Pubdate: Fri, 18 Mar 2016
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Tribune Co.
Author: Christopher O'Donnell


Civil Citation Would Be Option for People With 20 Grams or Less

Fines, rather than arrests, now will be the approach for people found 
in possession of small amounts of marijuana after the Tampa City 
Council on Thursday gave final approval to a new law that downgrades 
the offense to a civil citation.

Council members voted 5-1 to adopt the ordinance, which gives police 
the option to issue a fine for adults found with up to 20 grams, 
roughly three-quarters of an ounce, of marijuana. The new law is 
expected to go into effect in a few days, once signed by Tampa Mayor 
Bob Buckhorn, who supports the measure.

City leaders say it will prevent offenders from being saddled with 
the lifelong stigma of a criminal record that can hinder job, 
scholarship and housing opportunities. They also hope it will free 
the resources of police and courts.

It also comes at a time when there have been increasing calls to end 
incarceration of nonviolent offenders. Under state law, possession of 
up to 20 grams of marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable 
by up to one year in prison or probation and a $1,000 fine. Offenders 
can lose their driver's license for up to one year, making it tough 
to keep a job.

The new city law would fine people $75 for a first offense. That 
rises to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 for 
subsequent violations.

The decision to issue a civil citation will be made by the officer. 
People also could be charged for possession if they are suspected of 
other crimes, for example.

At least half a dozen Florida communities, including Miami-Dade and 
Palm Beach counties, have adopted similar laws. St. Petersburg began 
issuing civil citations for juveniles in early 2015 for first 
offenses for misdemeanors including marijuana possession and is 
considering a similar policy for adults.

Tampa's program is opposed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's 
Office and members of the Hillsborough County Anti Drug Alliance, who 
attended the public hearing at Tampa City Hall on Thursday.

"It really is a dangerous drug," said Anti Drug Alliance member Ellen 
Snelling, who said her daughter is a recovering addict. "It's much 
more potent than back in the '70s. This is not your daddy's pot."

Members of the group also criticized the city for not mandating drug 
counseling or education for people who are fined. They want Tampa to 
emulate Leon County, where offenders who are cited must undergo 
assessment, put in some community service hours and access drug use 
intervention services.

"You need to please rethink this," said Teresa Miller, a volunteer 
with the group. "Drug use impacts any person's ability to get a job 
far more than an arrest."

Council members, who have debated the issue three times previously, 
only responded to one speaker.

"We are not talking about legalizing marijuana," Councilwoman Lisa 
Montelione said. "We are talking about decriminalizing a certain 
amount of marijuana."

Councilman Harry Cohen, who previously voted for the new law, was 
absent from the chamber at the time of the vote.

The lone nay vote came from Councilman Charlie Miranda, who did not 
comment Thursday but in earlier meetings questioned why there is no 
limit on the number of citations a person can receive.

Close to 1,900 arrests made by Tampa police last year included 
charges of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Not all those 
arrest would be eligible for a citation since some were accompanied 
by other charges.

In other news:

Tampa's bid to host another Super Bowl will include the 2021 event, 
Tampa chief of staff Dennis Rogero told the council on Thursday. The 
city already is in the running for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls 
alongside Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in conjunction with Hillsborough County, 
are planing up to $100 million in upgrades to Raymond James Stadium, 
in part to boost Tampa's chances of landing the event.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom