Florida Keys

Key West likely to lessen penalty for pot

In perhaps another step in the shift toward decriminalizing marijuana, the Key West City Commission is expected to vote Tuesday whether to make possessing small amounts of pot a civil citation as opposed to a misdemeanor arrest.

“I certainly support this change that would create a fine in lieu of taking someone to jail for small amounts of marijuana,” Key West Police Chief Donie Lee said Friday. “It gives our officers an option that can help relieve the overburdened court system.”

According to the ordinance, which will be up for a first reading Tuesday, Key West police would have the discretion to issue a citation, resulting in a $100 fine, for possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana.

The citation would only apply to marijuana cases not charged in conjunction with a felony, driving under the influence or domestic violence.

Commissioners seem to be on board with the idea.

“I agree with it,” Commissioner Jimmy Weekley said. “It'll help the issues with the courts.”

Commissioner Billy Wardlow said minor drug-related arrests may prevent people from getting a job.

“I don’t have a problem with it. I think it'll free up the police department,” Wardlow said. “Other municipalities have passed it, I’m sure we can handle it.”

Monroe County is leaning toward the same thing. County Attorney Bob Shillinger said his office is in the process of drafting an ordinance for County Commission approval that would make having small amounts of pot a civil citation.

Keys State Attorney Catherine Vogel has said she is OK with it since it will free up time for her prosecutors to work on other cases. It’s also expected to save the court system lots of money.

But she told the County Commission in July that civil citations for minor pot possession should not be an option for juveniles. The State Attorney’s Office has a policy of dealing with juveniles in minor cases that includes supervision.

The Keys moves follows a similar one in Miami-Dade County after commissioners there approved the change by a 10-3 vote on June 30. It took effect in July.

The City Commission meets Tuesday at Old City Hall on Greene Street at 6 p.m.