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Tampa officials consider decriminalizing marijuana

Officials in Tampa, Florida, are considering a proposal that would be a step toward the decriminalization of marijuana. Right now, criminal charges can be filed even if people are found with low amounts of marijuana in their possession. The proposal would still allow charges to be used, but they would be civil charges, not criminal ones.

This would only apply to those who possessed low amounts, and so it would not decriminalize things like drug trafficking.

Additionally, police officers would get to make the call on their own, deciding if they wanted to use criminal charges or civil citations.

With the laws the way they are now, those charged with possession of marijuana are given first-degree misdemeanors. They can get a fine of $1,000 and as much as a year in prison. This prison sentence can also be handed out as probation. In some cases, an offender's driver's license can be taken away for 24 months.

With the civil citations, the punishment would be far less. Fines would still be paid, but it would really be like getting a parking ticket.

The statistics kept by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office show that they made 3,146 arrests in 2013 and 2,733 arrests last year in cases where people had under 20 grams of marijuana.

The proposal that would change the citation requirements is not a state law, but simply a citation ordinance, so it would only impact those in Tampa itself. As such, residents should keep a close eye on the ordinance, which will be considered in the coming weeks, to see if it is accepted.

Source: The Oracle, "Tampa looks at decriminalizing marijuana possession," Miki Shine, Jan. 18, 2016

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