Tampa City Council to vote on decriminalizing marijuana

Ken Suarez reports

- People who get caught with a small amount of marijuana in Tampa may soon get away with a relatively small fine.

Tampa City Council read a proposed ordinance during Thursday's meeting to that would make getting caught with 20 grams of marijuana or less a civil infraction.

Right now, offenders can have their driver's license suspended, get a year behind bars, and be fined up to $1,000. Perhaps the most severe part of the current penalty is the person would have a criminal record.

At a hearing to discuss decriminalizing marijuana in the City of Tampa Thursday, the public got a chance to speak out.

"As a parent, I suggest this is about giving our youth and our community a second chance," said Dottie Groover-Skipper. "For a first-time offender to be arrested is not the answer."

Under the ordinance, instead of being arrested, first-time offenders would be fined $75, a second-time offender $150, third-timers $300. The penalty would max-out at $450 for fourth and further offenses.

Offenders would have 30 days to pay the fine.

The Tampa Police Department and a majority of city council members said they favor the change. 

However, Council Member Charlie Miranda expressed concern.

"In my opinion, we're backdooring (sic) something that the federal government, and President Obama just put $1 billion to fight drugs. I don't know what kind of drugs he is talking about, but I would assume all of them," Miranda explained.

The council is expected to vote on the issue March 17 at 9:30 a.m. If council approves the proposed ordinance and the mayor signs it into law, changes would be effective immediately.

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