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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2016 3 years ago

'It's not victimless:' City Council members speak out against marijuana civil citation proposal

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Councilmen Steve Nobile and Bill McGuire said they oppose a local civil citation program.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Some local officials, including County Sheriff Jim Manfre, think possession of small amounts of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia should be handled with a fine, not criminal charges, for first-time offenders. Two city officials disagree. 

"I can’t believe we would sit in a room with law enforcement and use the term ‘victimless crime’ when it comes to marijuana," Councilman Steven Nobile said during a City Council workshop June 28. "Are we that oblivious to where this stuff comes from, how it's produced, how it's transported? There are victims laying in the fields all from here down to South America and across. It's not victimless. Whether you have 20 grams or whether you have 20 pounds, you're supporting that industry. ... You may not have directly stabbed, shot or robbed someone, but someone getting that 20 grams to you did." 

And, Nobile said, the matter of whether or not to treat a particular case of possession as a crime or a citation — which would be left to the discretion of individual law enforcement officers under the proposed county ordinance —  isn't a matter for individual cops. 

"We're turning policemen into judges," he said.

Nobile's said his statements on the proposed citation program don't have anything to do with the question of whether or not to legalize marijuana — a different issue. "I don't care," he said. "If that's what the people want, make it legal, this goes away, we don't have to deal with this stuff." 

Councilman Bill McGuire agreed. 

"It's either legal or it's not," McGuire said. "If it's not legal and you do it, you're a criminal. Period."  

As far as officer discretion goes, McGuire said, law enforcement officers already have it. "Who hasn't tried to talk a traffic cop out of writing you a ticket? And sometimes you do," he said. "Policemen are already exercising discretion in who they're going to cite and who they're not going to cite. ... But as far as marijuana and underage drinking goes, unless you're going change the law, then enforce the law." 

The ordinance the county is considering on marijuana would also give law enforcement officers the option to write citations rather than levy criminal charges for underage drinking between the ages of 18 and 21.

Councilwoman Heidi Shipley didn't offer an opinion at the June 28 workshop, but has spoken positively about potential benefits of a civil citation program in the past

Councilman Jason DeLorenzo said he prefers that any changes to marijuana policy be made countywide — and Bunnell's police chief does not support the citation program, while Flagler Beach officials haven't given a definitive answer. 

"If it's ... some here, some there, people fall through the cracks, and that's not the best way to do it," DeLorenzo said. "Having the countywide program, I think, is the key." He said he was comfortable with the proposed fine of $250 for the citation. 

Mayor Jon Netts said he thought the issue of marijuana policy would be best handled at the state level. 

"Instead of us dealing with this locally, community by community, county by county, we should — if we feel this is something that would be worthwhile — we should be telling our legislators to change the state law so that it's uniform statewide," Netts said. "If it's going to be done in Flagler County, it ought to be done countywide."

Netts summarized the argument in favor of a citation program, as he said he's heard it from officials who support it: It's an opportunity for a youthful offender "to not have a criminal record for what they contend to be a first-time violation." Under the current system, an arrest for marijuana could remain on someone's record for years, keeping them from getting jobs or joining the military. 

The proposed ordinance will come before the City Council again in the future. 

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