Will Broward County Decriminalize Marijuana? A Look at Changing Marijuana Laws
Posted on October 28, 2015 by Jeffrey FeilerMarijuana legislation has been a topic of great controversy in South Florida over the past few years. While 23 states, and the District of Columbia, have all legalized marijuana to some extent, in Florida state law, the drug remains to be decriminalized. The good news is, for residents of Broward County, marijuana legislation may make progress towards legalization: in the form of decriminalization.
On November 10, 2015, Broward County may become the next major county in Florida to pass an ordinance which "decriminalizes" possession of a small amount of marijuana. Florida's largest County, Miami-Dade has already passed a similar ordinance. Other municipalities passing like ordinances include Hallandale, Key West and Miami Beach.
What Is Decriminalization?
Decriminalizing marijuana means that you will not receive a misdemeanor or felony charge for carrying certain amounts of marijuana. However, the term "decriminalize" is not completely accurate for this situation. A county cannot preempt the State of Florida Criminal Code by passing an ordinance which effectively makes marijuana legal in their jurisdiction. What these ordinances actually do is give Police "discretion" as to whether to make a criminal misdemeanor arrest or instead to issue a civil citation, AKA give you a ticket.
What is a Civil Infraction?
A civil infraction is the equivalent of a traffic ticket for speeding. Civil infractions are punishable by fine and not jail, as is possible in a criminal case. This means the consequences of holding a "small amount" are much less severe, depending on the amount of the fine that such a ticket would charge.
How Much Is Considered a "Small Amount" of Marijuana?
Most ordinances pertain to quantities of marijuana less than 20 grams, or about three-quarters of an ounce. Criminal statutes make possession of less than 20 grams a misdemeanor as it is considered to be for personal consumption. Possession of more than 20 grams is considered to demonstrate the intention to sell marijuana, and becomes a felony offense.
Even in the situation where a police officer elects, in their discretion, to charge a person with a criminal misdemeanor rather than by Civil infraction, the Officer can still issue a (PTA) Promise to Appear in Court and does not have to necessarily take the accused into custody. If taken into custody, the accused should be able to post bond and get out of jail, however, the process may take many hours.
Why Should Broward Decriminalize Marijuana?
The Commissioners in Broward apparently favor passage of the ordinance for several reasons. Arrests tend to be more prevalent in low income areas and are racially imbalanced. These same folks who need help most risk losing housing and other benefits.
For anyone arrested, the stigma of having an arrest record can cost them their job and future opportunities. An interesting question will be, what policies will Police Departments formulate to guide their Officers as when to make an arrest versus issue a citation? This remains to be seen.
Also, tourists and vacationers who come to the city and wind up in trouble with the law may not have to spend their visit in jail. Now, in Florida when you come down on vacation, you don't have to go home on probation!
This is just one of the latest prospective occurrences in Florida's marijuana legislation, and a stepping stone towards a state in which marijuana is legalized. For the latest news about marijuana legislation in Florida, follow us on Facebook, or contact the Jeffrey Feiler Law Firm at (305) 662-5663 to begin your licensing process, today!