Drug War

Tampa City Council Votes to Decriminalize Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana

Slouching toward progress


Lin Fong/flickr

The city council in Tampa voted 5-1 to change possession of up to 20 grams (less than 3/4 of an ounce) of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a citable offense—with penalties starting at $75 and going up to $300 by the third offense.

Some critics of the move at last night's meeting wanted to keep possession a misdemeanor for repeat offenders. "Arrest is not the end of the world," one mother said, according to NBC 4 in Tampa. She said her daughter was sent to drug court. "When somebody is using a substance that is addictive and can be abused, just paying a fine is not going to help them," she told the council.

Drug courts have in recent years become one way for drug warriors to pre-empt legalization efforts. Anything, narcotic or otherwise, can be abused and addictive, but it's not the government's role to put people in cages or otherwise trap them in the legal system merely for their personal choices.

Even a $75 fine, let alone a $300 fine, can end up costing a lot more, up to and including people's freedom. The fines associated with non-arrestable offenses help drive policies of policing as revenue generation—adding marijuana to that isn't useful, and neither are drug courts, which plug into the same system and often include similar fines and other traps.

"I don't feel what we did today is different than what a lot of cities are doing and as a country as we're moving nationally," Councilwoman Lisa Montelione (District 7) said last night.

In Philadelphia, possession of up to 30 grams yields a $25—smoking in public is $100. Other cities and towns around the country have voted to try to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in their jurisdictions. Meanwhile, more than 17 million Americans live in states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized, albeit still regulated.