Possession of small quantities of marijuana is now officially decriminalized in the city of Tampa.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Monday signed into law an ordinance that allows police officers to fine rather than arrest offenders found with up to 20 grams, roughly three-quarters of an ounce, of marijuana. The measure was passed by the Tampa City Council on Thursday in a 5-1 vote.
City leaders say the new law will prevent offenders from being saddled with the life-long stigma of a criminal record that can hinder job, scholarship and housing opportunities. They also hope it will free the resources of police and courts.
Under the new law, offenders would be fined $75 for a first offense. That rises to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 for subsequent violations.
At least half a dozen Florida communities, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, have adopted similar laws. St. Petersburg began issuing civil citations for juveniles in early 2015 for first offenses for misdemeanors including possession and is considering a similar policy for adults.
Buckhorn could not be reached for comment but previously indicated his support for the measure in January.
“What the country and certainly mayors have realized is incarcerating people, particularly young people, for a very small amount of marijuana absolutely alters their career path for the rest of their life,” he said then. “Once they get into that prison system, they are forever scarred; they forever have a prison record.”