Although law enforcement officers in Monroe County and Keys municipalities have the ability to issue civil fines, or tickets, for citizens in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana, it’s only happened six times since 2016.
That’s because the back end of the ordinance is funkier than a funny-smelling cigarette.
Marathon City Council took a first step on June 11 to clear up the issue. It removed language from its ordinance that involved the code board (now defunct in the city) and upped the fine. The amended ordinance also makes it clear how the fine is to be paid, or challenged, and the consequences of doing nothing.
While all of the municipalities adopted the law in 2016, Marathon is the first to tweak the language. However, Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger said the county is “working on an amendment to the ordinance to address some administrative issues that weren’t contemplated in the original ordinance.”
The county and each city’s ordinance will likely end up being very similar for a very compelling reason.
“The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t just cover the municipal limits of Marathon,” said Marathon attorney David Migut. “We don’t want the officers to have to follow different procedures whether they are in Marathon or on Duck Key.”
MCSO Capt. Don Hiller of the Marathon substation said, “This is another tool in our tool box. And, it’s at the officer’s discretion.”
When a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy finds a person in possession of 20 grams or less he or she has options: issue a ticket for the civil infraction; issue a notice to appear (387 have been issued since 2016 by the MCSO); or make an arrest. Since 2016, there have been 1,056 cases where someone in Monroe County in possession of 20 grams of marijuana or less was arrested, but in each instance the person was also charged with another offense such as trespassing or possession of another controlled substance.
If a person is issued a civil citation in Marathon, he or she may pay $105 at the nearest Monroe County Clerk of the Court office just like a traffic ticket. If he or she contests the ticket by scheduling a court hearing within 30 days, they must pay $500 and possibly court fines, or if the court finds them unable to do so, perform court-supervised community service. If the person loses the case, or does nothing, the matter will be referred to the state attorney’s office for possible prosecution. The original fee schedule in Marathon ranged from $100 to $250.
The civil citation does not result in a criminal record. However, it is still an illegal drug. In other words, don’t smoke a joint in front of a police officer and count on the deputy giving you a ticket.
Marathon’s civil infraction ordinance has two important exceptions: Juveniles are not eligible to just pay a fine. And it is not illegal for those with a medical marijuana prescription to possess “low-THC cannabis,” or medical marijuana.