While we all dream of legalization throughout the nation – heck, throughout the world even – the best that many cities can manage for now is decriminalization. If they can manage that, then at least they are doing their part to encourage marijuana reform on a higher level.
Tampa has now joined Miami-Dade and Broward Counties as the first places in Florida to take steps towards reform. The Tampa City Council has finally voted on a new law that would decriminalize possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana. Rather than facing arrest, probation or jail time and fines, those in possession of small amounts of marijuana now face a civil citation, similar to a traffic ticket, and a fine.
Currently the law states that possession of 20 grams of less or marijuana is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The defendant will almost certainly have a record – if not a conviction, then an arrest will still show up in background checks which can be a long-term problem for many people.
“What we’re attempting to do is put a stop to that pipeline to prison that affect so many of our young people, especially our young people of color,” Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said.
Now police will have the option – and are encouraged – to hand out the civil citation instead of arrest. The fine would be $75 for the first offense, $150 for the second, $300 for the third, and any citation from that point onward would be $450. This is definitely a step in the right direction for a state that is close to legalizing medical marijuana and has a ton of support for recreational use as well.
“Today we have an opportunity to do what’s right and what’s good for the citizens in this community,” Councilman Frank Reddick said.
The vote was 5 to 1, passing the law which now awaits the signature of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who supports the new law and is expected to sign. While the bill has a lot of support throughout the city (as well as from those of us outside the city, hoping our own will follow this example), there are always going to be those who oppose it who try and make a splash.
“It really is a dangerous drug,” said anti-drug alliance member Ellen Snelling, who said her daughter is a recovering addict. “It’s much more potent than back in the 70s. This is not your daddy’s pot.”
“Arrest is not the end of the world. My daughter was arrested; she went to juvenile drug court. She’s doing great today. She’s drug free,” Snelling said. “When somebody is using a substance that is addictive and can be abused, just paying a fine is not going to help them.”
The biggest problem I see with her statements are “arrest is not the end of the world” – because her daughter was arrested as a juvenile and went through juvenile drug court those charges will likely not follow her into adulthood. If she had been charged the day she turned eighteen that arrest would follow her until she could get it sealed or expunged.
That’s not even delving into the fact that marijuana is not an addictive drug and should hardly be considered a drug, but rather a healing herb. Though I will say she is right about one thing – a fine doesn’t fix addiction. Which is why for other drugs – crack, meth, heroin, and all the most dangerous substances – we should be offering, or even mandating, drug counseling – but arrest is never the answer.
My point is, I’m happy to see this law pass in Tampa and I hope that St. Petersburg, which is considering a similar law, decides to go in the same direction. This might not be the answer, but it’s definitely a better solution than putting all the stoners in jail among the murderers, rapists, robbers and all other types of hard-core criminals – don’t you think?