Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2016
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2016 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Skyler Swisher


It's the latest turn in a clash between the sheriff and county 
commissioners over whether deputies should give citations to those 
caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has said he has no plans to 
use a commission approved ordinance that lets deputies issue a civil 
citation, instead of a criminal charge, for possession of less than 
20 grams of marijuana. A citation would be similar to a traffic ticket.

Now, a newly completed analysis by county staff estimates the expense 
that comes from jailing small-time offenders instead of ticketing them.

 From 2009 to 2015, Palm Beach County taxpayers spent $1.1 million to 
jail people whose most serious offense was having a small amount of 
marijuana, according to the county's Criminal Justice Commission. 
That comes to an average of $158,856 a year.

County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said she wants to withhold money 
from the sheriff's budget to offset the cost of locking up marijuana 
offenders instead of issuing tickets.

"We should not be paying for something that we've already said we 
don't want to see happening," she said.

The Sheriff's Office is reviewing the report to verify if the numbers 
are accurate, Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the agency, wrote in an email.

Bradshaw is the only sheriff in South Florida who has taken the 
position of not using such a marijuana-civil-citation ordinance, as 
local government boards across the region move to loosen pot penalties.

In a recent radio interview, Bradshaw defended his decision.

Most people caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana (about 
three-fourths of an ounce) are given a notice to appear in court and 
avoid a trip to jail, he said. Going to court connects them with drug 
treatment, and they have an opportunity to wipe the offense from 
their record if they follow the proper steps, he said.

Under the county ordinance, passed by the commission in December, 
offenders would pay a $100 fine to settle the matter, and it would 
not be placed on their criminal record. Citations can be issued only 
twice under the county's ordinance, and repeat violators face arrest.

County researchers examined jail booking data from Jan. 1, 2009, to 
Dec. 31, 2015, factoring in the estimated daily cost of $135 to house 
an inmate to produce the cost estimate.

Almost half of the people jailed for low level marijuana offenses are 
black, according to the report. Blacks make up about 17 percent of 
Palm Beach County's population, according to the 2010 census.

An analysis in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union found 
blacks are nearly five times more likely than whites to be arrested 
for marijuana in Palm Beach County, despite national surveys showing 
they use marijuana at about the same rate as whites.

This latest report demonstrates marijuana citations would save 
taxpayers money, said Mark Schneider, president of the Palm Beach 
County Chapter of the ACLU of Florida.

"If the economics of the issue alone do not cause the sheriff to 
reconsider his rejection of the commission's ordinance - and other 
communities to adopt something like it-the racial disparities in 
enforcement certainly should," Schneider said.
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