Palm Beach County: Could marijuana be decriminalized?

Palm Beach County is considering making possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil infraction — the equivalent of a traffic ticket — rather than a criminal offense.

But a number of issues “need to be worked out in order for this approach to receive broad-based support or at least acceptance from law enforcement and the criminal justice system stakeholders,” Assistant County Administrator Jon Van Arnam wrote in a memo Friday.

Van Arnam’s memo followed a meeting the same day with representatives of law enforcement, the courts, and the Palm Beach County State Attorney and Public Defender after County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor had asked county staff on June 23 to research the idea for a much reduced penalty for holding just a little pot.

Among the questions raised at the meeting: Would only first-time offenders be eligible? Would rules be the same for adults and juveniles? What weights and quantities would be used to calculate the severity of the infraction?

And what about jurisdiction? State law always trumps local law, so any law enforcement officer always would have the right to prosecute under state law to the full extent, state attorney’s spokesman Michael Edmondson said Monday. One of the things being discussed, Edmondson said, would be to get a understanding from local law enforcement that they would be inclined to honor the lesser county criminal standard.

Van Arnam has suggested the county seek input from its Law Enforcement Planning Council and the Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police.

He also has suggested the county invite staff from Miami-Dade County to a Palm Beach County Commission workshop to discuss a similar law that Miami-Dade commissioner recently passed. He did not suggest a specific date.

On June 30, Miami-Dade commissioners set the option of issuing $100 citations for possessing small amounts of pot. The option applies to possession of up to 20 grams of pot, about enough to fit in a sandwich bag.

A person still could be charged criminally for minor pot possession if the violation is in conjunction with a felony, violent crime, domestic violence incident or DUI.

Last month, West Palm Beach Commissioner Sylvia Moffett suggested her city knock possession down to a civil citation. The city of Miami Beach, Broward County, and the Keys’ Monroe County also are considering decriminalization.

Currently In Florida, minor marijuana offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A violator is either arrested or required to appear in a criminal court.

Fifteen states and several cities have essentially decriminalized marijuana, and four more states have made possession of small amounts legal. In addition, about half the states in the U.S. allow medical marijuana.

Some 53 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, according to the Pew Research Center.

“I am hopeful that we will get an ordinance,” Taylor has told The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board.


Source: Palm Beach Post