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.
COLUMBUS – Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today certified that petitioners seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot have collected 44,185 additional, supplemental signatures. This number joins the 276,082 valid signatures the group submitted on June 30, 2015 for a total of 320,267 valid signatures.
The petitioners, known as ResponsibleOhio, needed to gather 305,591 signatures in order to secure a place on the ballot, a number equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2014. As part of the total number of signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot, petitioners are also required to have submitted signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and within each of those counties, collected enough signatures equal to five percent of the total vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, 2014. Petitioners met this requirement in their first signature submission, having collected enough signatures to meet the five percent threshold in 73 counties.Having met the constitutional and legal requirements to place the matter before Ohio voters, the issue will appear on the ballot during the General Election held on November 3, 2015. The next step in the process is for the Ballot Board to convene to approve the ballot language that voters will consider this fall. It is the constitutional and statutory duty of the Secretary of State to verify and certify signatures submitted for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, initiated statutes and legislative referenda.