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US FL: Editorial: Wasted Resources





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URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v13/n350/a03.html

Newshawk: Herb

Votes: 0

Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jul 2013

Source: Gainesville Sun, The (FL)

Copyright: 2013 The Gainesville Sun

Contact: http://drugsense.org/url/yMmn4Ifw

Website: http://www.gainesville.com/

Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/163





Alachua County wastes a shameful amount of time and money on small-time marijuana arrests.


A recent series in The Sun tallied some of those costs: Each arrest takes an officer off the streets for about 1 hour and 40 minutes. There are the costs of booking someone into the jail and the $122 a day expense of keeping them there.


It costs about $21 an hour for a local misdemeanor prosecutor to work the cases, which account for as much as 8 percent of their workload. There's an additional fiscal toll if a public defender is involved.


Then there are the costs for the person who's arrested: One University of Florida student told The Sun that a misdemeanor marijuana charge cost him about $3,000, including bail and court fees. Now he's running into problems applying for jobs with an arrest on his record.


It's all to crack down on a drug with such widespread use that even Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell admits to smoking it during college. As long as they haven't used marijuana within two years, she hires deputies and other employees who have smoked.


So why isn't Darnell open to changing her deputies' approach to marijuana cases?


In Florida, possession of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor offense. Law enforcement agencies can choose to arrest and jail offenders or give them a notice to appear later in court -- the latter being more like a ticket and without some of the front-end costs.


Both the local state attorney and public defender told The Sun that people caught with a small amount of marijuana shouldn't be jailed. Gainesville and UF police already issue notices to appear rather than making arrests.


Yet the Alachua County Sheriff's Office issued only four notices in 2012 as compared to more than 230 arrests in misdemeanor marijuana cases, according to County Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson.


Hutchinson has proposed that the county reduce the amount of funding for the Sheriff's Office for each misdemeanor pot arrest. The commission lacks the authority to change marijuana laws, so it's understandable that Hutchinson would try to use its fiscal power to force change.


It's the right idea but the wrong approach, creating unnecessary confrontation. Local Fraternal Order of Police President Jeff McAdams has called it a "treacherous" plan. Darnell has also objected, saying she must enforce laws that are on the books.


But Darnell fails to acknowledge that she has discretion. The Sheriff's Office rarely enforces fireworks violations on Independence Day and doesn't enforce the airboat noise ordinance because it lacks the means, spokesmen for her office recently told a local television station.


At the very least, Darnell should instruct her deputies to issue tickets rather than making arrests. Gainesville police took a similar step in 2005 with open container cases, following the bad publicity surrounding officers cuffing and booking out-of-town fans caught on the streets with open cans of beer.


Better yet, Darnell should take the additional step of clearly telling her deputies that misdemeanor marijuana possession is not a priority.


If she's worried about having enough money in her budget to deal with serious issues such as sexual predators, then cutting the wasteful cost of marijuana arrests can only help.




MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom

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