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Times praises, Trib fears proposed Tampa pot ordinance

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Whenever you think Tampa is making strides to become a more progressive city, the Tampa Tribune is more than happy to wipe that thought out of your silly little head.

On Saturday, the Trib weighed in on the City Council’s consideration of an ordinance that would keep certain first-time marijuana offenders out of jail, accusing local lawmakers with “playing with fire.” The measure would allow anyone caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana to get a civil citation and $75 fine, instead of a possible prison sentence.

The editorial almost seems to be at war with itself; it admits that “current law is too harsh,” and the fact that a disproportionate number of those arrested for modest quantities of pot are minorities is “an understandable concern.”

“But signaling to the community that smoking pot is no big deal is almost certain to result in more marijuana use, which law enforcement officials know often leads to more serious drug abuse and other crimes,” the Tribune says. “It is fine to want to spare individuals a criminal record and legal costs, but this plan does not even hold repeat offenders accountable.”

The initial fine would be $75, which would escalate to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 for a fourth. “That is giving illegal drug users a lot of hits off the bong.,” the Trib writes, in an unfortunate attempt at attempting to be hip.

The editorial concludes that offenders should only get two offenses before….well, before, they don’t actually say what should happen after that, though jail time is apparently still in the mix.

Fortunately for those who like some diversity in opinion (and are swayed by editorials at all), the Tampa Bay Times also writes about the proposed ordnance today, and gets to the heart of the matter in its third paragraph:

To be clear: The measure does not legalize drug possession. But it does provide a more appropriate penalty — civil fines — for small-scale offenders. These people do not belong in jail. And arrests for small-time offenses can haunt defendants for life, putting jobs, drivers’ licenses and other opportunities and routine civic privileges in jeopardy.

So the Council can consider both editorials before they vote on the issue when it comes back before them on March 3. After having voted 6-0 to move the issue forward on Thursday, it’s apparent where they’re headed – despite Mother Trib’s fear that an affirmative vote “begins a pot experiment that could have dangerous and unexpected long-term consequences.”

It should be noted that whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U.

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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