be misled into thinking pot use is a frivolous crime.

As Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee points out, drug use is the 
common denominator to most crime.

Or as Mark Cox of the State Attorney's Office says: 'Most all the 
serious crime we see is related to drugs, and almost all the drug 
abuse started with marijuana. ... When you talk about stopping drug 
abuse, [having offenders] picking up cans is not going to help.' To 
discourage drug use, marijuana offenses should bring immediate 
consequences that convey to the young offenders that drugs are 
dangerous and illegal.

This does not mean locking up the kids. But there must be 
accountability, which is provided in the county's program.

Juvenile offenders are assigned to a drug court, where they must 
undergo supervised drug treatment, counseling and automatic drug 
tests. Charges are dropped if the youths successfully complete the program.

This is hardly draconian.

Gee says, 'We force kids to see reality. We take our best shot at 
getting them off drugs.' Even so, advocates of the civil citations 
say the juveniles still retain an arrest record, a legitimate 
objection, but one that could be easily remedied if the state would 
change the law to automatically seal the record when an individual 
successfully finishes the program.

This approach treats juveniles fairly but also ensures, as Gee puts 
it, that they are not given a pass for an offense that too often 
leads to terrible future choices.

It is notable that Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober, who 
recently drew attention for saying he was open to a civil citation 
program, essentially has the same view as Gee.

Cox says Ober would consider a civil citation program only if it 
includes the drug evaluation, testing and treatment measures found in 
drug court.

Nobody wants to see kids stuck with a criminal record that will 
damage their education and job prospects. But a simple change in the 
law, supported by Gee and Ober, would remedy that.

Ensuring treatment and oversight after a pot arrest is better for the 
offenders and society than signaling juveniles that drug abuse is no big deal.
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