On Tuesday, Broward County commissioners gave preliminary approval for an ordinance that would allow police officers to issue civil citations to anyone caught with 20 grams of pot, rather than filing criminal charges. The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with a final hearing next month to decriminalize marijuana like Hallandale Beach and Miami-Dade County did over this past summer.
Under the new ordinance, police officers will still file criminal charges if the suspect caught with weed was also suspected of driving under the influence, was caught committing a felony, domestic violence, a violent crime, or if the suspect happens to have a previous unpaid citation. Repeat violators would have to pay $250, or perform community service. Otherwise, a person caught with 20 grams or less of weed will be fined $100 for a first-time offense.
As it stands now for the majority of the state, a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Commissioner Martin Kiar, who proposed the ordinance in July, 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. He says Broward Commissioners have been onboard with the idea ever since he proposed it.
"Just about every single person on city commission has been supportive," Kiar told New Times before Tuesday's vote. "It’s a bipartisan piece of legislation."
While the commissioners debated over whether or not 20 grams was too much, they all agreed that an ordinance like this could ease taxpayers' burden.
"There are a lot of reasons this is good policy," Kiar 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."
Kiar brought this point up to his fellow commissioners during Tuesday's meeting.
"At the end of the day, it’s revenue neutral, and we’ll be saving money off of it," he said just before the vote was taken.
The commissioners also decided that the proposed ordinance would be applicable county-wide, though any city within Broward can opt out of being a part of the measure, if it so desires. So far, only Hillsboro Beach has said that it will not be implementing the ordinance.
Following the vote, a public hearing has been set for November 10 where commissioners will also debate whether the county will require drug treatment and education on a first, second or third offense for those caught.
Miami-Dade County decriminalized pot possession back in June. Key West recently passed a similar ordinance.
Hallandale Beach became the first city in Broward County to decriminalize pot when it passed the measure on August 5. Much like with Broward, a major selling point for the passage of the ordinance was the potential easing of jails and courts from being jammed up with misdemeanor pot cases.
Hallandale Commissioner Keith London, who proposed the measure in June, says the proposal unclogs the criminal justice system in that city.
"[The measure] allows police officers to focus their efforts on more serious forms of crime plaguing our streets," London wrote in an email. "Unclogging a criminal justice system too often bogged down with cases of minor marijuana possession."