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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Marijuana civil citation advances in St. Pete



A St. Petersburg with City Council commiittee  approved a civil citation ordinance Thursday that would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana and other misdemeanors after months of deadlock.

The Public Safety and Infrastructure Commitee voted the ordinance over the objections of Police Chief Tony Holloway, who urged that the city would for a county diversion ordinance, currently under discussion, that would create uniformity among Pinellas County's nearly two dozen governments.

Competing programs will complicate an officer's job , creating a "buffet option" for the arresting officer: misdemeanor, diversion or citation.

"It gets confusing," he said.

But council member Steve Kornell, who introduced the measure, said the city was tired of waiting for the county to move on the issue. A county workshop earlier this month gave a Jan. 1 target date for a diversion program that would steer low-level offenders toward community service rather than creating a criminal record.

"It's astounding to me that all these high-level officials support a program that doesn't even exist," Kornell said.

The city has debated and refined its civil citation program since December, but the county hasn't met its pace nor met the city halfway, he said.

"We tried to cooperate...but they said, we're going to do it our way," Kornell said.

Only City Council member Ed Monatanari voted against the measure, saying he wanted to see the county's plan in writing first.

"I would like to get it right the first time," he said.

Two measures are now headed for the entire city council. One would mandate police officers issue a citation. The other would give officers the option to do so. Tampa, which pased a similar proposal last month, made its program optional, a formulation preferred by police.

But council member Charlie Gerdes said police discretion might unwittingly cause racial disparities in arrests.

"The better we do to eliminate discretion, the better and more complete job we do to eliminate disparities," he said.

The proposed ordinance would create a system of fines that would begin at $75, rising to $500 on the fourth offense, although Gerdes and Karl Nurse questioned whether offenders should get so many chances to break the law.

Originally conceived as a way to reduce misdemeanor marijuana convictions, the council also broadened the proposal, adding littering, disorderly conduct, petty theft, trespass and other minor offenses.


[Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:13pm]


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