Smoking pot in Tampa will no longer be a criminal offense if a proposed city law is approved on March 3, by City Council, and is then signed by the mayor, according to an article published today in The Tampa Tribune. The new ordinance would mean Tampa police can only issue a citation for possession of up to 20g of marijuana, or about three quarters of an ounce. If the proposal is passed into law, getting busted in Tampa with a small amount of marijuana will not result in a criminal record or being booked into the Tampa Police Department..
Even if officials vote to decriminalizing weed, there will still be financial consequences. A first offense would result in a $75 fine. That rises to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 for a fourth offense. The same fine schedule would also apply for possession of drug paraphernalia such as a pipe or bong with trace amounts of marijuana. Those who receive a citation would have up to 30 days to pay the fine.
“This is not legalization; it is a concession that what we are doing is too harsh and its consequences too severe and people’s lives are being ruined in the present system,” said Councilman Harry Cohen.
The Tampa City Council voted 6-0 Thursday to schedule a first public hearing on the new ordinance for March 3. That much enthusiasm for holding hearings for a new ordinance could mean city council members are set to approve the proposal. According to the Tampa Tribune, a majority of council members are supportive and Mayor Bob Buckhorn has indicated he will sign it into law.
The Tribune says council members say they are not encouraging drug use but addressing overkill in current marijuana laws. In the past year, TPD made almost 1,900 marijuana related arrests including charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Should officials approved the proposal and the mayor signs it into law changes could be made effective as early as sometime during March. Reportedly, council members and the mayor are concerned that having a permanent criminal record makes it difficult for those who use marijuana to find a job. By comparison, current law considers possession of marijuana a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison or probation and a $1,000 fine. If convicted, offenders can lose her drivers license for up to two years.
The Tribune reports that out of the six council members present Thursday, only Charlie Miranda suggested he will vote against the new law on March 3, saying that it is senseless to pass a law that decriminalizes marijuana possession when there are state and federal laws against it.
“The public here has choices they have to make,” Miranda said. “If it’s the law, abide by it. If you want to take the risk, I can’t legislate what you want to do.”
Other council members indicated otherwise. “What kind of city can we have when we deny people an opportunity because they made one mistake?” said Councilman Frank Reddick. “We can’t be that kind of city.”
Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County have adopted similar laws and St. Petersburg is considering a similar proposal. Communities around the country including Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, adopted similar measures decades ago, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. In addition, marijuana is legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington and the District of Columbia, and for medicinal use in 23 states and the District of Columbia.