Broward County has joined the trend in reducing penalties for minor marijuana possession, following that County Commission’s unanimous approval. Civic citations instead of arrests can be given for the possession of marijuana less than 20 grams (0.7 oz).
The new regulation, which according to County Commissioner Dale Holness, should become effective by the end of the year, offers different tiers of civil citations depending the number of possessions. However, an offender, if caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana, could face arrests if he was found driving under the influence, or in a violent act.
For the first offense, the offender will receive a $100 fine, the second offense a $250 fine, and the third $500 fine. After the third offense, the perpetuator will be subject to arrest. Offenders caught with less than 20 grams for the first and second time will be offered the option to do 8 hours of community service. Under the new regulation, third-time offenders caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana will be assessed for marijuana addiction, and may be placed in a drug treatment program.
By offering offenders citations, these individuals will not incur damaging criminal records – which was a persuading point for the commission, concerned of the major job obstacles such a minor offence would create, particularly for young people.
Holness said he had advocated that after the third offence, “the offender be placed in a drug treatment program, instead of being arrested,” but that position was overruled.
The new regulations were also supported by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, and Florida’s State Attorney Office.
Miami-Dade County has already reduced the penalty for small quantity of marijuana from arrests to civic citations. The Palm Beach County Commission is also scheduled to vote on the measure in December.
Percy Carson, a Broward legal-aid attorney, says his department has had to address several cases in the past involving young people arrested for small quantities of marijuana. He welcomes the Broward County Commission vote, but says he’s still concerned about how the new law is going to be carried out by police officers.
“Police will still have the discretion to offer a citation or arrest an offender,” says Carson. “Who will determine during a stop if the quantity of weed is less than 20 grams? How will this quantity be measured? The county commission has done its job. Now the county police, and officers of respective city departments must ensure these citations are given without dispute or malice.”
Carson said he’s also concerned that the new regulation is not binding to every city in the county.
“A city can opt out of this regulation,” says Carson. “There should be some way it’s binding to all the cities in the county.”