As the city of Miami Beach prepares to craft out a difficult municipal budget for the next fiscal year and a fall election, elected officials are confronted with an unusual campaign of cannabis use.
On Wednesday, the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) presented a petition, which collected 9,000 signatures, to Miami Beach City Hall to coerce a referendum to determine if residents want to change the city’s charter to decriminalize the adult possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and be fined $100 instead of facing misdemeanor charges and jail time.
The Sensible Marijuana Policy Charter Amendment will empower the Miami Beach Police Department to issue a citation for a civil infraction for finding a pittance of marijuana on an individual.
The petition drive is also calling for an amendment to increase the discretion of the State Attorney’s Office to permit a plea to a specific penalty for a civil infraction.
“It is now well established that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people. Moreover, marijuana is, without question, much safer than alcohol. Why are we driving people to drink by forcing them to choose a much more harmful intoxicant?” asked CSMP Chairman Ford Banister.
Supporters of the political action committee’s movement are urging the mayor and city commissioners to adopt a measure in favor of the Sensible Marijuana Policy Amendment.
If the signatures are legitimate and verified by the city clerk’s office, the mayor and city commissioners must place it on a future ballot for residents to decide to amend the charter.
Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora said on the issue: “It’s my understanding they are doing a petition drive to put this on the ballot for voters to decide. If they get the signatures then I support the voters’ right to decide on the issue.”
David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Tuesday Breakfast Club, said Banister was a guest speaker at one of the group’s events, and he supports the movement.
Kelsey said it’s ludicrous for someone using marijuana to be thrown in jail for a year for a harmless act.
“Jail is filled with more people who have done harmless acts,” Kelsey said. “They are building more jails because they are overcrowded, but throwing someone in jail for a year for smoking a marijuana joint is ludicrous.”
Kelsey said years and years ago, someone could go to a pharmacy and buy marijuana and subsequently placed in a brown paper bag and pay a tax for it.
But years down the line leading to today’s world, laws were enacted to arrest and prosecute someone charged with possessing even a small amount of marijuana.
“It never made any sense,” Kelsey said. “I’d rather see someone pay a fine than seeing someone be a burden on the court system and end up in jail.”
Kelsey said the tide has changed, as more and more people are pushing for paying a fine for marijuana use instead of serving jail time.
“Years ago, you wouldn’t see 9,000 signatures on a petition,” he said.
“But with the 9,000 names on the current petition, it shows you that things have changed. More and more people are supporting this movement.”
The Miami Beach-based group wants the city to follow in the footsteps of other U.S. cities..
Seattle, Denver, Oakland and Ann Arbor, MI, have decriminalized marijuana in recent years or imposed laws that cannabis use be the least of law enforcement concerns.