Marijuana Decriminalization Still Being Weighed by Broward County

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A measure to decriminalize marijuana possession across Broward County that was introduced by Commissioner Martin Kiar is still being explored, the vice mayor tells New Times. After hearing of Miami-Dade's plan to decriminalize pot possession in June, Kiar brought up doing the same before Broward commissioners in July.

Since then, not only has Miami-Dade passed the measure but Hallandale Beach went ahead and passed one as well, becoming the first city in Broward County to decriminalize marijuana. The measure was then taken up by officials in Key West, who also unanimously voted for it.

West Palm Beach commissioners, meanwhile, are tackling the issue this week.

The measure makes pot possession a civil offense rather than a criminal one in Miami-Dade, Hallandale Beach, and Key West. All three areas will now give cops the option to fine anyone caught with 20 grams of pot or less. Those caught will have to pay a $100 fine, rather than face jail time.

So what about the rest of Broward County? 

County commissioners recently returned from vacation and were forced to tackle the Uber situation. But Kiar says the marijuana measure will be a priority for him in September. He also says the measure is being scrutinized by cities across the county. 

"I plan on bringing the civil citation for misdemeanor marijuana possession up again likely within the next month," he says. "I wanted to give the cities the opportunity to weigh in on it, and it's just taking a little bit of time. But I'm hoping by the end of the month to have it on the agenda."

One of the main concerns brought up by commissioners since Kiar introduced the measure was how it would 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 told New Times. "And that's a legitimate concern."

Kiar says the commission plans to gather data to get more informed on how to deal with that possible issue. 

In Hallandale, city officials have made September 19 the date for when the measure becomes official — giving its police department ample time to train officers in how it works. 

"[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," said Hallandale Commissioner Keith London via a statement.

For Broward County, Kiar says the motivation to pass a measure that eases marijuana penalties is similar. But he also says that being arrested for pot possession has become an unnecessary blight on otherwise decent people's records.

"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 and not have their lives ruined."

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