As the fight to decriminalize marijuana in the United States rages on, a critical victory for cannabis advocates has just come from inside the cajun styled, jazz-loving city of New Orleans.
Starting on June 22, possession of marijuana will provide those residing in The Big Easy with much more lenient consequences, particularly for repeat offenders. The new ordinance was authored by councilwoman Susan Guidry, who also serves as chair to the Criminal Justice Committee, it was eventually passed by the New Orleans City Council back in March.
During this past week, New Orleans Police Department’s Superintendent, Michael Harrison, explained to the members of the City Council Criminal Justice Committee how his officers will enforce the new standards, so I’ll attempt to do the same for you here.
For starters, the new, more lenient law will apply to anyone over the age of 17 carrying less than 2.5 pounds of marijuana.
Unfortunately, for those tokers who start younger than most, anyone under that age will still be brought to juvenile detention, as officers are technically not allowed to issue them with a summonses. Also, whether or not you have your stash of cannabis for personal use or with intent to distribute, will still remain up to the police officer at the scene.
Since 2010, the NOPD has had the option to issue a court summons first-time offenders, but the new ordinance will grant them the choice to do so with repeat offenders as well.
But, there are also a few nuances in the law that still leave the former, more harsher laws in check. For instance, the new ordinance will not apply if the suspect is found in one of drug-free zones in New Orleans, which includes schools, parks, and a number of churches.
Officers can still technically arrest any subject for possession under the much stricter Louisiana state law, but will need the signature and approval of a supervisor to do so.
“NOPD will develop guidelines for determining when it is appropriate to charge under state law instead of local law and train officers appropriately,” said Tyler Gamble, a spokesperson for the NOPD.
Another important note is that the new ordinance will not affect the State Police, who still plan to operate under the state law. This stands to especially impact the tourist-heavy French Quarter, where these State Police will remain a heavy presence, leaving one of the most highly touted areas of New Orleans under stricter possession laws.
With the new ordinance, there will be a vast difference between the New Orleans ordinance and the Louisiana state laws, but at the end of the day, police will still be able to persecute under the full extent of the law if they so desire.
"This ordinance, especially as amended, would not limit anything about current police practices or procedures," said Susan Guidry, the author of the ordinance. "This law would merely extend that choice to all possessions."
Fines under the marijuana ordinance enforcement will be a minimum of $40, and could rise to a maximum of $100 for those undergoing their fourth conviction. These new laws are extremely toker-friendly in comparison to the state laws, which allows up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine for just the first offense, which could sometimes rise up to eight years in jail and a $5,000 fine for the fourth conviction.
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NOPD Superintendent Harrison has claimed that the police will be monitoring how the new laws are enforced by the area, ensuring the City Council members and city of New Orleans that the ordinance will not be unfairly enforced in areas within municipalities with higher crime rates. All in all, the NOPD is attempting to use the new ordinance to help reduce their time spent dealing with minor crimes, and also to reduce the number of low-level offenders in the city’s jails.
Although there seems to be quite a few loopholes in the newly passed law, there should be an optimistic outlook for the future of marijuana in the city of New Orleans. Inbetween 2011 to 2014, when the original ordinance from 2010 was put in place, there were almost 5,000 fewer arrests and summons for marijuana possession, proving that the city has been on the right track (albeit slowly) with decriminalization.