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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

3rd time, no charm: St. Pete still mulling marijuana civil citations



The ordinance on the table in front of St. Petersburg City Council members was elegant in its simplicity: Police would have the option of issuing a citation for 20 grams or less of marijuana. If the fine wasn't paid within 30 days, an arrest warrant would be issued.

Then things got complicated. When should the city require education or treatment? At the second offense? The third?

How would giving police officers discretion to arrest or issue a citation impact racial disparities for misdemeanor marijuana possession?

Would a $75 fine for a first offense or a $300 fine for the third offense start a snowball effect for poor people, leading to a loss of driver''s licenses and other escalations that end up making petty offenses into a dangerous spiral? 

In the end, council members decided to take more time, marking the third time the city council has addressed--then pushed back--the issue at the committee level since December.

The council directed city attorneys to incorporate some of those suggestions and bring it back to the Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee at a later date.

The city's pace has lagged behind Tampa, which passed a civil citation ordinance earlier this month. Part of the lag has been waiting for Pinellas County to decide if it wants to craft a countywide ordinance.

The county is leaining toward creating a sheriff's office-run diversion program, said assistant city attorney Mark Winn. A workshop on that measure is scheduled for Tuesday.

Despite the delay, most of the council appears ready to adopt--eventually-- a municipal ordinance.

"Sometimes the job of the biggest city in the county is to lead," said council member Karl Nurse.


[Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2016 10:35am]


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