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Miami-Dade set to consider marijuana civil citation program

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Getting thrown in jail for possessing pot in Miami-Dade County could soon be a thing of the past. A County Commission committee is set to consider a proposal that would give law enforcement the option to issue a civil citation rather than slap marijuana-users with a criminal charge.

The plan has support from the Miami-Dade Police Department. The agency even helped craft the proposal.

“This gives the option to go with a citation for those individuals that may have no record, or only a minor criminal history [and] stay out of the criminal justice system,” Miami-Dade Police deputy director Juan Perez told the Miami-Herald.

Under state law, local law enforcements and governments are allowed to treat some misdemeanors as civil offenses, but adding marijuana possession to that list has been controversial.

Civil citation programs for marijuana possession are common in the state for juveniles, but are not applied across the board.

Proponents of decriminalizing marijuana possession argue it’s a way to ease the burden on an over-populated prison system. Of the more than 100,000 prisoners housed by the Florida Department of Corrections, more than 16 percent were serving time for nonviolent drug offenses at the end of 2014.

If the Miami-Dade proposal is approved by the 13-member commission and given the green light by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, it wouldn’t necessarily mean all people in possession of pot would be let off with the $100 fine.

Police officers would still have the authority to make an arrest depending on the circumstances. The policy would also only apply to smaller amounts of pot. People found in possession of less than 20 grams – about a sandwich baggie-full – would qualify for a civil citation. Those carrying larger amounts would still be held accountable for criminal possession.

According to the Miami Herald, County Commissioner Sally Heyman is sponsoring the plan as part of a broader effort to decriminalize actions that tend to affect poor residents. In addition to marijuana possession, it also includes things like stealing shopping carts and loitering.

“It allows us to give someone a break,” Heyman told the Herald. “It doesn’t destroy somebody’s life because they smoked a joint at a concert or had a pipe in their pocket.”

The County Commission’s Metropolitan Services Committee will debate the plan next week. If it passes there, the full commission would consider the plan sometime this summer.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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