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Alachua County Moves Forward On Lessening Pot Penalty

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Those carrying small amounts of marijuana in Alachua County might soon receive a civil citation instead of a misdemeanor charge — though police would still be able to charge suspects with a misdemeanor.

The Board of County Commissioners agreed today to start working on the ordinance that would allow such citations for marijuana possession of 20 grams or less, pulling from examples set by Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Civil citations would offer a less severe penalty — possibly just a fine or community service — for marijuana possession.

“I am for, overall, decriminalizing non-criminal behavior,” Commissioner Ken Cornell said at the commission’s afternoon meeting. “I am also in favor of — strongly in favor of — folks having the ability to work off the fine as opposed to having to pay it.”

The ordinance is still in its preliminary stages, with no timeline yet on a commission vote or implementation.

For now in Alachua County, possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana remains solely a first-degree misdemeanor and may result in immediate arrest or a notice to appear in court. If convicted, an individual faces imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.

Even with the ordinance on civil citations — which county attorneys called an “additional tool” for police — an officer could still choose to physically arrest the suspect or issue a notice to appear in court.

Additionally, civil citations do not mean marijuana is decriminalized because decriminalization falls under state law.

The four commissioners present today — Mike Byerly, Cornell, Robert Hutchinson and Lee Pinkoson — voted unanimously in favor to proceed with drafting the ordinance, basing it on Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In Broward County, a civil citation is available to police for offenders carrying 20 grams or less of cannabis. A person can receive up to three civil citations, with each citation costing more than the last.

In Palm Beach County, a civil citation results in a $100 fine but offers violators who cannot or don’t want to pay the fine the option to perform community-service hours instead.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office supports the County Commission’s efforts and sees this development as a new tool for law enforcement, office spokesman Sgt. Brandon Kutner said.

“This gives us another avenue in our discretionary enforcement of marijuana to deal with violators as is appropriate,” he said.

“It helps us to alleviate costs that we incur by having an individual not in our detention facility, and it also opens an avenue for an individual who may be suffering from substance abuse to be able to get the help that they need.”

Marvin Krohn, a criminology professor at the University of Florida, said that based off his research, such an ordinance would have a positive affect on the community.

“If we can avoid intervening in an official way in a person’s life for relatively minor offenses, then that’s a good thing,” Krohn said.

About Elise Engle

Elise is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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