Broward’s New Pot Law: Whites Get Citations, Blacks Get Jail




Sam Fields


I think anyone with a bit of common sense welcomes the Broward County Commission moving to make misdemeanor marijuana a civil infraction.

When they return from vacation, Commissioners will probably adopt an ordinance to do exactly that. It’s a great idea…except for one thing.

On their agenda they printed the Dade (I didn’t grow up in Miami-Dade!) County ordinance which they will probably copy.

It’s bad language that guarantees a gaggle of civil rights lawsuits.

In relevant part, it provides that a person found with less than 20 grams of pot or drug paraphernalia is “…eligible to receive a civil violation notice…at the discretion of a law enforcement officer…”

Let me translate “at the discretion of a law enforcement officer” into simple English:

Whites Get Citations, Blacks Get Jail

Before you accuse me of pulling an Al Sharpton, look at the past and present of enforcing pot laws.

Blacks and Whites smoke pot equally. But Blacks in Florida are four to five times more likely to be arrested for simple possession. It’s 3.7 in “enlightened” Broward.

Marjuana Arrests, 2010



Law enforcement has a long history of unfairly singling out blacks.  Will they change?

Look on the front wall of The National Archives where it is engraved: “The Past is Prologue”.

William Faulkner said it even better: “The past isn’t even past”.

There can be no doubt that discretionary “civil or criminal” pot enforcement will continue to result in racial discrimination by the thousands.

Like medical marijuana laws, decriminalizing simple possession is a step in the right direction.

We should not ruin that idea by making it a springboard for even more racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

(Sam Fields is a Broward criminal defense attorney.)




19 Responses to “Broward’s New Pot Law: Whites Get Citations, Blacks Get Jail”

  1. Sam The Sham says:

    Poor Sam Fields. I can see that math and statistics are not your strong points. I hope you don’t rely on the chart you posted when you bring any discrimination suits.

    If you look at the number of black vs white arrests in relation to the the total arrests for each city/county, you can plainly see that other races are obviously unaccounted for. The numbers don’t match.

    Broward black arrests (3617) vs white arrests (2413) do not come anywhere near the 3.7 figure stated. The chart also shows there were only 31 arrests of other races. That is it for Asians or Hispanics?

  2. Sober As a Judge says:

    For Broward, those numbers look very large for total arrests only involving a small marijuana possession charge. In Broward rarely do we see jail bookings relating to marijuana possession of less than 20 grams. Is this all arrests involving marijuana in Broward irrespective of how much pot they had at arrest?

    Also, I suspect that number represents arrests involving multiple charges. All kinds there, impaired driving, gun charges, more than 20 grams, intent to sell, all kinds of crimes.

    Please clarify of that your numbers are not the total number of Broward arrests for marijuana possession of less than 20 grams. The numbers are worthless unless fully explained.

  3. Floridan says:

    Why was the phrase “at the discretion of a law enforcement officer” placed in this ordinance? Twenty ounces is a pretty clear line.

    Sam’s right, this will not be enforced evenly.

  4. Andrew Ladanowski says:

    Your comments are dead on the money.”There can be no doubt that discretionary “civil or criminal” pot enforcement will continue to result in racial discrimination by the thousands. ” It will be based on race and socio-economics. I will recognize that the only person to apply a fair and uniform policy is Sheriff Israel. He clearly stated that first offence is automatic citation. The county should have written the law with clear criteria when to give citation and when to give criminal charge. I am not upset a Marty for trying to go in this direction, he got the discussion going. I think he was trying to appease the right, by doing so the law is going to be applied on socio-economics and race.

  5. Andrew Ladanowski says:

    I live in coral springs, will coral springs be giving citations? Will Coconut Creek giving citations? No input from police union on this issue. No input from other police chiefs. We definitely rushed this. But this might have been by design, once civil citations start rolling out. Everyone should be entitle to it. We are all supposed to be treated equally. I will state I do not support the use of pot. The issue I have is arresting kids, legal consequences impact kids more then the negative health we are trying to protect them from.

  6. Alice McGill says:

    Everyone, no matter what race, has an equal opportunity to walk or to ride around with or without marijuana in their possession. Since there is a penalty for possession, if one makes the choice to keep marijuana with them, they have volunteered to be cited or arrested.
    Don’t want to be a statistic? Don’t keep pot in your possession in public.
    It is a matter of personal choice for each individual. The race card does not apply here.

  7. Samisright says:

    I hate to be the one defending Sam here but he is close to right.

    I am not a statistics expert but with 3600 blacks arrested to 2400 whites seems like its not that bad 3.2 ratio. That is, if you look at just the arrest numbers. But when you look at total population numbers is where the numbers get frightening. Whites in Broward outnumber blacks 3.1 There are about 1.2 million whites and 400K blacks.

    So 2400 of 1.2mm whites are arrested where 3600 of 400k blacks were.

    So that is approx 1% of the black community vs .2% of the white community.

    In real numbers you are 4 or 5 times more likely to be arrested if you are black than if you are white.

  8. Andrew Ladanowski says:

    At #1 “Broward black arrests (3617) vs white arrests (2413) do not come anywhere near the 3.7 figure stated” Broward still has more white residents than black. The data should show more more whites being arrested than blacks. Survey show usage is equal. Whites being around 40%. blacks around 28%. Based on Black arrests, over 5000 white arrests should have occurred. In America, I am glad my family is white. Racism still exists unfortunately.

