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County to address marijuana possession with fines, not jail

As the nation struggles to reach a consensus on how to approach the use of marijuana, individual states have taken very different stances on the matter. In a recent decision, Florida's Miami-Dade County has made a commitment to stop treating the possession of marijuana as a serious crime, and instead issue simple fines for those caught carrying small volumes of the drug. For many who are advocates of the legalization of marijuana, the move is viewed as a victory of sorts.

The change in the county's code was passed in a 10-3 vote. Individuals who are found to have 20 grams or less of the substance in their possession can be issued a citation in the same way as would occur with any other minor civil offense. The cost of that citation is $100, but there would be no impact on the party's criminal record.

Police now have the option of treating possession of marijuana as either a criminal misdemeanor or a civil offense. Those against the change assert that treating possession as a civil offense might make it harder for parents to take a hard stance on a child's drug use. However, those behind the change would argue that the same child would be no better off by being arrested and placed within the criminal justice system. In addition, decriminalizing possession of marijuana will also allow law enforcement officers and the courts to turn their attention toward more serious threats to the public good.

It is important to note that smoking marijuana, growing the drug, participating in distribution or possessing more than 20 grams are all still serious criminal offenses and could result in severe punitive measures. Avoiding conviction on any of these charges is essential to protecting one's ability to find gainful employment, attain professional licensing and reach other life goals. Anyone facing Florida drug charges should take an aggressive legal stance in the matter, which begins with securing solid legal counsel.

Source: Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade adopts $100 fine for pot possession", Douglas Hanks, June 30, 2015

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