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Flagler’s Pot De-Criminalization Proposal Wilts, But Narrower Version Still Possible

| May 17, 2016

pot decriminalization

There was a telling distance between Sheriff Jim Manfre’s proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot and other minor crimes and the perspective of the State Attorney’s Office and the county’s cities at a work group discussion of the proposal Tuesday. Manfre, right, faced at an opposite table, from left, Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster, Flagler Beach Police Captain Matt Doughney, Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher, Bunnell City Manager Dan Davis, and Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts. (© FlaglerLive)

A powerful work group gathering many of the county’s top government and law enforcement authorities or their representatives on Tuesday had more questions and doubts about than endorsements for a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.


The proposal, suggested by Sheriff Jim Manfre in January, is to issue traffic-ticket-like civil citations to first-time offenders caught with pot, rather than shunt them through the criminal justice system, where they would be saddled with a record and lose their chance to work certain jobs, get certain loans and other benefits. Manfre wanted the civil citation program to apply to other minor crimes, too. If the county were to pass such an ordinance, every city in the county would have to do likewise for the proposal to apply uniformly.

But Bunnell may choose to opt out. Flagler Beach’s police chief is not enthusiastic. Palm Coast’s mayor thinks the state should address the issue, not a patchwork of local governments, though he would also favor a narrowly defined ordinance for some decriminalization. The state attorney’s office isn’t interested in anything beyond civil citations for pot. And the public defender, one of the strongest proponents of decriminalization, isn’t sure anymore whether such an ordinance would be legal, though Volusia, Broward, Miami-Dade and Leon counties have all adopted one.

“Is this even a legal ordinance that these other counties have passed, or is it just something the Legislature has done a wink and a nod and nobody has asked about,” Public Defender Jim Purdy said. “I’m sorry to be the one to open up that can of worms.”

“I’m not sure whether we have a consensus of this group that there should be an ordinance move forward,” Barbara Revels, the county commissioner who chaired today’s work group, said.

For all that, a proposal that could eventually move forward is still in the works. It did not die Tuesday. It will be drafted in the next few weeks, chiefly by Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman and Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, with County Attorney Al Hadeed’s review, and submitted to the Public Safety Coordinating Council for an up-or-down vote at the council’s June 8 meeting. Many members of that council sat around the work group’s table this afternoon at the Emergency Operations Center’s main conference room. The proposal will then go to the county commission and will be shopped around to the counties’ cities for their elected officials to weigh in. Only then will the county hold public hearings and either approve or reject the proposal.

Bunnell City Manager Dan Davis had said the city was opposed to the original proposal in part because a 20-gram allowance for pot before criminal measures kicked in was too high. So the group agreed to lower the threshold to 10 grams. Lewis, speaking for the State Attorney’s office, was adamantly opposed to expanding the civil citation approach beyond pot, with maybe a few exceptions if other minor crimes don’t involve victims.


Questions about the need, legality and breadth of de-criminalizing some pot possession.


Richard Blaine, representing the Clerk of Court, and Matt Doughney, the Flagler Beach police chief, questioned whether marijuana arrests constitute a serious enough problem to warrant a change in local ordinances. Blaine said there was a total of 88 arrests last year for marijuana countywide, nine of them in Bunnell, just seven in Flagler Beach.

“To me there doesn’t seem to be the need” for a local ordinance, Blaine said. Doughney agreed, saying that while an individual in Flagler Beach could face an arrest affidavit without being taken to jail, it’s up to the State Attorney’s office to decide whether to make the charges stick or to drop them. If the charges are dropped, the case is closed.

True, Manfre said, but that still leaves the individual with an arrest record. That’s what this ordinance is attempting to clean up without forcing the individual to go through the criminal justice system and the laborious and costly process of expunging a record, which can take up to two years, and can be done only once.

Blaine suggested that a small tweak in state law could achieve both goals. Individuals could still face arrest, but if the case is dropped, the law could be changed to enable the clerk of court to keep the record sealed. Most, if not all, those around the table favored the approach, understanding that any attempt to change the law would be a long shot.

