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Courts / Law

Sarasota City Commission Will Consider Decriminalizing Small Amounts Of Cannabis

marijuana plant
The issue is set to be discussed at the City Commission’s March 18 meeting.";

People caught with small amounts of marijuana or drug paraphernalia in Sarasota could soon avoid arrest.

On Monday night, the city commission will discuss the possibility of allowing law enforcement to issue civil citations instead.

Several Florida counties and cities, including Tampa and Orlando, have adopted softer rules on the possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana.

Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody introduced the proposal. He says a civil citation would allow violators to avoid issues associated with an arrest, including a driver's license suspension.

"Especially in a suburban community like Sarasota,” he said. “A driver’s license is important. A lot of times that can be the first domino in a spiral that a civil citation would avoid all together. It’ll allow someone who makes a mistake to land on their feet and walk away with a sanction that does not affect their ability to get a job, or to borrow money.

Hagen added that decriminalizing small amounts of pot would be in step with evolving opinions regarding cannabis.

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Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody is proposing to amend the city code to allow police the option to issue noncriminal civil citations rather than a criminal misdemeanor charge for possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis.

“We are living in a day and age where public policy in this area is rapidly changing and we have to ask ourselves if what we’re doing is working and if it’s the right thing for the right time,” he said. “My conclusion is that the answer is no. One of the primary drivers for acceptance of this program for a lot of people is the cost associated with prosecuting these crimes. There's got to be a more efficient way."

In a February memo to the city manager and Sarasota city attorney, Brody wrote that civil citations could also help reduce overcrowding in Sarasota County jails.

“Since 2016, the Sarasota Police department has initiated 789 criminal charges for Possession of Cannabis,” he stated. “While a portion of those were secondary charges, many were also stand-alone criminal notices to appear. A portion of which undoubtedly ended up in county jail at taxpayers expense for missing a court date.”  

It is a first degree misdemeanor to be in possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis. Per Florida statute, it is punishable by up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and driver’s license suspension.

Last year however, former Governor Rick Scott signed legislation allowing local governments to implement a non-criminal civil citation option for some minor criminal offenses.