The Wilton Manors Police Depart has begun its civil citation program for cannabis possession under 20 grams. So far, since the first citation was handed out in early January, at least seven have been issued.
According to police reports, the citations, given to first-time offenders, were issued after officers stopped drivers over for either erratic driving, expired and/or faded license plate tags, and improper parking.
In most cases, officers reported that they smelled the odor of marijuana and proceeded to search the vehicle. In one case, the officer performing the stop reported that he asked for verbal consent to search the vehicle and was given permission by the driver. The weight of the marijuana confiscated during each stop is between two and five grams.
All the individuals issued citations were residents of cities outside Wilton Manors and all were given a $100 fine for their first offense. Second-time offenders are given a fine of $250 and $500 for a third. In addition to the fine, a third offense results in the offender going through a mandatory substance abuse assessment.
The citation program was approved by the city commission in December of 2015. Commissioners said the program would save the police time and money so they could concentrate on more serious crimes.
In an interview Monday with The Gazette, Chief Paul O’Connell said it’s too early to tell if the citation program has had an impact on police efficiency. “When you don’t have to go through the booking process, that’s an average of one hour per case, including transportation, it certainly streamlines things.” In 2014, police estimate they arrested between 200 and 250 people for marijuana-related charges.
But there’s also a human cost, argued commissioners when they approved the program. In addition to prison time, convictions, even for a possessing a minor amount of marijuana, can lead to a loss in public benefits as well as diminished employment opportunities.
“Something very, very minor ruins lives,” said Mayor Gary Resnick in 2015.