Last July, the City Commission amended Chap. 42 of the City’s Code of Ordinances to give police officers more discretion when busting people caught with very small quantities of marijuana. Rather than arresting and hauling off to jail people found with less than 20 grams (less than an ounce), officers now have the discretion to, instead, issue a civil citation– like a traffic ticket. Rather than possibly ending up with a criminal record, these individuals would simply pay a $100 fine..
“The idea behind this new law is twofold,” said former City Commissioner Mark Rossi, who sponsored the amendment. “First of all, the new law gives officers the discretion to give a person caught with very small quantities of marijuana a second chance. The old policy has ruined a lot of lives. In addition, the new law should relieve some pressure on the court system.”
Proponents say this is a good idea. But the fact is that not a single drug-related civil citation has been issued so far. According to Alyson Crean, the Police Department’s Public Information Officer, the new program has not yet been implemented because the City Attorney’s Office has not yet formalized language for the new citation form. City Attorney Shawn Smith said there was a delay because of some miscommunication with the Police Department, but that has been fixed and the language for the new citation form was released from his office this week.
“In the meantime,” Crean said, “officers have been continuing to exercise the discretion they have always had to determine whether to issue a citation for possession of less than 20 grams or not.” But the citation that Crean is referencing here is not a civil citation– it is basically a notice to appear in court to face criminal drug charges. In a subsequent email, Crean clarified: “Officers have always had the discretion to NOT issue a citation of any kind. They also have the discretion to give the person the benefit of the doubt and merely confiscate the drug for destruction. The new law gives officers the added discretion to issue a civil citation to avoid criminal charges and an arrest.”
Asked about concerns that officers might enforce the new law selectively, Rossi said, “I hope that would never happen. The intent is that the law will be applied equally to everyone.”