Tampa marijuana ordinance goes into effect Friday

- Starting midnight on Friday, April 1, anyone caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana could walk away with just a ticket and a fine.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed the ordinance to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana more than a week ago. But Tampa police officers were still enforcing the old law while officers were being educated on how to administer the new one.

TPD circulated a legal bulletin this week, guiding officers on the new civil penalty. It applies to most people over the age of 18 who haven't committed any other criminal act during a stop.

Officers do have the discretion to charge the more serious misdemeanor for repeat offenders or anyone with an outstanding civil fine that has not been paid. They also are still allowed to search a car if the odor of marijuana is present and can detain someone while they weigh the drug to determine if it is above or below the 20 gram threshold.

If an officer does charge someone with a misdemeanor crime for having an amount under 20 grams they must give a valid reason and document it.

Defense lawyer Sam Harden says the ordinance raises questions about how courts will deal with similar cases just outside the city limits in Hillsborough county.

"I think we're going to see a lot of people getting arrested and charged with a crime outside the city limits wanting to take advantage of the civil citation and it's unclear to me how that's going to play out in the courts," said Harden.

Fines for a civil citation for marijuana possession begin at $75 and increase with each subsequent offense.

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