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There was consensus on few matters, but this one was clear: no one favors giving pot offenders more than one chance, at least within a given period. One proposal to limit one such allowance per year was ridiculed as being too permissive, but there wasn’t another one to replace it. And there was no answer when Doughney, the Flagler Beach police chief, asked how local cops would know whether an individual would have had a civil citation in another county. So while the group was opposed to giving individuals more than one chance, it left it unclear how someone who commits the same infraction twice within five years, for example, would be treated.

Plus, the whole system, which would be administered by the county or the clerk of court, would have to be solidly documented. “It doesn’t sound like if we’re going to do something like this, it’s going to be free,” Revels said.

Unlike last week’s meeting of the Public Safety Coordinating Council, where Manfre and Lewis had serious disagreements, today’s meeting, with both men at opposite ends of the table arrangements, were more deferential to each other’s ideas, though by then it was clear that Lewis’s approach would prevail.

Manfre was disappointed by today’s dampening outcome but still optimistic.

“I think there’s an opportunity for everyone to express themselves and hopefully we can still get some consensus. I’m still optimistic that we can work our way through this and come up with something even as a trial ordinance to see if it works, and put in all the infrastructure, if we decide to expand it later on. Maybe the way it looks, obviously I have a larger vision, some people have less of one. But this is what government is, it’s working through your agreements and disagreements and trying to find something that works for everybody.”

The meeting included attendance by the Flagler Beach and Palm Coast mayors, The Flagler Beach and Bunnell police chiefs, the Bunnell city manager, the sheriff, the public defender, the clerk of court, and representatives from the state attorney’s office, court administration and the county commission.

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20 Responses for “Flagler’s Pot De-Criminalization Proposal Wilts, But Narrower Version Still Possible”

  1. Times Up says:

    Remember these “county’s top government and law enforcement authorities” in November good citizens of Palm Coast . House cleaning time is at hand !

  2. Dean Carpenter says:

    Legalize pot? But it is currently illegal as defined by federal laws as is illegal immigration. Meanwhile activists scramble to create laws making currently legal firearms illegal so the guns will go away like the drugs and illegal immigrants. Meanwhile presidential candidates vow to overturn US Supreme Court decisions that interfere with their political agenda.

    This whole concept of “legal” has become quite flaccid. Holding on to my gun & Bible with grim resolve…

  3. Retired law enforcement says:

    Wheever a politician, police chief or sheriff talks about ‘DECRIMINALIZATION” It really means they have ‘GIVEN UP”.

  4. Robert Lewis says:

    How is this their legal authority? State laws supersede local laws or ordinances. You can make the law more strict, but not the other way around. What’s next? An ordinance down grading murder as a misdemeanor?

    This is a joke.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why bother with this at all? It will be legal in Florida soon enough.

  6. PCer says:

    Decriminalization does not equal legalization. It would still be illegal and people would still be held accountable, just not at the same level. Instead of having an arrest record, they would get a civil fine – much like a speeding ticket. Why are we continuously throwing people in to the justice system at a cost to my tax dollars for a victimless crime?

    “Blaine said there was a total of 88 arrests last year for marijuana countywide, nine of them in Bunnell, just seven in Flagler Beach.” How many of those arrests were young people under the age of 25 who now have a felony arrest on their records for pot? They can no longer get certain student loans, could be turned down for certain jobs and positions, and have essentially lost out on moving up and bettering themselves all for a little bit of weed. No doubt they made a stupid mistake. However, I would much rather see these people pay a fine, grow up, and be able to be productive members of society than being turned into an ex-con with a record.

    Just as a side note… when a white person with a little bit of money is arrested for week, their chances of having it thrown out or sealed is much better than a person of color. Decriminalization is another way to level the playing field… some people are afraid of that.

    As a voter in this county, I will be watching. If you as commissioner or other elected official are against this, you have lost my vote.

  7. tom says:

    What a shame. Flagler County could have become a magneet for druggies.

  8. Steveo says:

    While I agree that possession of 20 grams or less of weed is a petty crime and I agree that personal use should be legalized, I think this is more of a “smoke” screen (sorry, had to go there). Manfre is using this as a re-election ploy. Trying to get the burner population to throw some votes his way. Problem is, they will be too stoned to remember who to vote for…

  9. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Huh, I thought that bunnell would be all for it. In fact, isn’t it basically decriminalized there already? Wasn’t that how bunnell police officer John Murray avoided marijuana related charges all those years ago?

