Records show difference between pot citation or arrest could be matter of feet

Image 1 of 3

Newly obtained records from Tampa Police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office show that just a few dozen feet between locations has been the difference between someone receiving a citation or being arrested for possession of marijuana.

Distance comes into play because within Tampa city limits marijuana is no longer a criminal offense and qualifies for essentially a ticket. In Hillsborough County, possessing the same amount, less then 20 grams, is a misdemeanor crime which will result in arrest.

In the 8 months since Tampa passed the decriminalization ordinance, police have written hundreds of marijuana citations. During the same time period, HCSO has made hundreds of arrests for the same infraction.

A FOX 13 analysis of citations and arrests from April, the first month decriminalization was in effect, reveals a handful of instances where someone was arrested less than a mile or even feet away from where someone was issued a citation.

It's a legal gray area defense attorney Sam Harden worried about back in March when the decriminalization ordinance passed. He says FOX 13's analysis shows the unfairness caused by Hillsborough County's more severe treatment of marijuana possession laws.

​"At some point you're going to see a situation where one person is found on one side of the street and another person is found on the other side of the street both with a marijuana charge and one person gets a civil citation and the other gets a notice to appear and has a criminal case initiated," said Harden.

In some of the cases where people were arrested in Hillsborough, they were charged with other crimes as well. That means they would not have been eligible for the citation if they had been caught in the city limits.

But Harden says the possibility that a few feet could mean two people are treated very differently under the law reveals the problem the lack of uniform enforcement creates Harden is an advocate for county-wide decriminalization.

Harden says a criminal charge for marijuana possession could easily follow someone for life, and possibly prevent that person from getting a job or getting into school.

"I think it is unfair and I think it needs to be countywide to truly be fair," said Harden.