Carrying marijuana is one step closer to becoming a civil offense instead of a criminal offense in North Miami Beach.
On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on first reading that would lower the bar for marijuana users.
“Similar to the neighboring Counties and Cities, and in accordance with North Miami Beach’s existing code violation program, the proposed ordinance makes the possession of marijuana in an amount of twenty grams or less and the possession of drug paraphernalia, which are deemed misdemeanors under State Law, eligible for a civil code penalty of $100.00 for first time violations and $250.00 for repeat violations within one-year, instead of a criminal penalty,” said Ana M. Garcia in a memo to the City Council.
The proposed ordinance is similar to legislation recently adopted by Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Miami Beach and Hallandale Beach.
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“Because this area of law is not preempted to the state, local governments may enact ordinances so long as they do not conflict with state law,” Garcia said. “Conflict would exist if the ordinance provided for a more severe penalty than prescribed by state law.”
The City Council said the ordinance’s adoption would provide a less-costly and less time-consuming option for police officers, and an opportunity to avoid the stigma associated with a criminal conviction.
“Filing criminal charges for possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana for personal use is expensive and time consuming for law enforcement officers, who would otherwise be spending their time addressing more serious crimes,” the ordinance reads.
Twelve-year resident Jeb Handwerger agrees.
“Locking up someone is like a death sentence; they can lose all hope for getting a job or going to college or joining the military,” Handwerger wrote in an email to the City Council. “This changing of prior bad laws will save the city tens of thousands of dollars and free up our jails for violent rapists, armed robbers and murderers ... Our law enforcement has much better things to focus on than locking up nonviolent cannabis users.”
Under the proposed city ordinance, law enforcement officers will have the discretion, based upon criteria set forth by the North Miami Beach Police Department, to issue a civil citation under the City Code, arrest or not arrest adults for the misdemeanor under state law.
The ordinance will be up for second reading Jan. 12 at North Miami Beach City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.