The third-time possession of marijuana in Louisiana results in a criminal felony, but the city of New Orleans hopes to become a positive influence on the overly-strict rules governing pot use in the state.
Considering the over-crowded jails in this country, New Orleans’ idea to protect habitual pot users is refreshing. Over 50 percent of inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug offenses, according to an infographic recently released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Many of them committed non-violent crimes and are there simply for pot possession.
This past week, New Orleans’ City Council (NOCC) approved an ordinance in a unanimous vote of 7 to zero that would allow the police department to give all small-time marijuana offenders a simple citation, instead of sending them through the criminal justice system and in many cases, straight to jail.
Officers in New Orleans already have the option to simply ticket first-time offenders, but the same option is not there for those who already have a possession charge on their record.
The new ordinance, introduced earlier this year by Councilwoman Susan Guidry would allow anyone caught with small amounts of weed to just pay a small fine, despite their past.
Guidry’s earlier draft would have allowed officers to just give a verbal warning, but that was changed prior to the vote. First-time offenders will now have to pay $40, and repeat offenders’ monetary fines would top out at $100.
The ordinance awaits Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s signature to become effective. Landrieu has stated, “The ordinance will become law.”
The state of Louisiana has much steeper fines for possession of 14 grams or less. A person can spend more than two weeks in jail and have to pay $500 for such an offense.
Local police in New Orleans are still trying to figure out how to enforce the ordinance, but are currently developing:
“guidelines for determining when it is appropriate to charge under state law instead of local law.”
Current Louisiana Legislature offers a proposal by Representative Greg Miller that would allow pot offenders to get a second chance as long as they can stay out of trouble for two years. This bill is among several marijuana-related measures to be discussed sometime this year. Hopefully the New Orleans ordinance will persuade the state to be more lenient in marijuana possession matters.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.