If passed, a new ordinance in Miami-Dade County, Florida, would give law enforcement the option to issue a fine of $100 to people carrying 20 grams or less of marijuana.
Currently, those found in possession of that amount face arrest and a misdemeanor criminal charge. The proposal was submitted by County Commissioner Sally Heyman, and has the backing of officials in the Miami-Dade Police Department.
In a memorandum addressed to Chairman Jean Monestime and members of the Board of County Commissioners, marijuana possession is listed with other minor offenses under Code Section 21-81(d), all of which would be subject to the $100 fine at law enforcement’s discretion. The new ordinance would allow law enforcement:
“The discretion to issue a civil citation and/or arrest or not arrest a person for commission of a misdemeanor and/or Code violation.”
Heyman maintains that this move, “allows us to give someone a break.”
The attempt to keep misdemeanor possession of marijuana out of the criminal system is part of a bigger plan to alleviate pressure on both low-income residents and law enforcement regarding certain types of minor offenses. At the moment, misdemeanor possession of marijuana can result in a maximum one-year sentence. Even if a person does not go to jail, he or she still needs to appear in criminal court. A civil citation would carry no such requirement. Other activities in the proposal include trespassing, littering and the illegal use of dairy cases.
Juan Perez, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, supports the proposal. One goal of the fine option is to free up law enforcement to focus on offenses that are more threatening to public safety. Officers would still have the ability to arrest a person carrying the misdemeanor amount if there was concurrent evidence of felonious activity.
Florida law already allows local police some discretion when making a call between what is regarded as a misdemeanor criminal offense and what may judged a civil offense. The commissioners are being asked to add marijuana possession to the list. The proposed ordinance appears to follow a shift in attitude nationally regarding the criminality of cannabis possession and use. Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have all fully legalized marijuana for recreational use.
The Metropolitan Services Committee will review the proposal first. If it is not vetoed by the Committee, all 13 members of the Board of County Commissioners will hear and decide later this summer. Mayor Carlos Gimenez will have final say should the commission pass the ordinance.