South Florida Makes Minor Moves On Marijuana Reform

Although Florida’s legislature failed to pass meaningful marijuana reform, and although the impending vote on medical marijuana in 2016 is more than a year away, reform still may be coming to the Sunshine State, albeit in small, incremental steps.

Two of Florida’s largest counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, are considering implementing two nearly identical measures that would allow law enforcement to punish marijuana possession with fines instead of just arrests. The proposed measures would not necessarily decriminalize marijuana, but rather it would give police officers the option of charging a $100 fine for possession of 20 grams or less.

In Miami-Dade, county commissioners on the Metropolitan Services panel voted 5-1 to give preliminary approval their county’s measure, with the final vote on the matter scheduled for June 30.

Under the Miami-Dade proposal, police officers would also be able to issue citations for other minor offenses such as loitering, shopping-cart theft, littering, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Broward County, officials are slightly behind in approving fines for marijuana. A vote is currently scheduled for June 23. If county commissioners approve the measure, a final vote would be scheduled for later this fall.

One of the biggest draws to approving quasi-decriminalization is the savings both counties would see from fewer arrests. According to the Miami Herald, approximately 24,000 people are arrested every year in Miami-Dade County for either marijuana or the other offenses covered under the proposed Miami-Dade ordinance.

While issuing fines may not be the most lucrative venture for the counties, keeping tens of thousands of people out of jail and the court system will be a huge boon to municipal budgets.

The most surprising thing about this move is that law enforcement in the area is overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal. According to the Miami Herald, the Miami Police Department actually helped draft the Miami-Dade ordinance and has been responsible for pushing the measure.

According to NBC Miami, the Broward County sheriff actually wrote to the county commission in favor of marijuana fines, citing the success of a juvenile citation program as an example of success. Even Sheriffs outside of Miami-Dade and Broward County have expressed support for similar measures.

“Generally speaking, I’d be in support of it, I’m just not sure I want to be the person carrying the torch,” said Monroe County Sherriff Rick Ramsay to “On face value, it sounds smart to me. I always want to give our guys and gals more discretion and allow them to use common sense.”

Obviously, giving officers the discretion to arrest or fine those with marijuana is not the most ideal reform measure, but it represents a positive step in the right direction. Attitudes around marijuana are slowing thawing in South Florida and measures like this are what will speed up the defrost time.

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