Faith leaders push for misdemeanor pot offenses

Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 00:06:15-05

Faith leaders are bringing attention to a Hillsborough County's civil citation program.

The "HOPE" group is upset the sheriff does not use the program for misdemeanor marijuana offenses, like many other counties in Florida.

"Kids make mistakes and to be arrested for something like that is very shocking, it's shocking," Judy Morton, with HOPE, said. 

She's upset that Hillsborough County deputies can arrest juveniles for possession of marijuana, 20 grams or less, instead of writing them a ticket, like the majority of other counties.


"If it's being done in other counties, it should be done in Hillsborough County as well.  It's not fair for our kids," she said.


According to the State Attorney's office, a Florida statute states each jurisdiction can design their own civil citation program. The law doesn't define what cases should be included. The state's Department of Juvenile Justice backs that up. 


"It is critical that the local stakeholders all can be on the same page of how civil citation will operate, which types of charges will be accepted," Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice Christina Daly said. 


A Hillsborough County Sheriff's office spokesperson said these juvenile need to go in front of a judge.


"You look at some of these juveniles that have a long criminal rap history, young adults that have long criminal rap histories and they often start off with minor marijuana possession cases.  So we know that it is a gateway towards creating more crime," Larry McKinnon with HCSO said. 


The Tampa Police Department is moving toward writing young people citations for marijuana possession. They go in front of City Council on February 18.


Their spokesperson said different jurisdictions make their own decisions.


"The system that we're putting together is not looking the other way.  We're definitely discouraging that type of behavior, we're giving somebody a second chance," Stephen Hegarty with TPD said.