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Sun Times Feature Story


Smoke Screen


Smoke screen
• Fining instead of arresting for marijuana possession could end up being complex
By Larry Blustein
sfsuntimes@aol.com
    It looks like the summer is ready to heat up. It will be Smokin'!
   At a time when a new candidate is jumping into the cauldron that has become the 2016 race for the White House nearly every day, there are other south Florida issues that have grabbed the spotlight as well.
   No sooner did red light cameras, $300,000‚ "Welcome To Hallandale Beach‚" sign and police body cameras slide into the hot topic background, south Florida communities have now been hit with media headlines that have come up with an‚ "out of left field idea‚" that many have been talking about for years.
    As this country‚ "and especially the state of Florida" continues to fight for legalization of marijuana‚ "for medicinal purposes‚" there are others who are thinking in an entirely different direction.
   As those legalizing marijuana for cancer patients and others with diseases that have robbed them of their desire to eat‚ we now have those who are thinking more recreational. More Colorado, Oregon, Washington kind of getting high and not so much better - or getting some pain relief.
   Broward County and other south Florida cities have figured that if fines are issued instead of arrests, we are talking using less court and jail money. People caught with marijuana, weighing less than 20 grams, would face a $100 fine instead of arrest under the current proposal.
   Those who understand and know all about marijuana, it's uses and the effects on the body, laugh at the thought law enforcement is even thinking about de-criminalizing it - without even understanding that the money that is being saved - is not going to be saved at all.
   Retired lawyer and Hollywood resident Randy Resnick insists that this entire deal may not be as clear cut as most believe, and those trying to get it passed, had better really check all the facts. While an advocate of the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, he cautions that if pulled over and found to have under the amount, walking away may be tough. In fact, your problems could just be starting.
   "In some ways, the law that is being proposed really makes no sense," Resnick pointed out. "Let's say you are stopped and they find less than 20 grams of marijuana on your person, but before writing a citation for that $100 fine, the officer comes to another conclusion. You are high and impaired. DUI!"
   Even further, if your policeman issues that $100 "possession" fine - and that person is high or stoned, and then goes on and tragically kills someone a few blocks later, guess who is on the chopping block for letting that driver go? You guessed it. Remember that this was all about saving money? Your law enforcement, who would normally give that person a DUI test for alcohol, just let someone go who was probably more impaired than the four beers that was just considered a DUI a few minutes before.
    Usually, when a law enforcement officer pulls over a suspected drunk driver, the car is impounded, a $500 fee to the city, towing and the driver arrested, and put into the court system.
   But what happens when a driver is pulled over, the officer smells marijuana and finds less than 20 grams in his car?
   Resnick admits that over 75% of the time when carrying that amount of marijuana, people are legally high‚ "within minutes to a few hours. He also says that 100% would fail a drug test if given on the spot.
   "So, what are we gaining from this‚" Resnick challenged. "What more will anyone say to the statement I just made‚" and believe that it will make any sense to NOT make it crime‚" unless it is legalized, and then still -  a DUI is a DUI. I know in the states that have legalized it, they are coming up with ways to determine if you are legally impaired - by roadside urine and hair tests."
   In Hallandale Beach, Commissioner Keith London has been pushing the issue in order that the taxpayers‚" city and county‚" will have less to pay for those who are sentenced in court and end up in county jails. But every idea has obstacles, and this one will be no different.
   But this is not just about Hallandale Beach. What many of these issues‚" and the ones that have been pushed in the past lack‚" is someone" or a group of people who actually know and understand what they are fighting for or against.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
   First of all that $100 fine for 20 grams is crazy. Even if cited and the marijuana confiscated, people are not dumb. At an estimated $260 for 20 grams, do you really think that this isn't going to enhance more street activity?  If you don't keep track of those $100 citations, and that will take millions of dollars to set up and maintain, how are you ever going to keep this grand money-saving idea under control?
   "Too many lobbyists and fast-talkers usually get a lot of these issues tabled," Kathy Enriquez of Dania Beach said." I have been around this marijuana issue and every other, and have found that the worst thing that happens is those who are the face of that law, issue or cause are not as informed as he or she should be."
   Legalizing marijuana has had a tough time launching. Whether it was for recreational or medicinal purposes, it seems that people going to bat‚" for either side - are not doing enough research. That appears to be happening in this current issue.
   Many proponents of legalizing marijuana were upset with last year's debate that pit John Morgan, who was the face of the Florida medical marijuana initiative, against Pineallas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
   Both sides really had their issues of grasping what the real issue they were fighting over was all about. Morgan is a high profile southeast lawyer with a home base in Orlando. Many who watched the "debate" cringed over the way both handled the statewide televised event.
   "I knew after watching that debate that it wouldn't pass," Lori Cohen of Aventura said. "Morgan knew so little, and while I respect that he did it, really finding out what the real issue was all about would have helped."
   Cohen also was surprised when a law enforcement officer like Sheriff Gualtieri would not even have a grasp of what the law was about, and that it was medicinal and not as he said "Cheech and Chong" that this vote was all about.
     Miami-Dade commissioners are expected to vote on the plan June 30. Miami Beach has already given preliminary approval to a similar proposal.
   "It's great to say that Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County are going to treat the law as a misdemeanor possession - as a civil offense with a $100 fine," Enriquez said." But understand that nothing is ever going to be etched in stone, and facts are facts when it comes to being high."