Fort Lauderdale Opts Out of County's Civil Citation Program for Marijuana

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Broward tokers, beware. If you're caught in possession of marijuana, in much of South Florida, cops have the option to slap you with a civil citation rather than haul you off to jail on criminal charges.  Broward County last November passed an ordinance setting up this option. But city commissioners in Fort Lauderdale (which is in Broward) decided this month to opt out of the county's program. 

Broward's program sets up a $100 fine for carrying 20 grams or less of pot. Second offenses cost $250, and third offenses, $500. After three fines, possession would be considered a crime.  Miami-Dade passed a similar ordinance that was estimated to have saved the county $40,000 a year. Palm Beach County also passed a similar ordinance in December. There, in lieu of paying the $100 fine, offenders can do 10 hours of community service. The cities of Miami Beach and Hallandale Beach have also expressly decriminalized marijuana. 

While Broward County's civil citation program has gone into effect, Fort Lauderdale city commissioners unanimously voted on Feb. 16, 2016, to opt out of it. They passed a resolution formally electing not to participate.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler did not immediately respond to New Times' inquiries about what led to the commission's decision, but City Commissioner Dean Trantalis, in a brief phone conversation, said that it was made after the city attorney for Fort Lauderdale, Cynthia Everett, raised "a complicated legal question." He said he was unable to elaborate. City spokesperson Chaz Adams also declined to elaborate. 

At the state and federal level, cannabis remains on the list of controlled substances.  This November, Florida voters will have the option to legalize medical marijuana via a state constitutional amendment. 

Meanwhile, Broward Mayor Marty Kiar, who introduced the county ordinance, said that he wasn't aware that Fort Lauderdale's commissioners opted out, but he respected their decision. He said it is up to individual municipalities to decide whether they want to follow the ordinance or not. 

"This is the first I've heard, and that’s [The City of Fort Lauderdale's] choice," Kiar said via phone "Broward is a massive county. I think a civil citation is much more fair. I would hope that the majority of our cities would follow it. I prefer that they would use the ordinance, but I respect their decision not to.

"I think this is a good ordinance," he said. "The reason I did it, there are so many people’s lives who can get ruined for getting an arrest for having a joint on them." 

A civil citation won't have the same legal ramifications as a conviction would have on someone's life. "I want this to work and give our residents a second chance," he said.

Update, 4:15 p.m. 
A memo from Assistant City Attorney Dina Kaizen to Everett explained the concerns about the county's ordinance. Because the language in the county's ordinance was silent on whether an officer could charge someone with violation of a city ordinance if the city participated in the county program , there was potential for conflict that might lead to double jeopardy or infringe on a defendant's right to a speedy trial. Kaizen also noted that the city prosecutor's office already  has a diversion program that allows offenders to have charges dropped and accomplishes some of the same aims that Kiar sought to address. Kaizen also noted that fines collected by the county's program will benefit the county, not the city. She suggested the city opt out of the county's program and develop its own civil citation program. 

See the memo below: 

Here's video of commissioners discussing the matter. 

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