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The push to decriminalize marijuana in Florida

As it stands today, many in the state of Florida who are caught in possession of marijuana can face serious punitive measures. Miami-Dade County is leading the charge in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and counties across the state may eventually follow suit. The decision is based largely on the economics surrounding these arrests, and many within the state feel strongly that the cost of prosecuting individuals who are found in possession of a small amount of the drug is out of line with the perceived benefit to the public good.

Consider a scenario in which a woman is found to be in possession of 10 grams of marijuana. Under the current approach, she would be arrested and taken into custody. Once she is transported to the jail, she is then booked and jailed for an unspecified period of time. In many cases, a public defender is appointed, and the case moves through the court system, which tasks the judges, court staff, state attorney and corrections staff.

In many cases, she will be subjected to drug assessment and placed on probation, which also costs taxpayers money. At the end of this lengthy process, the cost to taxpayers and the strain placed on the system is enormous, especially in relation to the end result, which is to penalize the possession of an amount of marijuana that was only sufficient for personal use. As more and more states take action to legalize the recreational use of the drug, it becomes difficult to justify the expense and time required to prosecute these cases.

As an alternative, Miami-Dade has decided to address the possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine of $100. This approach is also being used for a range of other lesser crimes, including loitering or trespassing. This keeps these types of cases out of the courts, frees up law enforcement to address more serious matters and greatly reduces the cost to taxpayers. As time goes on, more Florida counties could take a similar approach, taking the state in the direction of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Source: marijuana,heraldtribune.com, "Gaining ground in Florida: Fines instead of criminal court for pot", Michael Pollick, Sept. 26, 2015

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