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Marijuana possession legal on south beach

July 14, 2011

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Not yet, but advocates are pushing to decriminalize marijuana possession on the beach. More than a dozen people pushing for the new law arrived at city hall on Miami Beach with a petition that contained more than 9,000 signatures supporting the change. The new law would decriminalize marijuana possession of less than 20 grams and merely make it a civil fine. As it stands, people arrested for marijuana possession face a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable up to a year in jail. While it is not the most serious offense on the books, people arrested for this crime generally hire a Miami criminal defense lawyer to defend the charge. Typically in Miami, prosecutors offer pre-trial diversion of a withhold of adjudication and court costs.

If a defendant charged with marijuana possession has no criminal record, prosecutors will likely offer pre-trial diversion. A defendant will be required to pay a $250 fee to enroll in the program and then be required to complete a drug course. While the conditions are not onerous, defendants are only afforded to enter the program once. That is why it is recommended to fight the case and seek an outright nolle pros or dismissal of the charges. Although not recommended, the easiest way to dispose of the charge is to take a plea to a withhold and court costs, but that will leave someone with a criminal record and possible immigration consequences. If 4,300 signatures are verified and the city attorney and city commission find that the new ordinance is constitutional, the police will only be permitted to issue $100 fines and no longer be permitted to make arrests.

The new law does not appear imminent and there are many hurdles before it is passed. For now, the Miami Beach city attorney is of the opinion that the ordinance is probably not constitutional. In the event the ordinance is declared constitutional, the bill still has to be placed on a ballot and voted into law. In the event that occurs, Miami Beach would be the first city in the State of Florida to decriminalize marijuana possession. The move to change the law is being driven by the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy. The group has been pushing for the change since 2010. Proponents of the change claim that the new law would save millions for the city. They claim that Philadelphia passed a similar ordinance and saved $2 million the first year the change was in effect.

In the event the law is passed, all other laws involving marijuana will remain on the books. Felony marijuana possession more than 20 grams or marijuana trafficking offenses will continue to be charged and prosecuted. While felony possession cases are easily defended, trafficking cases are more difficult as a three year minimum mandatory sentence attaches. In either case, anyone arrested for any marijuana charge should seek out a qualified defense firm to defend the case. Even if time served or probation is offered, defendants must be aware that accepting pleas of this nature will subject one to deportation in the event they are not a U.S. citizens. Residents could also lose their green cards by accepting pleas for these charges.

Pot-Referendum Bid Put Off, Miami Herald July 7, 2011.
Categories: Drug Offenses
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