Pubdate: Sat, 05 Mar 2016
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Tribune Co.


It is disheartening to see the Tampa City Council move ahead with a 
risky plan to decriminalize marijuana use.

The council voted 6-1 Thursday to support an ordinance to issue only 
civil citations for possession of 20 grams or less of pot. Mayor Bob 
Buckhorn has indicated he supports the measure, so it's likely to go 
into effect soon after council gives it a second hearing on March 17.

We respect the council's concerns, but this overly lenient plan is 
likely to lead to more drug abuse and crime.

We have no problem with the city easing criminal penalties for minor 
pot offenses, but that can be done without essentially sanctioning 
drug use, which is what this proposal does.

It allows four offenses before there are serious consequences. A 
first offense would bring a $75 fine; the second, $150; the third, 
$300; and the fourth, $450. Only after the fourth citation would 
offenders be subject to the criminal justice system.

And 20 grams makes about 40 joints, which hardly suggests casual use.

As the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance points out, "Today's 
marijuana is 10 times stronger than in the '60s." The plant has been 
hybridized to strengthen its effects, making it "more intoxicating, 
more addictive and more harmful to developing brains."

As we've said before, council members shouldn't be faulted for 
wanting to give offenders a second chance. An arrest, requiring 
attorney fees and court costs, can damage one's finances and 
reputation, and ruin job prospects.

And as Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick points out, the majority 
of the 1,900 arrests in Tampa last year for possession of 20 grams or 
less of pot involved minorities.

This is troubling, but giving a civil citation for one or two 
offenses is a sufficient response. Allowing four offenses is excessive.

Are we doing offenders any favors by sending the message that 
repeated pot use is no big deal? Law enforcement officials know that 
for at least some individuals marijuana use leads to more serious 
drug abuse and other crimes.

The anti-drug alliance recommends that a civil citation require a 
drug education class, substance abuse assessment, and even 
intervention and treatment if necessary. That, of course, would be 
costly. But we bet it would be less costly over time than giving the 
community a green light to use drugs.

Council members promise to monitor developments and respond should 
crime increase, but it can be difficult to reverse destructive 
practices once they begin.

We wish city leaders would take the cautious approach, limiting the 
citations to just one or two offenses, in undertaking this public safety gamble.
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