On July 8, 2015, Miami-Dade County will officially “decriminalize” misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Does this mean you can walk down the street smoking a joint?
Of course not.
This is what the new law actually means.
The Miami-Dade County Commission has passed a resolution that allows - does not require - police officers to issue a non-criminal citation for simple possession of marijuana (cannabis) under 20 grams.
If cited, the non-criminal infraction does not create a criminal record. Instead, it is similar to a traffic ticket where the only penalty imposed would be a fine or possibly a few hours of community service. Unlike the issuance of a Promise To Appear (PTA), a non-criminal marijuana citation is exactly that: non-criminal.
While this sounds like a great law, understand that the County has given police officers complete discretion in deciding whether to arrest for possession of marijuana (and by arrest I include the issuance of a PTA) or issue the non-criminal citation.
Discretion is a loose term. If a cop is having a bad day and catches you with some marijuana in your pocket, he or she could just as easily arrest you and take you to jail as they could issue a non-criminal citation.
In other words, it’s completely up to the officer. There are no hard-and-fast guidelines that require, or even suggest, that the officer issue the ticket instead of making the arrest.
An officer who is coming off of his or her shift and doesn’t feel like writing up a report could issue a citation.
An officer who hopes to make some extra money in court time could issue a PTA or make a physical arrest.
Each cop could technically establish their own standards by which they decide to issue the non-criminal ticket or make the arrest.
A cop could decide that if an individual is smoking marijuana in public, they would arrest, and that they would only issue the ticket if the individual was merely carrying marijuana on their person.
A cop could decide that they are not going to issue non-criminal citations at all.
Possession over twenty grams, purchasing marijuana, trafficking marijuana, selling marijuana, and possessing marijuana with intent to sell (individually packaged baggies, scales, large amounts of cash) are still felonies and will result in your physical arrest.
However, as long as you are in Miami-Dade County and you possess less than 20 grams of marijuana, you might - and I stress might - be given a non-criminal ticket instead of dealing with the headache of an arrest.
This new resolution is a county ordinance. In the remaining 66 Florida Counties you will be arrested or issued a PTA for possession of marijuana.
Eric Matheny is a Miami possession of marijuana lawyer and Broward possession of marijuana lawyer.