Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre’s proposal to de-criminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana moved a step closer to reality this week with the impending creation of a committee that will likely draft an ordinance mirrored after those already in place in other counties in the state. But the process still has many steps to go through.
The Public Safety Coordinating Council, an advisory board that monthly gathers all the county’s law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and social service agencies, agreed Wednesday to establish a subcommittee of its members and others to take on the proposal, but also to broaden it beyond marijuana. The proposal would study the adoption of a civil citation program that would apply not just to pot possession but to numerous other offenses, currently criminal, that could be downgraded to citations.
“It basically mirrors the juvenile civil citation,” Manfre said, with exceptions. So such offenses as battery, criminal mischief under a certain amount, theft under a certain amount, breach of the peace, and so on, which currently trigger arrests and criminal records, could become civil citations instead, reducing the load on cops and the criminal justice system, and more notably, helping individuals avoid permanent criminal records. If Flagler were to adopt an approach similar to that in other counties, the citation route would levy fines that would rapidly escalate for similar but second an third offenses, before the same repeated offense becomes criminal.
Manfre proposed in January that the county commission should consider decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot—typically, under 20 grams, though the amounts vary from county to county. Miami Dade, Broward and Volusia counties have all adopted such civil citation programs. The newly formed subcommittee is to geta presentation from an official in Broward familiar with the implementation of the idea.
It’s not yet clear who will be serving on the subcommittee, or when. That’s in the hands of the county administration. But the meetings will be in the sunshine—that is, open to the public. Manfre is expected to serve. He has asked that the police chiefs of Bunnell and Flagler Beach and a representative from Palm Coast be included, because even if the county commission were to adopt a civil citation program, the governments in Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach would each individually have to pass ordinances mirroring the county’s. Manfre said he would prefer having a uniform policing approach throughout the county, at least with regards to civil citations.
But it was notable that the public safety council was interested in a broad-based approach to de-criminalization.
“One of the things during this conversation that’s going to be interesting to talk to the state attorney about,” Manfre said, “is that there are certain cases that the state attorney routinely DPA’s—deferred prosecution agreement. So I’d like to hear from them what they believe we’d have the largest impact,” which would then help people from having criminal records.
It had been unclear if and when the county would take up Manfre’s idea, dating back to January. While elected officials in the county and Palm Coast’s mayor have all spoken in favor of at least exploring the possibility of de-criminalizing pop possession—Mayor Jon Netts said he was open to a workshop on the matter—no government has yet taken formal action.
“It went to staff to look at different ordinances, and then it was going to come to this committee,” Barbara Revels, the county commissioner who chairs the public safety council, said Wednesday. “Now they’re ready for the committee to meet, but Craig and Sally I believe heard this woman from Broward at a training session that they were at for administrators, and they said she was just phenomenal. They thought she could help us through it and she was willing to come speak.”