Tampa Council to weigh marijuana decriminalization

Following the lead of cities across the country, Tampa City Council will have a conversation Thursday morning about decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

The measure currently on the table would transform the city's treatment of those caught with 20 grams or fewer of the substance; rather than arresting non-repeat offenders, those caught would be ticketed much in the way one is ticketed during a traffic stop. In some cases, the new policy would emphasize rehabilitation.

If adopted, say advocates, such a policy could prevent those caught from having a criminal record that would otherwise follow them around for the rest of their lives, affecting their ability to be gainfully employed, get student financial aid or government benefits.

Activists hope to persuade enough members of the council to advance the effort, and they aim to pack City Hall in order to get their message across. The group St. Pete for Justice, spearheaded by organizer Kofi Hunt, is raising money by selling T-shirts that say "Keep it civil: tickets, not arrests," proceeds from which will be dedicated to more resources for the cause.

Tampa's effort follows similar efforts in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.