Alachua County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson wants the sheriff’s office to begin issuing citations to marijuana suspects instead of arresting them.
The full commission voted unanimously in favor this month of giving the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office such an option.
But sheriff’s office spokesman Art Forgey said that no policy on the citations has been established yet because the office hasn’t received the necessary information from the county attorney to do so.
“We have not received any information from the county or the forms that they’ll be utilizing for the civil citation,” Forgey said. “There’s also issues with being able to check and see if civil citations have been issued to people outside of the county” so such citations will be attached to the person.
In a statement on Thursday to State Attorney William Cervone, Sheriff Sadie Darnell echoed Forgey’s explanation.
“At this point,” she wrote, “I am unable to establish an implementation policy, absent information of the county’s process of the forms they will be utilizing for issuing civil citations.”
The policy is meant to apply only to those caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. But its passing was not met with open arms by Darnell, who has voiced her opposition to lessening marijuana policing.
Hutchinson said he told Darnell that misdemeanor marijuana arrests should be the county’s “least highest priority.”
“And she said absolutely not,” he said.
After going back and forth with the sheriff’s office, Hutchinson decided to calculate the taxpayer cost for misdemeanor marijuana arrests and said he would modify the sheriff’s budget by that amount (though he hasn’t followed through).
“I did some math, and I figured out that it was costing us between $900,000 to $1 million a year in just the public cost,” he said.
For that total, Hutchinson took an ACLU article on the cost of marijuana across Florida, divided that figure by the number of people the state had incarcerated for marijuana, then “took a percentage of the number that Alachua County had put in … jail. And that’s how I did the math.”
But according to Forgey, the cost of incarcerating people for the sheriff’s office on stand-alone misdemeanor marijuana arrests was $20,697 as of 2014.
He said Hutchinson’s cost was a projected cost and not tied to anything.
For now, the two policies represent the difference between an arrest and possible jail time and just paying a fee for people found with misdemeanor amounts of marijuana.
On July 29, 18-year-old Caleb Cribbs was heading back to work on Highway 441 in Alachua County from his lunch break when he was pulled over for speeding.
“They caught me with evidence that I was a smoker,” said Cribbs, who was arrested on the charge of having less than 20 grams of marijuana and taken to jail. “They found some seeds and some stems and not even a bud to put on a scale.”
Cribbs said he was released on bail between five and six hours later and that he is going to court to pay a $1,000 fine.
He said this is the first time he has been arrested for marijuana.
“Reefer’s not even a drug anymore,” Cribbs said. “I guarantee [that stuff’s] gonna be legal in Florida before too long.”