When it comes to decriminalizing marijuana possession in Wilton Manors, Vice Mayor Scott Newton recently said the city should wait until the county takes action. “I think the county should do something first . . . then we can move forward with it.”
That day has arrived.
On Nov. 10, county commissioners approved a civil citation program for those caught with 20 grams of marijuana or less. The first violation will result in a $100 fine, the second a $250 fine and the third a $500 fine. When a third citation is issued, a mandatory drug assessment is initiated. A fourth violation will result in criminal charges. Violators would be subject to arrest if found driving under the influence of marijuana or if the substance is in connection with another crime.
But on Oct. 27, even before the county moved forward, commissioners directed City Attorney Kerry Ezrol to draft an ordinance and resolution that would create a civil citation program for those caught with 20 grams or less. They gave Ezrol up to two months to prepare the legislation but it could be ready sooner. Only Commissioner Tom Green voted no.
So far, Hallandale Beach is the only Broward city to decriminalize marijuana.
“I don’t think we need to be the second city to do this,” said Green who said he would prefer to see the consequences of Hallandale’s actions first. “We can learn from what’s happening there.”
But those in favor said action needs to be taken soon in order to prevent more arrests of non-violent drug offenders.
“What’s the detriment for being arrested for a joint to somebody who happens to be in our city?” asked Mayor Gary Resnick. “You’re giving somebody a criminal record. Why ruin somebody’s life for having two joints?” Resnick added that he was not faulting the police because they are only enforcing the current laws.
Commissioner Justin Flippen called it “good public policy” and said the city should be a leader.
“Our officers will be free to tend to a lot more important things . . . real crime,” said Commissioner Julie Carson.
One drawback to the citation program, said Commander Gary Blocker, is that officers here won’t be able to access records in other cities to see if a suspect has already been issued a citation.
The citation program also won’t save significant time or money.
Blocker said there were 84 marijuana-related arrests in 2013, 122 in 2014 and 124 projected for 2015. Each arrest, he said, takes about 90 minutes for an officer to process.
On a related note, resident Paul Kuta urged commissioners to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in case a medical marijuana ballot initiative is approved by voters. “We don’t want to have another ‘pill mill’ situation develop,” he said, referring to the proliferation of unscrupulous clinics which prescribed vast amounts of prescription pills to drug dealers or patients with drug abuse problems. Many were located on Oakland Park Boulevard.