Following in the footsteps of Broward County, Wilton Manors commissioners unanimously voted to decriminalized marijuana possession.
On Nov. 24, commissioners approved a civil citation program for those caught with 20 grams of marijuana or less. The citation program will only be used if no other crimes were associated with the possession.
A first offense means a fine of $100, a second $250 and a third $500. When the third offense occurs the person charged with possession must go through a mandatory substance abuse assessment. The county has identical fines. Like the county, which approved its citation program in October, anyone found possessing marijuana a fourth time in Wilton Manors will be subject to arrest and imprisonment if convicted.
Commissioner Julie Carson said the citation program would allow police to “focus on other things.”
When commissioners began discussing the citation program earlier this year it was thought that marijuana arrests might be costing the city a significant amount of money and officer time. A report issued by the police found no significant cost in time or money to the city regarding marijuana arrests. The average time officers spend per arrest transporting suspects to the main jail in Downtown Fort Lauderdale is between 40 and 60 minutes.
So far this year, 124 individuals were arrested for marijuana in the city; 102 were given notices to appear in court and 22 were physical arrests.
Commissioners argued that decriminalization was important to keep people from having their lives ruined. “Something very, very minor ruins lives,” said Mayor Gary Resnick.
Drug convictions can lead to a loss in public benefits as well as employment opportunities.
And although Wilton Manors doesn’t spend a lot of money on the issue, the ACLU found that states spent $3.6 billion last year enforcing marijuana laws. The ACLU also found that 52 percent of drug-related arrests were for marijuana.
Commissioner Justin Flippen wanted to institute mandatory drug treatment after the first offense but the rest of the commission objected, saying that it would be a form of additional punishment.
Flippen said he wanted to institute the treatment program sooner to prevent offenders from getting to the third citation.
“It doesn’t mean you have a substance abuse problem,” Resnick said.
Commissioners will hold a final vote on the program at their Dec. 8 meeting.