  9. zigy says:

    sam why are you kvetching,, now you can smoke all you desire and only get a citation. are u sure u didn’t draft this law….. the real problem with laws of this type is the big fees criminal lawyers like yourself were getting from daddy, tough

  10. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    Mr. Fields, it is MIAMI-DADE COUNTY and has been for years.


    This is just one of the areas where Sam lives in the past. But on his overall point, he is correct. The new law, if not altered, leaves a big hole that could allow the continued application of unfair justice against blacks.

    And Count, thank you for all the post cards with colorful stamps from Europe

  11. Stacy Ritter says:

    There is no new law. The commission asked the county attorney to draft an ordinance. Once there is a draft, it will be put on a commission agenda for public hearing at which time the commission and the public will be able to weigh in. This proposed ordinance will be debated, amended, etc. as we go through the process. The M-D ordinance was to be used as an example and as a starting point, not an ending one. It hasn’t been rushed because it hasn’t been done. There will be plenty of time to discuss it. I cannot speak for the sponsoring commissioner and obviously I cannot speak to him about this off the dais, but when we discussed the drafting, there were many questions that went unanswered. The answers to those questions, like how much in practice is 20 grams (not ounces @#3) will need to be answered before the commission moves for a vote. There is no new law; there is only a proposal which will be properly and openly vetted. A proposal isn’t a law- at least not in Broward County.


    Stacy Ritter is a Broward County Commissioner.

  12. Chaz Stevens, Church Owner says:

    From CHAZ:

    Stacy Ritter LOVES her some uber.

  13. Ha Ha Ha says:

    One ounce is 28.35 grams; 20 grams is 70% of an ounce. The end user typically purchases one ounce of marijuana at a time, which will last anywhere from a week (if you are a rock star or you just like to entertain all your friends) to a month or two.

    I would suggest setting the amount at 40-50 grams instead of 20; otherwise, the law will very often miss its target of treating the end users differently from the distributors. The typical end user will often have up to 30 grams, and the extra 10-20 grams accounts for end users who may have purchased some more before completely running out of their original supply.


    I believe that Florida law sets the 20 gram threshold. Possession of more than 20 grams is a felony.

  14. This will never get put up says:

    Stacy you know how it is…like the chaits, the black guy went to prison and the whites walked.

  15. Mister Courthouse says:

    I am an attorney with an extensive criminal law practice in Broward County. It is as rare as Leap Year that I see a White child from middle class or wealthy parents in court for marijuana possession. It might be an add on to other charges. Almost never the sole charge.
    Black children are a different story. They are arrested after an officer got “suspicious” of them standing on the corner or driving and then arrested for marijuana possession. Most of these are bogus arrests because there was no probable cause to stop the youths, except “Standing While Black,” “Walking While Black” or “Driving While Black.”
    Most of these cases seem to originate from Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood Police. Clearly, there is a failure of Leadership in these departments that allow officers to make time consuming and life destroying arressts of black children for no reason.
    Sam is wrong because police officers must be allowed discretion in their work. He is right in underlining the problem. The law must serve to send a message to the old fashioned and frankly racist leadership of some departments to reign in their own officers when necessary. It must be part of the training of new officers. That is the only way the new proposed law will work.

  16. Maybe says:

    The NAACP has been the driving force behind this for years. It started in schools and now it is spreading across the USA.

  17. No Name says:

    Can someone please explain the following regarding this “proposed” ordinance:
    1) how can Broward County de-criminalize that which the State law mandates as criminal?
    2) what happens to the DHSMV mandated penalties regarding marijuana possession convictions?
    3) to what agencies will this be applicable? It is my understanding that BSO Sheriff is sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Florida (which makes possession a crime).
    Thank you.

  18. SAM FIELDS says:

    Dear No Name
    Good questions. Let me do my best to answer.

    1.Florida law provides that for certain low level crimes/conduct the state and local governments have “concurrent jurisdiction” allowing locals to write and enforce their version of State laws. The locals are limited in the penalties to something like 60 days in jail and $500 fines. Typically these are things like prostitution, trespassing, loitering, etc. Fort Lauderdale has two fulltime prosecutors. If a case number ends in MO (Municipal Ordinance) it is being brought under the local law.

    2.Since the proposed new pot law is civil it would have no implications with the DHSMV since they are only involved in cases that are criminal and end in an adjudication

    3.For conduct subject to “concurrent jurisdiction” police can arrest under either the State or the local law. This was my concern based on decades of racially discriminatory application of the existing pot laws.

  19. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Boy ,Buddy you really are smitten w/ this Sam Fields. I never heard of him before I saw him here to be honest. What he points out is troubling. Pot is pot guys. If its a black guy smoking, or a white guy smoking, its still pot. So in order to make sure some of these BSO deputies do the right thing anyone caught w/ 2ograms or less of pot gets a pass or small fine etc.etc-). I don’t feel comfortable giving the deputy that much discretion. BSO officers are not lawyers or judges they should not be given the authority too jail this person or let this other person go. Mr.Fields report clearly states that the officers are not being fair. Now if you are caught w. pot driving (totally different scene) then you should be arreste d because you could hurt someone or like Judy Stern likes to say “stoned on pot”. It s fine to be stoned say going to the movies or going to the beach, but to be driving stoned is another issue. Pass this comm. If you have less than 20grams you are let go(free pass) . If you are caught driving stoned then you should get the the DUI. No deals, no second chances , no pass , you go to jail. If lets be clear you are w/ your honey bunny @ the beach and you lite up a fatty well fire it up and enjoy. No brainer here. I’ll be th e first to tell you I smoke occassionaly(who cares) but you will never see me driving stoned, never. Rest assured Judy Stern(stoned on pot-I love it)….