The Sunshine State’s pot penalties are among toughest in the nation—but some local lawmakers are saying enough.
On Tuesday, West Palm Beach officials joined local lawmakers in other cities throughout the state in enacting a municipal ordinance decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses that occur within city limits. Under the new law, local police may cite, rather than arrest, those found in the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis. Those persons over the age of 18 issued civil citations are subject to a $100 fine but are not subject to criminal prosecution or a criminal record.
Under state law, the possession of any amount of pot under 20 grams is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. According to an analysis by the ACLU, an estimated 60,000 Floridians are arrested for cannabis possession violations annually—the third highest statewide total in the nation.
West Palm’s municipal ordinance is similar to a countywide measure approved by Miami-Dade county commissioners this past July. That ordinance also provides $100 civil citations for minor marijuana offenders. Dade County is the largest county in Florida, and misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade criminal court system between the years 2010 and 2014.
Other Florida cities that have recently moved ahead in favor of local decriminalization ordinances include Miami Beach, Hallandale Beach, and Key West.
In addition, state advocates Florida NORML are pushing forward with a 2016 proposed ballot initiative to permit the retail production and sale of the plant to adults.