Miami, FL (July 22, 2015) – Possession of marijuana is one of the most common criminal charges in the U.S. Possession of small amounts of marijuana account for 10% of all cases filed in the criminal justice system. Many celebrities, including Paul McCartney, Macauley Culkin, Bill Muray, and Louis Armstrong, have picked up pot charges. But times are changing. Although Florida has yet to decriminalize the use of marijuana, certain Florida counties are taking it upon themselves to make more lenient laws toward pot possession.
Miami-Dade, the largest county in Florida, has approved a proposal which allows police officers to fine people caught with marijuana. Offenders caught with 20 grams or less of pot can pay $100 or perform 2 hours of community service if they cannot afford the fine. The new law gives police discretion of issuing civil citations rather than placing people under arrest, sparing a criminal record for first time offenders or those with minor records.
Miami Beach PD Chief Dan Oates stated that an arrest will still occur if the marijuana is being smoked in public, found in a car, packaged to be sold, or connected with another crime. Regardless of these exclusions, this law is projected to save $40,000 a year just for the city of Miami Beach alone. The civil citations will also save officers time in writing incident reports and allow them to pursue other crimes.
Despite the approval from many police officers and civilians, civil rights advocates are speculating whether this law will disproportionally cause for the arrest of black offenders and not white offenders. Currently, black Miami-Dade citizens account for over half of the county’s misdemeanor marijuana arrests, although making up only 20% of the population. Officials hope to even the playing field and guidelines are being prepared for the new ordinance to ensure that it is applied fairly among everyone.