City of New Orleans Considers Reducing Penalties for Marijuana Possession
The New Orleans City Council is considering a measure that would significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana possession.
At a council committee meeting in late January, Councilwoman Susan Guidry outlined a proposal in which police officers could issue a simple warning for marijuana possession in lieu of a summons or arrest. Currently, police have the discretion to issue a summons or to arrest a pot possessor. The ability to just issue a summons was the result of marijuana reform law passed by the city council in 2010.
The measure is hailed by some as a way to reduce the number of inmates in the parish jail and to free police to focus on other crimes.
It could be months, however, before the council votes on Guidry’s plan. The New Orleans District Attorney’s Office has reservations about the measure. DA Leon Cannizzaro is taking a more cautious view of the proposal, weighing whether it will encourage illegal drug use and violence.
Common Sense NOLA, an advocacy group for marijuana reform, has commended Guidry’s effort. The Drug Demand Reduction Coalition is opposing it, alleging that it would encourage greater marijuana use. She has presented the committee with studies showing that violence, crime and psychosis increase in places where anti-marijuana laws have been eased.
Under Guidry’s plan, police would first issue verbal warnings, and then written warnings, for the first two times they find someone in possession of marijuana. A third offense would result in a $50 fine, and any additional offenses would have a penalty of $100 each. New Orleans police officials are currently considering whether the proposed system is doable.
It is important to note that these changes in marijuana laws would only affect Orleans Parish. State law allows fines and jail time on a first offense and up to eight years in prison for a fourth conviction. Even if Guidry’s measure passes, officers could still elect to use the harsher state law if they deem it to be appropriate in individual cases. In 2015, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills that were viewed as the most progress in Louisiana’s pot arena in the last 24 years.
One bill set up a framework for dispensing marijuana for medical purposes, making Louisiana the first state in the South to make cannabis available for a wide range of chronically ill patients. The state passed medical-marijuana legislation in 1991, but never followed up with a system for how the state would cultivate, prescribe or dispense the drug.
The other bill reformed criminal penalties for marijuana, making it a misdemeanor rather than a felony for a second offense of marijuana possession. It also allows first-time offenders to erase their first conviction for possessing marijuana if they don’t re-offend within two years. However, while Louisiana made progress last year with laws that make it easier for chronically ill patients to gain access to medical marijuana, the state is not recognized as one of the 23 states that have set up true medical marijuana access for the public at large.
As New Orleans and the state of Louisiana fiddle with the idea of marijuana-law reform, more states, including Texas, are considering widespread medical-marijuana access and debating how to tax and regulate the drug.
As of this writing (February 2016), only Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Those states are realizing tax benefits from the sale of legal weed and reducing the strain of pot prosecutions on their criminal-justice systems.
If you need help with a New Orleans Marijuana Summons that was issued by a police officer, contact attorney Elizabeth B. Carpenter for assistance.