Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade police want option to just fine pot smokers

Miami Beach commissioners passed an ordinance Wednesday to give police officers the option of issuing civil citations for possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana.
Miami Beach commissioners passed an ordinance Wednesday to give police officers the option of issuing civil citations for possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana. AP

Possessing misdemeanor amounts of marijuana in Miami-Dade County could bring a $100 fine instead of a criminal charge under a new proposal backed by police brass.

County Commissioner Sally Heyman is sponsoring the plan, part of a larger change to how the county classifies offenses that tend to ensnare low-income residents, like theft of shopping carts and loitering.

If adopted by the commission and not vetoed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the new ordinance would let officers issue a civil citation to someone carrying less than 20 grams of marijuana, about two-thirds of an ounce. That’s about how much would fit in a sandwich bag — or enough to produce about three dozen joints — and the amount that determines a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor marijuana possession currently carries a possible maximum one-year jail sentence. Officers currently have the option not to arrest someone for minor-marijuana possession, but the misdemeanor charge would still bring a requirement to appear in criminal court. With a civil violation, the case wouldn’t enter the criminal system.

“It allows us to give someone a break,” Heyman said. “It doesn’t destroy somebody’s life because they smoked a joint at a concert, or had a pipe in their pocket.”

Officers in Miami-Dade would have the option to issue a citation or proceed with an actual arrest under the existing misdemeanor law. It’s part of a national effort to free-up police resources by moving minor marijuana arrests out of the criminal system.

“We helped draft and support this effort as a discretionary option for misdemeanor marijuana,” said Juan Perez, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Police Department. “This gives the option to go with a citation for those individuals that may have no record, or only a minor criminal history, [and] stay out of the criminal justice system.”

Heyman’s proposal goes before the commission’s Metropolitan Services Committee Wednesday afternoon. If it passes, the full 13-member commission would take it up later in the summer.

State law allows local jurisdictions to treat some misdemeanors as civil offenses, and Miami-Dade would add misdemeanor marijuana possession to that list, Perez said. The proposed change follows outright legalization of marijuana in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and tacit legalization in California and elsewhere through loose medical-marijuana laws.

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