People caught with small amounts of marijuana can now receive civil citations instead of jail time in Florida's largest county, the first in the state to treat marijuana possession as a non-criminal act. The Miami-Dade County Commission has approved a proposal to let police issue $100 civil citations or the equivalent of community service hours for possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. County Commissioner Sally Heyman says her measure seeks to spare people a criminal record and will reduce the economic burden on the criminal justice system. "It's just like a traffic ticket, you have a fine to pay," she says. "It's low enough that people can do community service."
The measure passed 10-3, with the commissioners who voted against it calling the measure a "slippery slope" and a slap on the wrist. The decision to arrest will still be up to the officer's discretion, and police officials say they'll have to develop policies concerning when a civil citation is appropriate rather than an arrest. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he supported the measure and would like police to make an arrest if someone is smoking marijuana in public. "It is still illegal, but it's going to be handled in a different way," he says. "It's just another tool our officers can use." (An Illinois county with 5.2 million residents has stopped prosecuting minor pot cases.)