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Hillsborough County Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana

Dried marijuana leaves being sorted in a steel pan.
Julio Ochoa/WUSF Public Media
Hillsborough County will now give people stopped for marijuana possession under 20 grams up to four chances to avoid a criminal charge.

Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Anyone found in possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana will now be issued up to four civil citations before being charged with a misdemeanor.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the citations start with a $100 fine and increase by $100 for each citation, but violators can choose community service in lieu of paying.

"One thing I didn't want the ordinance to do is if you already are financially burdened, I didn't want to burden someone with an additional financial responsibility,” Chronister said.

The third and fourth citations require violators to go to court and participate in an drug education and treatment program, but again, are not arrested or charged.

Chronister said it'll create consistent enforcement, and help deputies focus their efforts on arresting and prosecuting violent offenders.

“What I'm advocating for is to keep young people and young adults and anyone who's caught in possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana out of the criminal justice system, and not be saddled with a criminal history that will prohibit them from gaining employment or allowing them to be productive members in our society because they're saddled with this criminal history,” Chronister said.

Similar ordinances were passed in Tampa and Sarasota in 2016, but did not include the treatment and education component.

While the approval of the ordinance got applause from recreational marijuana supporters online, Chronister said his support of this ordinance does not mean he's advocating for the legalization of recreational marijuana. He says that’s up to lawmakers and voters.

However: “I'm in support of medical marijuana. I don't believe anyone should have to suffer for suffer from any type of debilitating disease.”

The ordinance was filed electronically with the Secretary of State's Office and is now in effect. 

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