Police in the city of West Palm Beach now have the option of issuing civil citations for minor marijuana offenses instead of hauling offenders to jail due to a new ordinance passed by the city council last Thursday.
Juveniles, felons, or offenders that are on probation or with DUI records won’t be allowed to skip a trip to jail, but others caught with under an ounce of marijuana may, at the officer’s discretion, be issued a citation and have to pay a $100 civil fine.
Juvenile offenders will still be arrested, but will be given the option to enter a program for first offenders. Once they complete the program the juvenile’s criminal record will be wiped clean and copies of their fingerprints destroyed.
In response to concerns that allowing police to use their discretion to decide who is a criminal and who is not, Mayor Jeri Muoio said the commission would review the results of the ordinance after six months.
Statistics from police in Miami Beach, which passed a similar ordinance, show that processing an arrest for possession of marijuana costs tax payers five times as much as issuing a citation.
Mark Schneider, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Palm Beach County, last month hailed the ordinance as “a small but significant step in reducing the harm” done by marijuana arrests.