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Leniency on pot needs to extend to minors

After Tampa voted in March to decriminalize possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, citizens are hoping to extend that leniency to minors in the community.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Nehemiah Action event held by local religious groups Monday night to plead for compassion for local youth. The activists debated that extending the policy to minors would ensure their future wouldn’t be irreparable due to a mistake they made in their teens.

They argued “such a criminal violation at a young age makes it difficult for kids to later find jobs and do well in life,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Circuit Court Judge Ronald Ficarrotta stated, “Our judges will bend over backward to make sure these kids succeed.” Ficarrotta also referenced a memorandum soon to go into effect that would allow judges to have juveniles caught with small amounts of marijuana undergo drug treatment and pay a fine rather than receive a criminal conviction.

If marijuana is decriminalized for adults, it only makes sense that the penalty for possession among minors matches the punishments for underage possession of tobacco or alcohol.

After all, one of the main arguments for the legalization of marijuana is its similarity to tobacco and alcohol. All three substances have known negative health effects, so why should two be legal and accepted by society while the other is so heavily scrutinized?

In Florida, if a minor is caught in possession of tobacco, he faces either a $25 fine or 16 hours of community service. The second offense is another $25 fine, and subsequent offenses result in a suspended or revoked license and insurance.

Alcohol is treated a bit more seriously, with a first-time offender having to do either 60 days in jail or 6 months on probation while paying a $500 fine and having his driver’s license revoked for 6 to 12 months. Subsequent offenses result in up to a year in jail or 12 months of probation with a $1,000 fine and a revoked license for two years.

Thanks to the Tampa City Council’s decision to decriminalize marijuana, adults found in possession of small amounts of pot will only receive citations and fines ranging from $75 to $450. This will cut down on the influx of minor offenders to jail and will benefit the local community.

Having minors pay fines will ultimately help them more than jail time ever could. The Scared Straight process, which involves youth visitations to adult prisons, doesn’t work, and a study by the Campbell Collaboration found that such programs actually led to a 28 percent increase in crime.

Instead, make the juveniles work to pay off their fines and offer them help through mandatory rehabilitation programs. Showing the youth of Tampa they are cared for and can overcome mistakes will only encourage them to strive to be better citizens.

Breaking the law is in no way acceptable, but it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. These kids aren’t committing mass murder or robbing a bank. They’re simply smoking pot to relax.

Yes, they should receive punishment for their wrongdoing, but we need to start making sure the punishment matches the crime.

Jail time is the opposite of effective, as lawmakers in Tampa and many other cities across the country have come to realize as they seek to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot in their communities. Juveniles make mistakes too, and it’s only fair they be offered the same tolerance.