MIAMI (AP) -- People caught with small amounts of marijuana can now receive civil citations instead of jail time in Florida's largest county, the first in the state to treat marijuana possession as a non-criminal act.
The Miami-Dade County Commission approved a proposal Tuesday to let police issue $100 civil citations or the equivalent of community service hours for possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana.
County Commissioner Sally Heyman said her measure seeks to spare people a criminal record and would reduce the economic burden on the criminal justice system.
"It's just like a traffic ticket, you have a fine to pay, "she said. "It's low enough that people can do community service."
The measure passed 10-3, with commissioners Javier Souto, Esteban Bovo and Rebeca Sosa voting against.
Souto called it a "slippery slope" and commissioner Bovo said the measure was a slap on the wrist.
"I could see a teenager telling their parents, `it's just a fine,'" said Bovo.
The decision to arrest will still be up to the officer's discretion. Police officials say they'll have to develop policies concerning when a civil citation is appropriate rather than an arrest.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he supported the measure and said he would like police to make an arrest if someone is smoking marijuana in public.
"It is still illegal, but it's going to be handled in a different way," he said. "It's just another tool our officers can use."
The measure will become effective in 10 days.
Paul Armentano is deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He says similar laws have already been enacted in 14 states.