City Council Moves Closer to Decriminalizing Simple Possession of Marijuana

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The New Orleans City Council moved closer to decriminalizing of simple possession of marijuana today (June 29), when the issue was taken up by the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee and amendments to change the current ordinance were passed unanimously by the body.

Council President Helena Moreno introduced ordinances to fully decriminalize municipal simple possession of marijuana in May after a recent analysis not only showed a large number of summonses written for the charge but also indicated a big disparity in who is getting ticketed. In 2019, NOPD issued 2400 summons for simple possession of marijuana, with 86 percent issued to Black people.

In addition to the disparity in the issuance of summonses, proponents of decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana say that it will allow NOPD to focus on more serious crime. Police are currently required to write reports, have a supervisor review the report, and log evidence associated with the summons.

“I’m excited to work through the approval process and I’m incredibly grateful to advocacy groups and the people of our city for their support of this next big and final step for decriminalization,” said President Moreno. “The public sentiment and momentum are there for decriminalization and legalization. While the Council cannot legalize, we can 100% end criminalization. It took a great deal of work and out-of-the-box thinking by our Council staff to get this legislative package completed which will ultimately lead to promoting equal justice and better use of our NOPD resources.”

Several council members on the criminal justice committee voiced their support for the measure

“This is the first step and I am glad that we are on this journey,” Councilman Jay Banks said. “We are in a situation right now where we have very limited police resources. I believe that the public’s interest is much better served with police focusing on violent crime.”

Banks also said he expects the decriminalization ordinance to have a positive impact on the lives of community members adversely impacted by simple marijuana charges that might make it difficult to get jobs, housing, or pursue higher education

“We are never going to arrest our way out of crime,” Banks said. “What we have to do is stop making criminals.”

During public comment, several community members, local and elected leaders also lauded the ordinance as a move in the right direction in person and online.

Moreno’s proposal only applies to the municipal ordinance on simple possession of marijuana and includes other provisions such as automatic pardons of any future summons without further police action, meaning all future tickets are void and retroactive pardons of those previously convicted or have pending cases.

Moreno estimates that roughly 10,000 people will be pardoned if the ordinance passes. She expects to bring the measures before the full Council in early August.