This June, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill to decriminalize minor cannabis possession throughout the Pelican State. Under this new law, anyone caught with up to 14 grams of weed can be fined a maximum of $100, with no risk of jail time.
Just a week after this statewide decriminalization law came into effect, the New Orleans City Council one-upped the state legislature with an even more progressive measure. Last Thursday, the council approved a new ordinance that will completely remove any criminal penalty associated with minor pot possession. And on the same day, the council passed a second ordinance that will pardon nearly 10,000 former weed offenders.
Since the City Council does not have the ability to alter state drug prohibition laws, it had to come up with a unique solution to pass its two new cannabis ordinances. For former offenders, the city issued a blanket pardon that clears prior and pending pot convictions charges. And to enact its decriminalization measure, the city will automatically issue an immediate pardon to anyone busted with a small amount of weed.
New Orleans actually decriminalized minor pot possession back in 2016. This original law gave cops the discretion to issue a summons and a $40 fine to anyone caught with 14 or fewer grams of weed, but still allowed them to arrest people for possession if they wanted to. The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) actually almost completely stopped arresting people for weed after this open-ended ordinance was passed – unlike the New York Police Department, who ignored city and state decriminalization measures and kept busting minorities for weed up until the day that New York state legalized adult-use cannabis.
When New Orleans' new decriminalization ordinance goes into effect on September 15th, NOPD officers will no longer be able to arrest or fine anyone caught with weed. Cops could still technically issue a summons for possession, but since this summons will be immediately pardoned, the offender will not have to go to court or pay a fine. It will remain illegal to smoke weed in public, though, but anyone caught doing so will only be issued a ticket for violating the city's Smoke-Free Air Act, which is not a misdemeanor drug charge.
“These new policies will help NOPD build community trust and use saved manpower hours to address major issues like shootings, murders, and the overall prevention of violence in our city,” said Council President Helena Moreno, ABC affiliate WGNO reports. “We must begin to rethink the historical practices that have over-incarcerated, over-fined, and stigmatized our communities for decades. The time to end the criminalization of cannabis possession is now. I’m proud of what this City Council has accomplished today. This is historic.”
But although New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole are taking small steps towards cannabis reform, the possibility of full adult-use legalization still seems distant. State lawmakers just shot down an adult-use bill this spring, and Governor Edwards recently said he believes legislators won't be able to reach a consensus on legalization for the next several years at least.