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Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A.
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Why are more local governments changing their views on marijuana?

When it comes to marijuana, there's really no disputing that things have changed considerably here in the U.S. over the last decade. Indeed, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, 19 states have partially or fully decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and four states have even legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Despite this seismic shift in the legal landscape, lawmakers here in Florida have proven surprisingly reluctant to tackle the issue of marijuana in any capacity, seemingly preferring to leave it up to voters. Interestingly enough, however, this legislative inaction has prompted officials at the municipal level to take matters into their own hands.

What exactly is going on at the municipal level?

Back in July, commissioners in Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance giving police officers a choice when confronted with a scenario in which a person is discovered to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana: place them under arrest or issue them a civil fine of $100.

Did any police officers actually opt for the civil fine?

During the first month of the new ordinance, Miami police issued fines in 110 cases.

Why did Miami-Dade commissioners take this step?

Commissioners determined that the costs associated with these simple possession cases are very high, putting additional strain on already limited government funds. In light of this fact and projections showing that fines instead of criminal court for simple marijuana possession could save the county upwards of $43 million per year, the commissioners decide to move ahead.  

Has this action been embraced by other municipalities?

Municipalities throughout South Florida, including cities in Monroe County, Palm Beach County and Broward County have adopted similar measures, while cities throughout Miami-Dade County have executed memorandums of understanding. Indeed, Broward County commissioners are currently discussing introducing civil fines for minor pot possession.

Besides saving municipalities money, what are some of the other advantages offered by civil fines over criminal court?  

Criminal justice advocates argue that this approach will spare someone who commits this minor offense from the otherwise harsh penalties called for by state law, as well as the collateral consequences of conviction such as a permanent criminal record that limits employment and education opportunities.

What are your thoughts on this emerging trend? Do you think the rest of the state -- or even state lawmakers -- need to follow suit?

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