JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax Investigation exposes how effective civil citations are for people caught with small amounts of pot.
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed a bill this week that would allow officers to give out citations that are civil, not criminal, to people in possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana.
The state attorney’s office has opened 830 cases in Duval County since Jan. 1, 2018, in which possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana was the person’s primary charge.
“I thought that I was just getting pulled over for a traffic stop,” said Jor-El Pizarro, who supports decriminalization of marijuana.
Pizarro said that traffic stop ended in a criminal charge when police found marijuana that he says helps lessen his anxiety.
“I don’t harm anybody. I don’t damage anybody. I don’t go out on a killing spree or a robbing spree,” said Pizarro.
If Dennis’ bill passes in Jacksonville, people like Pizarro caught with fewer than 20 grams of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia could be given a $100 fine or 10 hours of community service, instead of a criminal record.
Right now, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
At least nine Florida counties and cities have already passed similar civil citation bills in the past few years, including Palm Beach, Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties, as well as Tampa, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach.
Tampa police spokesperson Eddy Durkin said the agency issued 1,141 civil citations in 2018 and 921 in 2017.
“The option of issuing a civil citation, when it meets criteria, allows our officers to commit more time to proactive patrols and respond to higher priority calls for service,” said Durkin.
In Palm Beach County, deputies haven’t issued a single civil citation for marijuana possession, despite the bill that passed there years ago.
“The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office will continue to arrest offenders for marijuana possession, in accordance with Florida state statute guide lines, and work with the state attorney’s office for subsequent prosecution,” said Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Therese Barbera.
Citations are an option, not a requirement, so officers can choose not to use them.
In Alachua County, sheriff’s office Public Information Officer Art Forgey said deputies don’t issue the citations because county commissioners passed a bill that failed to set up a system to collect or adjudicate the citations.
Both Jacksonville’s sheriff and mayor disagree with civil citations for marijuana.
Sheriff Mike Williams issued the following statement:
Chief of Staff Brian Hughes, on behalf of Mayor Lenny Curry, issued the following statement:
Dennis issued the following statement on the bill he filed:
© 2020 Cox Media Group