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Tampa looks at decriminalizing marijuana possession

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) made 2,733 arrests in 2015 for the possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis, which is down from 3,146 in 2013, according to research done by Code for Tampa Bay Brigade. However, the City of Tampa is looking to make a change in such charges. 

After six months of work, a citation ordinance drafted by Tampa attorneys is looking at going before the city council in several weeks. If passed, this ordinance would change the charges people found in possession of small amounts of marijuana would face, from criminal to civil.

“I don’t smoke and have never smoked personally, but I do believe in having the right to do something. Doesn’t always mean you should though,” Kate Turner, junior majoring in bio-medical sciences, said.

As of right now, possession charges are classified as a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison or probation, and a $1,000 fine. This can also result in the offender losing their driver’s license for two years.

If found within 1,000 feet of a school, college or park the charge increases to a felony facing a 15-year incarceration and maximum fine of $10,000. However, the citation practice would not affect those charges.

The citation practice would allow police officers to issue civil citations instead of jail time and possible drug counseling for people found in possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana; essentially the weight of a parking ticket.

In most cases, the decision to issue the citation would be left up to the discretion of the arresting officer with juveniles being directed to drug counseling. The fine amount is still up for debate although some argue in favor of a growing fine where each offense becomes heftier.

Students seem to have mixed feelings about the possible ordinance. 

“I think in most cases, if you’re a tax-paying, law abiding citizen who contributes to society then you should be able to possess small amounts of marijuana,” Turner said. “However, it should be up to every company who hires individuals to drug test whenever they see for and to fire that individual on the spot for using marijuana and them going to an on site job.

“I think it should be your right to smoke marijuana, but also your employer’s decision to decide if it is impairing your performance,” Arturo Barahona, a freshman majoring in chemistry, said. “If you’re given the right to smoke marijuana but know in a few minutes, you have to go operate a bulldozer at your job, then it is your responsibility to not smoke.”

“It’s been at every single party I’ve ever been to. It’s not hard to get. Also, it’s a plant so it’s not as harmful as say, cigarettes,” Olivia Buckley, a freshman majoring in biology, said. “Plus, it helps my sister with her brain tumor so I’m all for it.”

Between 2001 and 2010, there were 8 million arrests made across the country, with 88 percent for possession, according to the Tampa Tribune.

The passing of this ordinance would only have merit within Tampa city limits. It would not apply to other jurisdictions including University Police (UP), HSCO and Temple Terrace Police.

The 2014-2015 Safety Guide put out by UP still condemns cannabis use with its Drug-Free Workplace Policy. In order to become a law, the ordinance would have to be approved at two different public hearings scheduled for next month.