Broward County commissioners will finally take up a vote for a measure to decriminalize marijuana possession throughout the county on Tuesday. The measure, which was introduced by Commissioner Martin Kiar, had been in the works for some time ever since Miami-Dade County decriminalized pot possession in June. Since then, Key West and Palm Beach have passed similar measures. Hallandale Beach also decriminalized pot, becoming the first city in Broward County to do so. Kiar brought up the measure in July, but commissioners had to table it for several reasons.
Much like with the other cities that have passed the measure, the new ordinance would give Broward County police officers the option of either issuing a $100 civil citation to someone busted with 20 grams or less of pot, more filing a misdemeanor criminal charge.
The hope, Kiar says, is that officers will issue citations to both ease the burden of courts and jails, but also so that people's lives aren't wrecked over a small amount of weed.
"You know, when people apply for jobs or try to buy a home, they have to answer that question: 'Have you ever been convicted of a crime?'" Kiar told New Times. "And so many good people's lives have been ruined because they were arrested [for marijuana]. For me, the impetus behind the measure was over giving good people a second chance and not have their lives ruined."
One of the main things that had been holding back a vote has been how the ordinance might be policed.
The main point of concern is that, while people in higher-income areas will get fined, those in lower-income areas could be put under arrest. Commissioners want to make sure that the measure covers everyone equally and that police enforcement is fair across the board.
"The concern is that some higher-income areas will be policed different than lower-income areas," Kiar says. "And that's a legitimate concern."
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Kiar says the commission has been gathering data to get more informed on how to deal with that possible issue.
Under the new proposal, police officers will forego issuing the civil citation if the person caught with weed was also suspected of driving under the influence, was caught committing a felony, domestic violence, or a violent crime, or if the suspect happens to have a previous unpaid citation. Repeat violators would have to pay $250, or community service.
If Broward commissioners pass the ordinance on Tuesday, a public hearing will follow and be held on October 27, which would be the final hearing. Commissioners will also have to decide when the measure becomes official to give cities and BSO ample time to learn the new ordinance.
In Hallandale, for example, city officials designated September 19 as the date the measure became official, which gave its police department ample time to train officers in how it works and how to enforce it.