Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jan 2016
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2016 St. Petersburg Times
Note: Named the St. Petersburg Times from 1884-2011.
Page: A8


The Tampa City Council is right to explore ways to decriminalize 
possession of small amounts of marijuana by issuing civil citations. 
Council members should look seriously at the issue and adopt a 
measure that will appropriately punish lawbreakers without saddling 
them with criminal records as a similar effort continues in St. 
Petersburg and Pinellas County.

In a unanimous decision last week, Tampa City Council members voted 
to discuss the creation of a civil citation ordinance.

In February, the council plans to look at what other local 
governments have done and determine how to best move forward in 
Tampa. Separately, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said police and city attorneys 
have been working on a civil citation ordinance for eight months.

It could be ready for review within a few weeks.

Under that proposal, defendants would receive a fine of $70 for up to 
20 grams of marijuana.

Fines would increase with repeat offenses. Tampa is the latest 
Florida city to consider civil citations in lieu of criminal charges 
for marijuana possession. Around the state, from Key West to Alachua 
County, several local governments have passed or are considering 
civil citation programs.

In Tampa Bay, the city of St. Petersburg favors a civil citation 
program and has asked the Pinellas County Commission to consider 
implementing a countywide ordinance. The commission expects to take 
up the issue in the spring, and a county task force is working on a proposal.

There also is movement on the issue in the Legislature, where 
lawmakers will consider a bill that would create a state statute 
authorizing local communities to set up their own civil citation programs.

The action in Florida mirrors a national effort to reduce 
incarceration rates, particularly among young black men who are 
disproportionately jailed for low-level drug crimes.

Absent a federal or statewide civil citation program, local 
governments are right to move ahead with plans of their own.

As Tampa contemplates the way forward, City Council members should 
create a program that is appropriate without permanently staining 
offenders' records and leaving them vulnerable to rejection from 
potential employers, lenders and landlords.

As in St. Petersburg, Tampa leaders also should engage the 
Hillsborough County Commission to investigate the benefits of 
creating a complementary countywide ordinance. Tampa leaders also 
should study the challenges that have beset other cities, such as 
difficulty in collecting fines, and create a program that avoids 
similar pitfalls.

Without question, replacing arrests with civil citations for 
low-level drug offenses is a better option for nonviolent offenders 
who need a second chance.

Tampa is right to consider getting on board.

Other governments should follow suit.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom