The New Orleans City Council approved several ordinances at its Aug. 5 meeting to end penalties for small amounts of cannabis possession and pardon roughly 10,000 convictions and pending cases. The ordinances will go into effect on Sept. 15.
“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. “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.”
The Council was able to eliminate penalties to simple possession of marijuana in New Orleans by utilizing its pardon power prospectively and retrospectively. Prospectively, the Council has pardoned all future summons. Anyone who receives this summons is immediately forgiven with no additional action necessary by the accused, the officer, or the court; this means no court appearance and no police report are needed. The preemptive pardon is an out-of-the-box solution to end penalties to this charge, and New Orleans is the first to lead in this effort.
“Utilizing our limited public safety resources in the most efficient way makes sense. Our focus should be on violent criminals and those who would hurt others. Pardoning these offenses and freeing up resources in our overburdened criminal justice system are important steps towards making our city much safer for all of us,” said District “B” Councilmember Jay H. Banks.
The Council also cleared roughly 10,000 past convictions and pending cases of simple possession of marijuana by passing a motion enabling a blanket pardon of those charges. In pursuing the best interests of public health and following best practices enacted in other cities across the country, smoking of cannabis will still be prohibited in public spaces, but instead of NOPD issuing a drug summons, it will be a ticket in violation of the Smoke-Free Air Act which is not a drug charge.
“For far too long, the scales of who is punished and who is allowed to benefit from the production, sale, and use of cannabis have been off-balance and favored certain races and classes of people over others. A reexamination of the policies implemented during the war on drugs makes it painfully clear that the strategy was over-aggressive and misguided. Today’s vote is a great first step to stem the impacts of that negative legacy and begin the work of repairing those who have lost their lives and livelihood,” said Council Vice President Donna M. Glapion.