Hillsborough Sheriff says no to civil citations for juveniles caught with marijuana

HOPE affordable housing criminal justice reform
Local officials stood before a crowd of of hundreds at HOPE's Annual Nehemiah Action Assembly at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa. Photo by Nicole Martinez (2016)

On Monday in Tampa, The Hillsborough County Sheriffs office said in a letter recited at a meeting of interfaith congregations that it will not extend its civil citation program for misdemeanor marijuana possession to juveniles.

At the annual Nehemiah action meeting for The Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, an interfaith coalition of over 20 congregations also known as HOPE, hundreds gathered at the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in West Tampa. They wanted local officials to promise to provide better access to affordable housing and end the arrests of minors for first time cannabis possession.

While both 13th Judicial Circuit chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta and public defender Julianne Holt promised to work to extend the civil citation program to juveniles, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office will not back the measure or schedule a meeting with HOPE in the near future.

In a statement read by Major Willie Parker, Sheriff David Gee said studies correlate youth marijuana use with mental illness and abuse of harder drugs later in life.

“Today I continue to firmly believe states that decriminalize marijuana do not improve the well being of their youth,” wrote Sheriff Gee in the letter.  “I believe they jeopardize,increasingly, a large group of youth in ways that can’t be fully understood today.”

HOPE executive director Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson told WMNF before the meeting that arresting juveniles over minor crimes unduly marks them with a record the rest of their lives.

“What happens is that if a young person gets caught with one marijuana joint, they have an arrest record and it follows them all the rest of their lives,” said Rev. Jackson “It makes it difficult to get college scholarships, to get into the military. Many years later they have to check off ‘yes, i was arrested’. It impacts housing and jobs. It really follows them all the rest of their lives.”

The meeting also tackled the lack of affordable housing in the county. HOPE wants the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners to establish an affordable housing trust fund to help low income families. The two commissioners in attendance, Victor Crist and Kevin Beckner, both agreed to support the housing trust fund.

Debra Rollock of Tampa says she is disappointed by Sheriff Gee’s response,but feels positively about the outcome of the assembly.She just hopes that the officials in attendance stand by their word.

“Well I think the outcome was  pretty good because we have yes than we have no, but its a matter if those yeses are actually going to be put into motion if we are going to see results in October,” said Rollock.

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