Police handing out “tickets” or “citations” for possession of small amounts of marijuana (under 20 grams or approximately 2/3 of an ounce) is becoming increasingly common. This is especially true in Orange county. You make think you’ve dodged a bullet and believe there’s no criminal case. But the truth is very different. Paying that ticket can have life altering consequences. The following is a common example of such a scenario. The police have stopped your vehicle. You’re nervous because you’ve got a little marijuana with you. The officer taps on your window. He says you violated some traffic law. He gets your driver’s license, registration, and insurance. He may ask whether you have any marijuana in the vehicle, or tell you he can smell it. He searches your car, or you, and finds the marijuana. Now you’re looking at going to jail, having to bail out, and going to court. But to your surprise and relief, he gives you a ticket instead for the marijuana! He explains that all you have to do is pay the ticket and the problem is over.
Ticket or Arrest?
A change in the way Florida courts and law enforcement handle possession of small amounts of marijuana happened back in 2003. Orange County’s chief judge gave police the option of handing out citations, or tickets, for possession of marijuana instead of making an arrest. No longer would you have to be hauled off to jail, bond out, or attend court. The city of Orlando joined this “ticket instead of arrest” program. The city of Tampa and Volusia County also have the same policy. But the dirty truth is that there’s still a criminal case, whether police make an arrest or give a ticket. Possession of marijuana, no matter how small the amount, remains a crime in Florida. Many have wrongly labeled “ticket instead of arrest” as the “decriminalization” of marijuana possession. Rather, as Orlando chief of police explained, it’s the “de-prioritization” of marijuana instead of “decriminalization.” He stated that possessing small amount of marijuana is still illegal under Florida and federal law.
Marijuana Possession is Still Illegal
It’s a common mistake to think that no arrest means no criminal charge. Carefully reading the ticket reveals something different. You’ll notice that paying the ticket means you plead guilty to a misdemeanor crime and waive your Constitutional rights. While you may not have to go to jail or court, paying that ticket now means you’re a convicted criminal. And there are many consequences to that conviction, including:
- Mandatory driver’s license revocation;
- Ineligibility for some government employment;
- Ineligibility for Bright Futures Scholarships and other forms of State financial aid;
- Interference with State licensing, permitting, and certifications without completion of an approved drug treatment program;
- Ineligibility for public housing;
- Interference with employment prospects and college applications;
- Damage to reputation.
Think twice if police have given you a “ticket” instead of making an arrest for possession of marijuana. The consequences of your conviction will likely far outweigh the hassle of hiring a lawyer or going to court. Marijuana possession is very defendable. There are still options even if you’ve already paid the ticket. You may be able to withdraw your plea or seek post-conviction relief to overturn your conviction. Leave a comment if you want to share your experience being given a ticket instead of arrested for marijuana possession. I’ll also answer questions on this topic, too, in the comments section.