St. Petersburg considers tickets for marijuana possession

Image 1 of 2

A St. Petersburg city council committee Thursday requested a draft ordinance to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In general terms, adult first offenders would receive civil citations, or tickets, for what is now one of the lowest criminal charges possible. 

The idea comes from city councilman Steve Kornell, who said the offense should not disrupt someone's academic and employment prospects. 

"I know people that it's happened to. Absolutely yes, it does (happen)," Kornell told FOX 13 News.

City council chairman Charlie Gerdes agrees and asked for broader action. 

"I asked that we reach out to the county and collaborate and do it in parallel so that we work with the county and try to do it at the same time," he explained. 

St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway agreed. "If we're going to do this, if we're going to be equal and fair about this, then we should do it countywide, and maybe we should do it Tampa Bay wide," he said. If St. Petersburg acts unilaterally, then "When you come to St Pete, you get a citation, but when you go to Clearwater you get arrested," Holloway said.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri shared an even broader view. "I think it's something that should be considered and the discussion and the dialogue and the debate should be considered on a state level," he told FOX 13 News. While Chief Holloway personally does not favor decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana, Sheriff Gualtieri said, "I don't have any concern at all for very small personal use amounts of marijuana, about people not going to jail for that.  That's not the issue- the issue is an inconsistent and unfair environment." 

The sheriff expressed other problems a city-by-city approach could create, and said he would welcome an invitation to share his concerns with St. Petersburg's elected leaders.

Thursday, council members were not swayed. "I do agree that it would be better to have a county ordinance, I don't agree that we should not do it because of that," Kornell said. 

"Actually, we think that it should be a statewide decriminalization...Local jurisdictions are doing this because the state legislature has refused to act," Chairman Gerdes pointed out.