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.