Tampa Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

While Florida still considers any person caught holding a little marijuana a low-level criminal, a number of municipalities across the state have made it their mission in recent months to do away with the penalties associated with minor possession. The most recent is the City of Tampa, where Mayor Bob Buckhorn has signed a measure into law that will prevent those people busted with small amounts of weed from being thrown in jail.

On Monday, the mayor put his signature a popular ordinance that will give the Tampa Police Department the freedom to hand out citations to petty pot offenders instead of running them through the criminal justice system. The new law comes just a week after the city council put their seal of approval on the measure in a vote of 5 to 1, suggesting that any amount of marijuana under 20 grams should be handled with a simple fine.

It was no surprise that Buckhorn wasted little time signing the ordinance. Earlier last year, he expressed concerns that “incarcerating people, particularly young people, for a very small amount of marijuana absolutely alters their career path for the rest of their life.”

“Once they get into that prison system, they are forever scarred; they forever have a prison record,” he explained. 

Within the next couple of weeks, Tampa police will no longer be obligated to drag every person caught with marijuana down to the local precinct. Instead, officers will have the power to slap these offenders with a fine, which will differ in cost depending on a person’s previous record.

First time offenders, in situations where marijuana possession in the only offense, will be forced to pay a $75 ticket, while second time offenders will be squeezed to the tune of $150. For third time offenders, a fine of $300 will be their charge, and for those dumb or unlucky enough to get popped four or more times for pot, they will be forced to pay $450.

However, in every case, the ordinance will only be applied when marijuana possession is the “only chargeable offense.”

Therefore, the person who gets in trouble with the law for starting a bar fight during a Spring Break retreat, only to have a cop pull a joint from his or her pocket during a search, will likely be charged for pot possession at the state level—punishable with up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1000. 

For civil society, however, the Tampa decriminalization measure was designed in the image of similar ordinances all over the state, where city officials are no longer interested in criminalizing the average stoner. So far, Miami-Dade, Fernandina Beach and Miami Beach have all eliminated minor pot offenses from their law enforcement’s shakedown repertoire, while this novel concept is currently under consideration by the St. Petersburg City Council. 

A number of states and municipalities all over the nation have decriminalized the possession of marijuana within the past several years. These types of mini-marijuana reforms have the potential to prevent thousands of people every year from entering into the criminal justice system, while allowing law enforcement to focus their efforts on more serious crime.

(Image Courtesy of Politics of Pot)

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