WHAT THE TAMPA CITY ATTORNEY HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE NEW MARIJUANA ORDINANCE

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed the ordinance creating a civil citation program for marijuana possession into law.

Update (3/30/16): On Wednesday I got my hands on a copy of the Tampa PD’s new enforcement procedures for the ordinance. You can read about it here.

Here’s a copy of the signed Ordinance:

Signed Marijuana Ordinance 2016-44

While I believe the Ordinance will be an overall good thing for Tampa, I’ve had several questions about how it should and will be enforced. This morning the City Attorney, Kirby Rainsberger, was kind enough to return my call on the Ordinance and shed some light on a few subjects. Here’s a run-down of what we discussed:

Is it discretionary?

The city and police department’s believe that the ordinance is discretionary, meaning that the police officer has the discretion decide whether to issue a civil citation or arrest the person for a crime. But, interestingly, if the officer decides to not issue a citation and instead initiates a criminal case, the officer has to provide an explanation saying why the person did not get a civil citation.

Tampa PD is currently working on an update to the Standard Operating Procedures that will address the ordinance and how it will be enforced. Once that is put out by Tampa PD I will post a copy.

According to Rainsberger, the city wants to reserve the civil citation option for people who do not have a history of drug use or selling drugs, and have community ties. They are trying to leave the decision ultimately up to the officer as to whether or not a person gets a criminal charge.

City Attorney Rainsberger also mentioned that they will be monitoring how the ordinance is applied, because they don’t want to see a situation where people of different races get different penalties handed out.

When does it go into effect?

The city and Tampa PD are going to start the civil citation program on April 1st, 2016. This is interesting, because the ordinance is actually the law as of Monday when Bob Buckhorn signed it.

The city sees this as part of its discretionary enforcement, however it’s unclear what will happen with people who are arrested for marijuana possession between Monday and April 1st. As I’ve pointed out, the ordinance doesn’t contain the words “discretion” or “discretionary” anywhere. It is possible that these people who would otherwise qualify for a civil citation will have their misdemeanor cases reduced by the state attorney’s office, but there’s no word on that yet.

What happens if you don’t pay the fine? Does it become a criminal charge?

As I asked in the previous post about this ordinance, the language of the ordinance suggests that if you don’t pay the fine you aren’t eligible for the civil citation. Here’s the paragraph I’m talking about:

If the applicable civil penalty is not paid within 30 days from the citation date, in addition to the procedure provided in Tampa Code Chapter 23.5 in the event of such nonpayment, the defendant will no longer be eligible for the alternative enforcement procedures provided by this section.

When I asked City Attorney Rainsberger about this, he said that it doesn’t mean a criminal case  would be filed in the event a person doesn’t pay the fine. Instead, the city would forward the unpaid fine to the clerk of courts to be entered as a judgment in small claims court. If that happens, then that person wouldn’t be eligible in future cases for a civil infraction.

The bottom line – if you get a civil citation and don’t pay it you won’t be eligible for a civil citation in the future. Pay the citation.

City Attorney Rainsberger also noted that the city wants to give people caught with marijuana “a wake-up call” that doesn’t result in a criminal conviction, license suspension, and having their vehicle seized. It sounds like we’re on the right path with the new ordinance, even if there are some unanswered questions right now.