Palm Beach County update 

Getting caught with a little marijuana in Palm Beach County could result in a $100 ticket instead of a trip to jail, under a new law initially approved Tuesday.
The proposal would allow law enforcement officers to issue civil citations — similar to traffic tickets — instead of arresting adults found with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Twenty grams is about 3/4 of an ounce. Supporters say the change would lessen public costs at the jail and avoid saddling people with criminal records that can make it harder to get jobs, housing and help paying for college.
“There are a lot of domino effects,” County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said about marijuana arrests. “We can’t just lock up everyone for these small crimes.” The proposed marijuana rule change goes back before the County Commission for a final vote on Oct. 20.
Miami-Dade County and the city of West Palm Beach have already passed similar measures creating alternatives to jail for marijuana possession. Broward County is also considering creating a civil citation alternative. Commissioner Hal Valache cast the only vote against the local measure, saying he was concerned that the county was “effectively decriminalizing marijuana.” The proposed easing of marijuana laws creates an alternative, not a requirement, for law enforcement officers to issue civil citations. That would leave the use of civil citations up to the officer’s discretion.
The civil citations would not be allowed if marijuana was found in conjunction with more serious offenses, such as driving under the influence or domestic violence. Palm Beach County’s proposed use of civil citations instead of arrests applies to areas outside city limits, where nearly half of local residents live. Cities could also choose to follow the new measure. Under the county’s proposal, the $100 fine that comes with a civil citation for marijuana possession can grow to $500 if the fine is unpaid. People could go to court to challenge the citation, but would face a penalty of up to $500 plus court costs if a judge finds they broke the law.
Also, the county’s final version of the law is expected to include limits on how many citations a person can receive before facing arrest.
From 2010 to 2014, Palm Beach County had 7,571 cases of marijuana possession of 20 grams or less. About 90 percent of the time that resulted in an arrest, according to the county. Currently, someone caught with small amounts of marijuana is taken to jail or given a notice to appear in court. First-time or low-level offenders often receive probation or are allowed to enter a diversion programs such as drug treatment as an alternative to spending more time in jail.
Palm Beach County’s proposal seeks to avoid arrests and involving the courts.
Supporters say jailing people for a nonviolent, low-level drug offenses such as marijuana possession bog down the court system and also create legal problems for people that can last a lifetime. Miss a court date or fail to pay a fine and the punishment for a minor offense grows much worse.
“If there is a legal way to give [people] a life without a criminal record, then we should do it,” County Mayor Shelley Vana said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s