Alachua County sheriff’s deputies now have the option of handing out a civil citation instead of making an arrest when they catch someone possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana.
The Alachua County commission unanimously passed an ordinance allowing that on Tuesday night. Despite the unanimity, commissioner Charles Chestnut IV voiced a concern about who law enforcement tends to target for arrests — and on what side of town.
“The only issue I have with this is fairness,” Chestnut said. “I don’t want to make this a racial issue, but more than likely it’s going to be.”
Chestnut and commission chairman Robert Hutchinson want county staff to obtain statistics from the court administrator and court clerk showing three years’ worth of arrest rates in Gainesville’s high-crime areas versus low-crime areas. Commissioner Mike Byerly also suggested monitoring citations, comparing by region, as well as notices to appear in court and arrests.
“If you see those coming down while the citations are going up, or vice versa, that might suggest to us that (the new ordinance) is having an unintended consequence,” commissioner Mike Byerly said.
Byerly warned Chestnut and chairman Robert Hutchinson that the data is difficult to obtain.
Hutchinson said he has seen county data showing there’s a “huge” racial disparity in marijuana arrests.