Florida law views possession of marijuana up to 20 grams as a first-degree misdemeanor that could send someone to jail for up to one year and impose a $1,000 fine. The city council in Cocoa Beach, however, has chosen to decriminalize possession in those small amounts. In a 3-2 vote, the council gave city officials the ability to issue civil citations instead of criminal charges. The decision also applied to people found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia.

The city’s police chief said that the decision would confuse people. It gave the impression that misdemeanor marijuana possession would only result in a ticket in Cocoa Beach. He said that would not be the case.

Although the decision has created questions about how people with marijuana will be treated, the mayor said that it was not intended to encourage public cannabis consumption. He said that the council did not want authorities to turn a blind eye to drug use in the community.

Societal attitudes toward marijuana have been evolving, but a person could still face serious consequences after an arrest on drug crimes. Useful answers about the meaning of criminal charges might be difficult for a person to come by without the representation of an attorney. An attorney may be able to evaluate the case and look for ways to protect the person’s rights. Questions about issues like the reason for a traffic stop or the lawfulness of a search might reduce a prosecutor’s ability to advance the criminal case. An attorney’s opinion about the strength of the evidence may help a person make an appropriate choice between standing trial or negotiating a plea bargain.

Source: The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Florida city votes to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana“, Laura Tolliver, March 14, 2019

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