County Commissioners Discuss Misdemeanor Marijuana Issues
Figures from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office marijuana case study provoked discussion at Tuesday County Commission meeting.
The case study focuses on data from stand-alone marijuana charges collected by the sheriff’s office from 2013 to 2014. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell presented details from the report, which included the increasing cost and time associated with stand-alone misdemeanor marijuana cases.
Darnell reported officers issued more warnings to residents in 2014 than the previous year, based on their discretion. She said police exercised this use of discretion in circumstances where the person in question cooperated with the police and there was not a warrant for their arrest.
In the meeting, Darnell pointed out the law remains the law. While certain circumstances make each incident unique, in order to uphold her oath as an officer, she must enforce the laws and treat all crimes as the same.
“Nobody thinks that marijuana is a safe substance to use, but we know that jail and court also impacts people’s lives in someway more severely,” Vice Chair Robert Hutchinson said. “So, I am just trying to do the best thing for the most number of citizens. It has impacts on peoples' lives that are real.”
The misdemeanors cost $13,366.68 in 2013 and $20,697.98 in 2014, a $7,331.30 increase. In that same time, the total number of misdemeanor marijuana charges increased from 195 to 253.
Hutchinson advised leaving it up to the police officers to decide what crimes deserve their primary attention.
"It is an ongoing dialogue, and I have a lot of respect for the Sheriff and I think she has a lot of control on this," Hutchinson said.
Commissioner Lee Pinkoson is concerned with the abstractness of leaving it up to discretion.
“If they stop someone and smell marijuana, how is that different than if they smell alcohol?” Pinkoson said. “I think what I am hearing is that they are supposed to ignore what is happening with marijuana. I am not too sure where we are going with this; it sounds like 90 percent of the time there is no arrest made.”
Commissioners have varying opinions on how the local government should handle marijuana-related cases but realize that change will have to take place on a bigger stage.
“It is not up to the commission as to how laws are enforced,” Pinkoson said. “The solution is ultimately at the state level since they make the laws. If we want to see change, we need to work with Tallahassee to make it happen."