On February 19th, 2021, the Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. The new ordinance also creates a pathway for individuals to get help through treatment and educational programs.
What the new law does
Before the law passed, individuals faced up to $1000 in fines, one year in prison, or both for possessing twenty grams or less of marijuana. For perspective, twenty grams is the weight equivalent of about one ounce.
The new law changed the first three offenses into civil citations, with the first offense resulting in a $100 civil fine. The fines increase by $100 for each subsequent incident. If an individual cannot pay the fine, the new law gives them the option to pay their penalty by doing community service hours instead.
Under the new law, the third and fourth citations require the individual to attend mandatory drug screening, drug treatment programs, and drug education programs. The law applies criminal charges after the fourth time a person is cited for possessing 20 grams or fewer of marijuana.
Comparison to Tampa’s 2016 ordinance
Independent of the recently passed law, the city of Tampa instituted a similar ordinance back in 2016. The penalties in that law differed from the new one in that misdemeanor charges began to apply after the third citation. Fines were also slightly different, starting at $75 for the first offense and going as high as $450 for the third offense. Also, the Tampa law lacked the education, testing, and treatment outlines included in the new law. Because Tampa is in Hillsborough County, the marijuana possession law will change to match the county law.
County Commissioners hope that the new law will help people suffering from drug addiction get the help they need before it becomes a problem. Allowing additional citations to accrue on one’s record will eventually force a person to face the same consequences that the new law tries to help people avoid.
Consequences of criminal charges
Besides the $1000 fine and jail time, a misdemeanor charge of possession will also lead to suspension of the offender’s driving license. An individual convicted of marijuana possession will be ineligible for a “hardship” or a “business purpose only” license for the first year of suspension. The individual will also see his or her insurance rates increase.
For certain professionals, a marijuana possession charge can have negative repercussions on their careers. Healthcare professionals, military members, law enforcement, licensed educators, and other legal professionals charged with marijuana possession may need additional assistance to understand their options for the best possible outcome.