Marijuana possession laws have change in New Orleans. After a unanimous vote on Thursday by the New Orleans City Council, officers will only be able to issue fines instead of arrests for marijuana possession. The ordinance to decriminalize marijuana in New Orleans, comes from Councilwoman Susan Guidry who was concerned by the disproportionate number of incarcerations of African Americans on marijuana charges.
Tickets Replacing Arrests
She is supporting the right of police officers to give tickets as opposed to making arrests. Guidry stated “we are finding that the felony arrests for possession as well as distribution fall much more greatly on the African American community. Our hope with this is that fewer people will be brought to jail and fewer people will have their lives disrupted with this charge.” She also believes this will free up police resources so they can focus on more serious crimes.
Specific Marijuana Possession Fines
Under the new law, marijuana possession is considered to be anything up to 14 grams of cannabis per person. First time offenders will incur a $40 fine. The fines go up in amount from here with $60 for the second offense, $80 for a third offense, and then capped at $100 for the fourth offense and any offenses to follow. After 2 years, an offense will expire and any fines incurred beyond this will be considered a first offense again. Under the previous law, first time offenders could be jailed for up to 15 days and given a $300 fine and all offenses to follow could incur a 6 month jail sentence and up to $500 in fines.
Proven Effectiveness of Reduced Penalties
There was a similar law put in place in 2010 applying leniency to first time offenders by issuing a summons instead of an arrest. Under this prior law, only 30% of first time offenders were to be arrested. In general, marijuana possession charges have dropped by 31% with arrests dropping over 50%. The ordinance seems to be the next reasonable step in the treatment of marijuana offenses in New Orleans and the city officials have shown their support in taking this step forward.
Mayoral Support Expressed
The ordinance still needs to be signed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu but his office has already released a statement that shows support for the ordinance stating, “Public safety is our top priority right now; we are hiring and training a larger, more professional police force that will give us the tools required to reduce violent crime, reduce response times, and provide our residents and visitors with the security we all deserve. The ordinance will become law.”
Although marijuana itself has not been officially legalized in New Orleans, its decriminalization is very helpful to its residents. This new law will allow many citizens of New Orleans to get on with their lives if they are caught with a small amount of marijuana. A reduction in possession penalties allows them to remain functional members of society. Ultimately this saves the city on jail costs and the police resources that would otherwise go towards a petty crime instead of a serious one. Thus, it helps to manage disproportionate police activity and create a safer community for everyone.