Sarasota Moves To Make Cannabis Possession Criminal Again After Few Pay Civil Fines
Cannabis might be illegal again in Sarasota, Florida. As twenty-four states, along with Washington, D.C., and Guam, have legalized herb, as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports, attitudes are becoming more regressive in some places. As absolutely frustrating as it is to pay fines for cannabis, what’s happening in Sarasota, unfortunately, proves that the government can always make things worse if people don’t follow the rules.
On Monday, the Sarasota City Commission started the process of repealing its marijuana civil citation program. Cops made their case by first presenting a recommendation in what sounds like watching a PowerPoint program from hell. Much of their argument is based on the fact that there is currently a 90% noncompliance with the program’s fines.
The City Commission passed the ordinance that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis in 2020. Since then, in the three years of decriminalization of weed, the Sarasota police have issued 427 civil citations. Of that figure, police say that only 47 people have paid up. One person opted for community service. As a result, after a May report on the topic from the Independent Police Advisory Panel, the city wants to recriminalize possession of cannabis.
“The current Cannabis Civil Citation program allows for an individual to receive an unlimited number of civil citations, it does not provide for any consequence if the civil citation is ignored, and it gives the cited individual the ability to refuse to identify themselves rendering the citation useless,” city documents state.
When Sarasota first passed the law, possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis or related paraphernalia landed you a $100 fine or 10 hours of community service. It wasn’t anything cruel or unusual. The person in question had to be over 18 and could not be actively smoking it when they got caught.
Before the 2020 decriminalization, possessing 20 grams or less could land you in jail for a maximum of a one-year sentence coupled with a one-year driver’s license suspension. The latter has more sweeping implications than one realizes, affecting one’s ability to get to work. The law was passed in an effort to avoid giving people criminal records. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, they also felt that the police department had “better things to do with their time.”
In the state of Florida, the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal. Possession of a quantity up to 20 grams (approximately 3⁄4 ounce) is classified as a misdemeanor, and as in Sarasota (unless it’s overturned) is decriminalized in certain cities. However, this is not a united decision. It’s totally illegal in plenty of places, and possibly more, based on Sarasota’s actions. Currently, in Florida, marijuana possession carries potential penalties, including up to one year of imprisonment, a fine not exceeding $1,000, and the possibility of driver’s license suspension. Nevertheless, various cities and counties within Florida have implemented reforms to impose less severe penalties for such offenses.
The medicinal use of cannabis, however, saw legalization in 2016 through a constitutional amendment. Known as Amendment 2, this initiative appeared on the ballot and garnered overwhelming support, with 71% approval from voters.
Should the repeal of the citation program go through and become finalized, the possession of cannabis will revert to being classified as a criminal offense. However, the police officials have indicated that folks who meet specific criteria will be directed to the State Attorney’s Office Adult Pre-arrest Diversion Program. This program will then determine whether to initiate criminal charges against these offenders. So, whether there are criminal consequences for any of this is still to be seen. However, that program is more than twice as expensive as the current $100 fine in the city’s program.
So people should probably go ahead and just start paying the $100 fine. As annoying as it may be, when the government gets its hands on cannabis, things can always become more annoying.
The City Commission, in a majority decision of 4-1, has instructed the city attorney to prepare an ordinance for the repealing of the marijuana civil citation program. Erik Arroyo, a member of the City Commission, stood as the sole dissenting voice, opting not to support the motion. Arroyo is an American lawyer and Republican politician, notable for becoming the youngest and first Hispanic Mayor in the history of Sarasota, Florida.
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