Getting caught with a small amount of marijuana in Hillsborough County could soon carry the same penalty as a parking ticket.
Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to create an ordinance that punishes possession of less than 20 grams of weed with a ‘non-criminal, civil citation.’
Commissioner Les Miller introduced the measure, saying offenders would enter a program so they “would not have a record that would really mess up their lives.”
Commissioners Stacy White and Sandra Murman both had some objections throughout the 10-minute discussion about the measure, but in the end they voted for it based on feedback from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
State attorney Andrew Warren notified law enforcement months ago that prosecuting marijuana cases would become more difficult now that the legislature has legalized hemp.
Both hemp and smokable marijuana come from the same plant, though the latter contains high levels of THC, the chemical that produces a high for the user.
Commissioner Pat Kemp supported the measure, saying it was good policy, because the current system of locking up offenders for minor drug crimes is not working.
“It’s just a much better use of our sheriff’s and police resources,” said Kemp.
The city of Tampa made a similar move back in 2016–and everyone 8 On Your Side spoke to downtown agreed with the new direction.
“I think that’s good,” said Destiny Kebreau. “People need to stop getting locked up for something that’s a plant and grows out the ground. It’s not a chemical, it’s not man-made, it’s not alcohol. How are we serving alcohol, which is straight-up mixed poisons?!”
“What’s worse?” asked Nicole Arredondo rhetorically. “Alcohol, where you see people stumbling down the streets with, or marijuana, where people basically hang out at their house and not do much?”
Attorneys for the county and the sheriff’s office will now work together to draft the ordinance. It will then come up for discussion and a vote again before being added to the county code.