Broward Could Approve Fines for Marijuana in the Coming Weeks

Miami-Dade recently approved a measure to fine pot users rather than arrest them. Broward County may be next.
Miami-Dade recently approved a measure to fine pot users rather than arrest them. Broward County may be next.
Torben Hansen via Fickr Creative Commons

Miami-Dade took the first step this week, making it a civil offense to be caught with marijuana.  Broward County Commissioner Martin Kiar is confident Broward isn't far behind. 

"I give Miami-Dade a lot of credit," Kiar tells New Times. "I had no idea we had the authority as commissioners to do this until Miami stepped up and did it."

The new Miami-Dade measure, passed Tuesday, will allow Miami cops to issue a citation to anyone caught with 20 grams of pot or less. The person cited will also have to pay a $100 fine. This replaces jail time and a permanent record.

Kiar says the idea came to him mainly because he has seen and known of "good people" unable to shake the stigma that comes from having a pot arrest on your permanent record. 

"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 says. "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, not have their lives ruined over this."

Buoyed by Miami-Dade Commissioners Sally Heyman and Daniella Levine Cava's measure, Kiar proposed a similar law for Broward County, and last week, Broward commissioners discussed the issue. Kiar says he got full backing from his fellow commissioners and feels confident they will pass their own version of the ordinance.

"Just about every single person on city commission has been supportive. It’s a bipartisan piece of legislation," he says. "And that's great news."

A major selling point for some of the other commissioners was that an ordinance like this could ease taxpayers' burden. Kiar sees the measure having multiple positive effects.

"There are a lot of reasons this is good policy," he says. "We pay millions of taxpayer dollars for overcrowded jails; police have way more to do than to arrest people on misdemeanor pot possession. This could save taxpayers in our county. It's incredibly positive across the board."

The one concern commissioners brought up in discussions is the way the measure would be enforced.

"The concern is that some higher-income areas will be policed different than lower-income areas," Kiar says. "And that's a legitimate concern."

The fear is that while people in higher-income areas will get fines, those in lower-income areas will be put under arrest, and commissioners want to make sure the measure covers everyone equally. Kiar says the commission plans to gather data and other information to help it navigate those complicated waters.

For now, the Broward commissioners are on break until early August, when they plan on taking up the measure again to try to get it pushed through. Miami's commissioners' getting the measure approved is a good sign that Broward will do likewise.

Before the break, Kiar and the commissioners requested the county attorney to draft an ordinance so they can dive right in to the issue as soon as the break ends. 

"There's something inherently wrong with people's lives being ruined over misdemeanor arrests being on their record," Kiar reiterated. "So we're going to get right on it as soon as we meet again in August."

Palm Beach County is also considering a lesser-charge-for-pot ordinance after commissioners agreed to look into possibly drafting a measure. County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor is spearheading that exploration by echoing London and Kiar’s thoughts that arresting someone for minor pot possession could potentially ruin someone’s life and lead to a burdened legal system.

Two weeks ago, Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London also proposed a similar ordinance that would have law enforcement officers issue a civil infraction for anyone who would normally be arrested on a minor possession charge.

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