With a unanimous vote on February 19, Hillsborough County commissioners agreed to decriminalize the possession of small amounts (20 grams) of marijuana throughout the county and municipalities.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, individuals in possession of fewer than 20 grams of cannabis will not face a misdemeanor charge. Instead, anyone found in possession of small amounts of weed will receive a civil citation, which is similar to a non-criminal violation imposing a simple fine.
But does it mean that those who drive a vehicle while impaired by marijuana can no longer be held liable for your auto accident injury?
How Will the New Ordinance in Hillsborough County Work?
The decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis in Hillsborough County is intended to ensure a more fair and equitable process throughout the county. The new ordinance carries the same rules passed by the city of Tampa in 2016.
Four years ago, the city of Tampa allowed police officers to issue a fine to offenders instead of arresting them. Sarasota passed a similar ordinance later that year. However, the new ordinance in Hillsborough County also includes education and drug treatment elements.
Preventative Measures Under the Ordinance
These preventative measures were missing from many of the local ordinances, including those passed in Tampa and Sarasota. Under the new ordinance, a person can receive up to four civil citations before facing a criminal charge for the possession of marijuana.
When an individual receives a third citation, he or she will be required to attend drug screening, treatment, and education programs as a preventative measure. Currently, possession of fewer than 20 grams of weed is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.
The new ordinance in Hillsborough County provides that persons found in possession of small amounts of cannabis will receive a civil citation punishable with a sliding scale of fines up to $500. There will also be the option of completing community service hours to waive the fine.
How Does Marijuana Decriminalization Affect Drunk Driving Accidents in Hillsborough County?
Does the new ordinance mean that drivers throughout Hillsborough County can no longer be punished for driving under the influence of marijuana? Not really. Despite the county’s ordinance to decriminalize small amounts of weed, there are still situations that can result in a first-degree misdemeanor.
Drivers in Hillsborough County may still be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor if found to be driving under the influence of marijuana, regardless of whether this led to an auto accident or not. This also applies to cases where the individual possesses 20 or fewer grams of marijuana. Whether or not to arrest the individual for driving under the influence of weed is left to the discretion of the police officer.
Hillsborough County’s marijuana possession decriminalization ordinance does not encourage drivers to operate a motor vehicle under the influence, nor does it allow for the use of weed in public. However, if a person is not committing any other violations while using marijuana in public, he or she may receive a civil infraction and a fine.
Unfortunately, the decriminalization ordinance could potentially lead to an increase in drunk driving accidents in Hillsborough County. If you were injured by a marijuana-impaired motorist, speak with a lawyer.
Contact our Lakeland drunk driving accident attorneys at The Turnbull Firm if the other party involved in your car accident was impaired by marijuana. Call at 407-612-6464 or 863-324-3500 to talk about your options.