Yet another Florida locality is looking to remove criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenders. Officials in Broward County are considering implementing civil fines for misdemeanor marijuana possession, rather than arrests and criminal charges.
County commissioners are scheduled to discuss a proposed ordinance today that would allow law enforcement officers to issue civil citations instead of filing criminal charges against people in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The proposed civil fine is $100 for the first offense and $250 for repeat violations. According to the proposed ordinance the fine could be waived for community service.
Under the county proposal, civil citations wouldn’t be an option if marijuana is discovered in conjunction with other crimes. Florida law makes misdemeanor marijuana possession punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Racial disparity in marijuana arrests
Other localities in Florida that have passed local marijuana decriminalization legislation include Miami-Dade County and the city of West Palm Beach, and just like the others the Broward ordinance leaves the decision of whether to ticket or arrest the offender solely to the discretion of the investigating officer. This fact could be significant considering an investigation published just yesterday by CBS Miami which concluded that, despite a significant drop in the number of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana in Broward County over the last five years, the percentage of blacks arrested compared to whites has grown substantially. Their investigation found:
- 76% of the people arrested for marijuana possession by the Broward Sheriff’s Office in the unincorporated areas were black.
- In Pompano Beach, where blacks make up less than 29% of the population, 73% of the people Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested were black.
- In Deerfield Beach, which has an even smaller black population, 69% of the people BSO arrested were black.
- In Hollywood, a town where blacks are just 17% of the population, 52% of the people arrested by the police department were black.
- In Miramar, where blacks comprise 45% of the population, they make up 76% of the people arrested.
- And in Fort Lauderdale, where blacks make up just 31% of the population, 80% of the people arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession were black.
“When you look at these numbers if they don’t make you sick then you aren’t paying attention,” said Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County Public Defender. “You know what these stats show you? There is no war on drugs. There is a war on poor black people. That’s exactly what this shows.”
According to an extensive 2013 report by the ACLU titled The War on Marijuana in Black and White, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
If initial approval for the Broward ordinance is given today a public hearing will be scheduled for October 27, 2015.
- Watch the ACLU video Marijuana – One Drug, Two Stories below: