St. Pete councilman on marijuana citation policy: pass the thing already

click to enlarge St. Pete councilman on marijuana citation policy: pass the thing already - flickr user James St. John
flickr user James St. John
St. Pete councilman on marijuana citation policy: pass the thing already

Earlier this month, Tampa adopted civil citations as its preferred way of punishing those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

But St. Petersburg, despite generally being more open to progressive policies, has been struggling to hash out the details of its own marijuana citation policy.

At a recent committee meeting, the third of its kind in which the proposal was discussed, council members once again punted instead of giving the thumbs-up to what should have been a straightforward policy, writes the Tampa Bay Times' Charlie Frago.

In Tampa, those caught with 20 grams or less are fined $75, a number that gets progressively higher with each subsequent offense. St. Pete is considering a similar model, but council members couldn't agree on details like how to deal with repeat offenders or whether some caught with marijuana can perform community service in lieu of a fine.

They're also waiting on Pinellas County commissioners to pass a policy that would apply countywide. 

But St. Pete City Councilman Karl Nurse said that while officials go back and forth on the little details, lives are getting roped into the criminal justice system. He told CL he would like to see the council “stop micromanaging to get it done.”

“Frankly for reasons I can't explain City Council is getting into the weeds, no pun intended,” he said. “What would make sense would be to just pass the ordinance. You get a fine system and move on.”

Nurse's district includes, in part, portions of south St. Petersburg. It's no secret that the area's predominantly African-American population (many of whom are low-income) feels the brunt of laws that treat people found to be in possession of small amounts of marijuana the same as people who are violent or are caught illegally possessing a firearm. 

Getting arrested for having a bit of what many believe to be essentially a harmless substance can have lifelong implications, from the trauma of incarceration to the hefty cost of court fees to lost employment prospects.

“We've got people whose lives are being ruined,” he said, because they're getting nailed on these misdemeanor charges and getting sucked into the criminal justice system, often for decades.

The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners is slated to take up the issue Tuesday.