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Mark Ober isn’t keen on Tampa’s move to decriminalize possession of pot

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Just in case anyone thought otherwise, Mark Ober wants people to know he works hard at his job as Hillsborough County State Attorney.

“It is a full-time job,” he told approximately 80 people who attended the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee meeting Tuesday night at MOSI in North Tampa. “I live and breathe the office of State Attorney, and I need your help.”

Ober is finishing out the last year of his fourth term as Hillsborough County State Attorney, and he’s now running for a fifth four-year term that would begin in November.

In those previous 16 years, he’s encountered little serious opposition, but he may have a serious Democratic challenger for once in the person of Andrew Warren, a former federal prosecutor who has shown a talent for raising campaign contributions to date.

But it was Warren’s charge last week that Ober had been ripping off taxpayers by not showing up to work that has drawn the most attention to his campaign.

Warren’s public records request for Ober’s schedule in March revealed that the State Attorney had only used his key card to enter into his office five times — information that Ober said was worthless since he can enter and exit his office without using it during business hours

On Tuesday, Ober emphasized that he has something that Warren desperately lacks — experience.

“There’s no substitute for experience as a State Attorney,” he said, adding that he’s tried over 250 jury trials in his legal career.

Ober is not a fan of the recent move by the Tampa City Council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to decriminalize the possession of marijuana — or the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Floridians will vote on this fall. The city’s measure would cite offenders found to be in possession of 20 grams or less of pot with fines beginning at $75. Second, third and fourth-time offenders would have to pay correspondingly higher fines, with the last being $450.

Ober said the ordinance is already causing problems because the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Dept. and the Florida Highway Patrol have not altered their laws, and will continue to arrest people caught with smaller amounts of pot.

“We need to teach responsibility, and not turn our head one time, two times, three times because it is contrary to the well-being of our community,” he said.

Regarding medical pot, Ober said he was worried about the distribution of the substance. “What happens when a caregiver gets it lawfully …. and what happens by the time I get home. Do I make it home? We have with our youth, enough distraction.”

During a brief Q&A, Ober was also asked about North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom law.”

That’s the bill recently signed by NC Governor Pat McCrory to pre-empt a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgendered people to visit the bathroom facility corresponding to their gender identity. A similar bill proposed by Miami Republican Frank Artiles died without going very far in the Florida Legislature in 2015.

Ober said he had heard about the bill while driving earlier on Tuesday, but seemed uncertain on how to opine. Though he claims to never pass the buck, he did this time, asking his questioner, “What do you think about it?”

“The world has changed since I was at Gates Elementary School,” Ober ultimately surmised. “That’s all I can say about it.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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