Readers React: Bradshaw bucking the county on pot ordinance

Drugs at SunFest in West Palm Beach, Fl on April 28, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A concerntgoer at SunFest smkoing marijuana. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

PBSO Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told The Post’s Editorial Board he’s told his officers to follow Florida state law that still makes marijuana possession a misdemeanor criminal offense instead of following a December Palm Beach County ordinance that makes it a civil offense, and Post readers have reacted on social media.

But first, what’s the difference between an ordinance and a law?

An ordinance is a statute passed by a local municipality that covers things like sidewalk vending, parking zones, building regulations and even public nuisance violations. Typically, these ordinances only cover misdemeanors when it comes to criminal law. In this case, Palm Beach County’s commissioners decided in a 4-1 vote to make possessing a small amount of marijuana — 20 grams or less — a civil nuisance, allowing police officers to issue a ticket for small amount possession. This means someone caught with or using a small amount marijuana could be fined either $100 or complete 10 hours community service. Either way, the offense isn’t criminal and wouldn’t lead to jail time or a criminal record.

Bradshaw is opting to follow state law, however, which still makes marijuana possession a criminal offense, even for a small amount like 20 grams. At that amount or less, it becomes a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. And it will appear on your criminal record. This law has been passed by the state legislature and is enforceable anywhere in the state.

So why is Bradshaw opting for the harsher path? He says the reason is two-fold: it “gets people off drugs,” and allows officers to search suspects who are caught with marijuana, which the civil ordinance wouldn’t allow.

Bradshaw has the prerogative to follow whichever path he chooses; he isn’t required under state law to abide by county ordinances and can instead opt to follow state law, as he is doing here.

Bradshaw says for first-time offenders in possession of a small amount of marijuana, his officers will issue a Notice to Appear, and pre-trial intervention will typically allow the person to choose either drug counseling or community service. But that’s only for first-time offenders only Get caught again by a sheriff’s deputy and you’re no longer a first-time offender with those options.

Readers reacted on Facebook overwhelmingly opposed to Bradshaw’s directives:

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