  10. RT says:

    Manfre says “Maybe the way it looks, obviously I have a larger vision, some people have less of one”.

    Yes Jim, Chiefs of police and State Attorney prosecutors who’ve been dealing with the issue their entire careers have less of a vision. Soon your vision will probably be from the outside looking in so the issue should be tabled until the next Sheriff has at least four years to work on the issue and get it right IMO

  11. RT says:

    PCer,

    What do you consider a “little bit” of weed? Couple joints maybe? No felony there regardless of the color of ones skin. Google the state statute reference amounts that would incur a felony charge. A little bit of actual knowledge would help your argument…and would invalidate your side note comment.

  12. Jim Bob says:

    If this official jibber jabbering doesn’t discourage you about our local government, you must be deranged.

  13. Ben Hogarth says:

    Mr. Lewis – your comments are a prime example of how public perception of the justice system is so incredibly inaccurate to its actual operations and procedures. You are correct however in that the Supremacy Clause within the U.S. Constitution does not allow State Law to trump Federal Law.. but that’s not what we are talking about here and it would be a misrepresentation to imply or state so…

    So let’s clear some things up (just in case there are American’s still capable of reading walls of text)..

    Misdemeanor offenses are NOT an indictable offense in that there is no Grand Jury or Magistrate that weighs the evidence against the crime to see if there is sufficiency for trial. Misdemeanors are simple offenses punishable by up to 1 year in prison. In these instances, it is up to the state attorney’s office in each district to decide whether to pursue charges. And yes, possession of marijuana is still very much against State and Federal law regardless of local ordinance. Possession of less than 20 grams of Marijuana or THC Cannabis is considered a misdemeanor whereas anything above is at felony level.

    The American Bar Association (ABA) after years and years of research and analysis of possession arrests revealed that an overwhelming majority of these arrests were tied to an individual who was only arrested due to possession and not tied any other crime. With their findings between these studies and those of the successes stemming from the Civil Citation programs relating to juvenile justice, the ABA put two and two together. What I mean by this is that rather than punishing simple misdemeanor offenses with jail time, deferment programs could be established to keep kids out of jail and away from a habitual life of crime. Studies have already shown that the majority of criminals serving (felony) time would easily repeat if allowed to return to normal society. In order to limit younger kids from falling into this trap, these programs would provide an opportunity for the individual to change their behavior (especially when the crime is victimless).

    So in essence, the taxpayers save a ridiculous amount of money in jailing and housing costs (not to mention staffing) while the individual gets a second chance to change their behavior without ruining their permanent record and chances for student loans or opportunities to succeed in life… This does NOT mean the misdemeanor is no longer a misdemeanor or a crime, punishable by jail time. Instead, it allows a more dynamic approach to punishing AND rewarding good behavior, while avoiding all of the troubles and costs that go into the jail system.

    Now, how a local government goes about introducing a successful Civil Citation program for 1st degree misdemeanor offenses (only) is up to various agencies and entities involved. Make no mistake, there are a million opinions on this topic. But here is the great news – there is already over 30 years of research and data to support these Civil Citation programs and the ABA has charged each local entity with drafting their own plan in order to achieve the intended goals. The amount of money saved alone would be more than worthwhile for any taxpayer base, but knowing that your kid isn’t going to serve hard jail time for a stupid mistake is also pretty nice and practical too.

    As PCer stated, there is also an unfortunate discrimination issue tied to “weed” possession and the individuals involved in the federal government during the Nixon administration who sought to make marijuana possession totally illegal, did so with the intent of limiting a minority population from access to any business program they could profit from. We historians know this to be true and it has been confirmed by former appointed officials from the White House. But this is a little side note in a decades old problem..

    So what does this all mean for Flagler County? Well, nothing really to be honest. From what I have read, it appears that the officials in Flagler all feel as if THEIR way works best – that THEY know what is best. Yet, it’s funny that the ABA who is really a chief authority on this subject from a State and Federal perspective (the experts) has called on all local governments to subscribe to these civil citation programs under certain acceptable guidelines; having all but colored between the lines for these folks. The intent of the ABA is to have a more consistent and sensible deferment program between county lines. Unfortunately, they never account for political egos (particularly at local levels) and forgot that no county government is going to take the pragmatic approach over one that scores votes.

