Pubdate: Sun, 23 Aug 2015
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2015 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Eliot Kleinberg


Staff Researches Idea for a Much-Reduced Penalty for Small Amounts.

WEST PALM BEACH - Palm Beach County is considering making possession 
of a small amount of marijuana a civil infraction - the equivalent of 
a traffic ticket - rather than a criminal offense.

But a number of issues need to be worked out in order for this 
approach to receive broad-based support or at least acceptance from 
law enforcement and the criminal justice system stakeholders," 
Assistant County Administrator Jon Van Arnam wrote in a memo Aug. 14.

Van Arnam's memo followed a meeting the same day with representatives 
of law enforcement, the courts, and the Palm Beach County State 
Attorney and Public Defender after County Commissioner Priscilla 
Taylor had asked county staff June 23 to research the idea for a much 
reduced penalty for holding just a little pot.

Among the questions raised at the meeting: Would only first-time 
offenders be eligible? Would rules be the same for adults and 
juveniles? What weights and quantities would be used to calculate the 
severity of the infraction?

And what about jurisdiction? State law always trumps local law, so 
any law enforcement officer always would have the right to prosecute 
under state law to the full extent, state attorney's spokesman 
Michael Edmondson said last Monday. One of the things being 
discussed, Edmondson said, would be to get an understanding from 
local law enforcement that they would be inclined to honor the lesser 
county criminal standard.

Van Arnam has suggested the county seek input from its Law 
Enforcement Planning Council and the Palm Beach County Association of 
Chiefs of Police.

He also has suggested the county invite staff from Miami-Dade County 
to a Palm Beach County Commission workshop to discuss a similar law 
that Miami-Dade commissioners recently passed. He did not suggest a 
specific date.

On June 30, MiamiDade commissioners set the option of issuing $100 
citations for possessing small amounts of pot. The option applies to 
possession of up to 20 grams of pot, about enough to fit in a sandwich bag.

A person still could be charged criminally for minor pot possession 
if the violation is in conjunction with a felony, violent crime, 
domestic violence incident or DUI.

Last month, West Palm Beach Commissioner Sylvia Moffett suggested her 
city knock possession down to a civil citation. The city of Miami 
Beach, Broward County, and the Keys' Monroe County also are 
considering decriminalization.

Currently in Florida, minor marijuana offenses are classified as 
criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a 
$1,000 fine. A violator is either arrested or required to appear in a 
criminal court.

Fifteen states and several cities have essentially decriminalized 
marijuana, and four more states have made possession of small amounts 
legal. In addition, about half the states in the U.S. allow medical marijuana.

Some 53 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, 
according to the Pew Research Center.

"I am hopeful that we will get an ordinance," Taylor has told The 
Palm Beach Post Editorial Board.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom