Marijuana

Miami-Area Police Wrap Up 2018 by Arresting More People Than Ever for Pot

Miami-Area Police Wrap Up 2018 by Arresting More People Than Ever for Pot
Photo by serdjophoto / iStock.com
In 2018, Miami-area police arrested more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana than they did the prior two years — despite the fact that cops can simply hand out tickets for the offense instead. Year-end booking data, published online by the county's Department of Corrections, shows that last year, 2,107 people were arrested and primarily charged with possession of less than 20 grams, a misdemeanor. That's 78 more arrests than in 2017 and 335 more than in 2016.

In 2015, Miami-Dade commissioners approved a measure to allow cops to issue civil citations in lieu of arrests for misdemeanors such as possession of less than twenty grams of pot, possession of stolen shopping carts, and trespassing. Although many police departments signed on to the civil citation program — including the Miami police department last September — officers arrest more and more people each year for something that is now legal in ten states and Washington D.C.

In the past three years alone, nearly 6,000 people have been arrested in Miami-Dade County for possession of less than twenty grams of pot (though that charge is sometimes made in conjunction with other charges that would disqualify the individual from receiving a citation, like driving under the influence).

Neither Miami nor Miami-Dade Police responded to requests for comment on the data, which is not broken down by department.


In August, a New Times investigation found that low-level marijuana arrests are almost always dismissed by state prosecutors, meaning police officers take the time to stop, search, arrest, book, transport people to jail, and fill out paperwork for charges that are usually dropped. Arrestees, meanwhile, often spend the night in jail, post bail, show up to court, and face the collateral consequences of having an arrest on their record. This can make it more difficult to obtain jobs or housing. These meaningless arrests cost tens of thousands of hours of police time and millions of dollars in taxpayer money — all to arrest, transport, and house people for something that could have been taken care of with a simple ticket.

Police forces do utilize the civil citation option, but mostly for white people. Data obtained by New Times in August found 72 percent of the 10,078 total citations for small amounts of pot from the Miami-Dade Police Department went to white people.

At the same time, clearance rates (the percentage of reported crimes that lead to an arrest) in Miami-Dade County are the lowest of any county in the state, according to latest mid-year crime data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Miami-Dade's midyear clearance rate is just 15.4 percent, meaning nearly 85 percent of all crimes reported in Miami-Dade go unsolved. The statewide clearance rate is 20 percent.

In the first six months of 2018, more people were arrested for possession of less than 20 grams of pot and trespassing (2,142) than for rape, murder, robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft (1,927).


While crime is trending downward in Miami-Dade County, the rate at which crimes are solved is also falling. Meanwhile, more people are being arrested for offenses that have essentially been decriminalized.

And police are still arresting people — mostly homeless — for possession of a stolen shopping cart and unlawful use of a dairy crate, two offenses that can also be handled with tickets instead. Just two days after Christmas, 27-year-old Maurice Kemp, whom the booking data lists as homeless, was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a dairy case. (Homeless people often sit on the discarded milk crates.) The case was dismissed by prosecutors, but police wasted time they might have spent pursuing criminals. And Kemp spent the night behind bars at taxpayer expense.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor