Hallandale Beach is officially the first city in Broward County that will punish marijuana violations with a fine instead of an arrest.
On Wednesday night, Hallandale Beach Commissioners unanimously approved a new measure that will make marijuana possession a civil offense rather than a criminal one. Anyone caught with 20 grams of pot or less will be fined $100 rather than be arrested.
The law is expected to go into effect on September 19. In the meantime, the Hallandale Beach Police Department will train officers on how the new measure works. Hallandale Beach follows Miami-Dade's footsteps in passing the measure. In July, Miami-Dade passed a measure that will allow Miami cops the option to issue a citation to anyone caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Miami-Dade's new law will also fine a person $100 rather than arresting them.
The measure was first introduced by Hallandale Commissioner Keith London back in June and was met with enthusiasm by other commissioners, who feel that a new measure would help the overcrowded jail problem as well as make it easier for taxpayers in the city.
In an email statement released by London on Wednesday, the commissioner clarified what the measure means, saying that the new law will keep tax dollars from being wasted on prosecuting minor pot charges. He also says the old law unfairly targeted minorities and the poor.
"[The measure] will allow police officers to focus their efforts on more serious forms of crime plaguing our streets, unclogging a criminal justice system too often bogged down with cases of minor marijuana possession," London wrote.
Currently, anyone in Hallandale caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana can face up to a year in jail.
When the measure was first brought up, Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy expressed concern over how someone with a criminal record might be fined compared to someone without a record. Moreover, there are concerns that people in higher-income areas could get preferential treatment over those who live in lower-income areas. Broward commissioners have expressed wanting to make sure the measure covers everyone equally. According to the new measure, police will be required to explain why an arrest was made in any case where the officer decided to arrest the person rather than fine them.
Flournoy says that some arrests will still be made in certain cases, such as if someone is caught with marijuana during a DUI bust or a violent crime. Flournoy also says that the measure does not allow citizens to smoke marijuana in public, parks, or near schools.
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Last month, Broward County Commissioner Martin Kiar proposed a similar measure to the one passed in Miami, and now Hallandale Beach, telling New Times the idea stems from people's lives being derailed over being caught with a small amount of pot.
"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]."
Broward commissioners are expected to take up Kiar's measure when they return to work next Tuesday.
West Palm Beach and Palm Beach counties are also expected to vote on a similar measure.