    And in the case of Flagler, it sounds as if these officials want to go even further and redefine what a 1st degree misdemeanor possession of Marijuana is [from 20g to 10g]. Again, while well within their purview, totally distracting and pointless because the way these programs should work – if you are charged with any additional crime (not just the 20g or less), you don’t get to be in the civil citation program. You would get formally charged with all crimes attached to the marijuana possession as possession is still very very much illegal. Again, the point here is to provide an alternative punishment program (other than jail) for young folks who make ONE simple mistake. And it’s also sad that the ABA had intended for these programs to apply to the other 1st degree misdemeanor offenses and not just cannabis possession, yet Flagler once again gets wrapped up into the political aspect rather than the practical. It’s sexier to label an ordinance based off of “marijuana” rather than “misdemeanor offenses” – especially when it scores votes for incumbents in an election year.

    But don’t worry folks… government workers and elected officials all know you won’t read walls of text like this or any material that seeks to educate. Always sad to see more and more people drink the Kool-Aid. Sure, this one may not be killing you, but it sure does kill brain cells and really that’s what people in comfortable chairs count on at the end of the day.

    But don’t take my word for it – READ A BOOK!

  14. karenjj2 says:

    Your DUI conviction, or refusal to consent to a chemical test is considered a misdemeanor in Florida unless: This is your third DUI within ten years (classified as a third degree felony).

    Possession of marijuana does not endanger the public safety nor am I concerned about people carrying or even smoking marijuana in public.

    On the other hand, I am concerned about drunks driving and/or wandering around and into stores carrying their “legal” guns.

  15. karenjj2 says:

    Keeping marijuana, a plant with known medicinal properties, “illegal” benefits the drug and private prison corps.

    Continuing the marijuana ban also prevents US farmers from planting hemp which is the basis for multitudes of products such as paper (US Constitution is written on it), cloth (we import from Canada), and Henry Ford demonstrated an indestructible car made with hemp.

  16. Buylocal says:

    Well said Karenjj2

  17. PCer says:

    Well RTer, I would propose that any amount of marijuana be legal for any person over the age of 21 to possess and use. Since this is simply about decriminalization of small amounts, I would propose that anything under 20 grams be punishable with a civil fine. Currently, it is a misdemeanor with a $1000 fine and up to a year incarceration. What would that year do to a 19 year old kid? Especially considering that if a white kid and a black kid are arrested for the same crime under the same circumstance, the chances of the black kid being sentenced to time in jail are much higher than the chances of the white kid serving time. If it is just a civil fine, it negates the entire process and saves the taxpayers money on a victimless crime.

  18. RT says:

    PCer,

    You keep using the white kid vs black kid example….what is your source for this information here in Flagler where many accuse the court system to be too “lenient” or a “revolving door”? Not to mention you seem to associate white with having money for a better defense. Check into the median income for this county and you’ll see that most people are living paycheck to paycheck and white or black, really wouldn’t be able to afford the expense of a good attorney. Or are you saying that judges in this county hand down sentences based on the color of ones skin? Because if we were to check the rap sheets of some of these kids we see arrested for committing crimes, we’d see that it isn’t the first time they saw a court room.

  19. PCer says:

    Racism is alive in well, right here in Flagler County and across the country. If it were not here in Flagler, then the Southern Poverty Law Center would not have had to do an investigation into our school system. You can look that up on your own. I’m not doing your homework for you, you go do the research. Black males are more likely to be convicted of the same crime than white males in the US.

    Back to the subject at hand… it is marijuana. It is not meth, heroine, or crack. 20 grams or less should be a ticketable offense no worse than a speeding ticket. If you are not going to legalize it, then at least decriminalize it.

  20. Country Rock Dog says:

    Blah blah blah, color notwithstanding, if you’re White or negroe dope is dope, shouldn’t even be carrying, smoking, buying or selling it to get arrested & unfairly sentenced as you claim.

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