“Just say, ‘No'” could turn into “Just say, ‘No big deal'” when it comes to marijuana in Palm Beach County.
Possessing a small amount of marijuana would become a minor infraction instead of a criminal offense under a proposal Palm Beach County officials on Tuesday agreed to explore.
The idea is to allow law enforcement officers to issue civil citations, similar to traffic tickets, instead of filing criminal charges when someone is found with a small amount of marijuana.
Miami-Dade County officials are already considering a similar measure, and Palm Beach Countycommissioners agreed to allow their attorneys to look into the idea for future consideration.
County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said that arrests for marijuana possession that put people in the court system too often snowball into other legal problems, making it harder for people to get jobs and creating other long-term consequences.
“It just elevates and elevates to something worse,” said Taylor, who pushed for the county to look into alternatives to criminal charges for marijuana.
Marijuana possession is considered a criminal violation of state law and someone caught with the drug is typically issued a notice to appear in court or is taken to jail depending on how much they have, said Mike Edmondson, spokesman for thePalm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.
Probation or drug treatment are the mostly likely punishments for first-time or low-level offenders, he said.
A civil citation, which results in a fine, isn’t considered a criminal charge and doesn’t generate a criminal record, according to Edmondson.
“It really is just backdoor decriminalization,” Edmondson said. “It keeps [people] out of the criminal justice system completely.”
Across the country, marijuana has been growing in acceptance to help treat medical ailments and has even been approved for recreational use in some states.
Miami-Dade County’s proposal calls for possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana to be punishable by a $100 fine under a civil citation that could be issued as an alternative to a criminal charge.
Broward County Commissioner Marty Kiar this month proposed considering a similar measure.
The Palm Beach County Commission didn’t commit to trying to make changes to drug laws, but chose to only look at options. Trying to create a local civil citation alternative to marijuana charges would still require public hearings.
Taylor, a former state legislator who is running for Congress, has long pushed for helping people find jobs when they leave jail. She said reducing punishments for marijuana possession “could certainly help” reduce the number of people that end up in the court system.
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