Support Council President Moreno Cannabis Decriminalization Ordinances

NOPD” by Joffley is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In 2011 then Councilperson Susan Guidry put forth the first cannabis reform ordinance in modern New Orleans history. It allowed New Orleans Police to issue a municipal summons for simple possession of cannabis for first time offenders in lieu of custodial arrest. In 2014 the Louisiana legislature allowed cities to create their own punishments for misdemeanors, including marijuana prohibition. In 2016, CommonSenseNOLA and the Vera Institute of Justice began looking at the data as to how prohibition was being enforced and worked with Councilperson Guidry for a follow-up ordinance. On March 17th 2016, the council, in a unanimous vote, adopted an ordinance that made it a municipal misdemeanor for any cannabis violation that was not growing or distributing .The data showed that despite cannabis use being equal among all races enforcement was skewed in that an overwhelming number of arrests (80% plus) were to young African American men. As a person who rides his bike all over New Orleans, I can say that you smell cannabis in all communities across our great city. 

Fast forward to 2021, when looking at the data on cannabis enforcement it was obvious that arrests for simple possession had dramatically dropped. However, we still saw that 85% of summons being issued were still to African Americans in our community. The NOPD knew there were groups analyzing data on an annual basis, but still continued to skew enforcement. The city’s legislative delegation supported the movement to legalize cannabis statewide but the bills died in the House of Representatives this year. Last year, the City elected a new District Attorney who has made it a policy to not prosecute minor marijuana offenses that result in a custodial arrest. In a time of a resurgence of violent crime, we need the whole community to be involved in helping restore trust in the police and criminal justice system in general. The inequitable enforcement of an antiquated policy such as prohibition does not lead to more community trust of the system. 

We were under the impression in 2016 that the municipal misdemeanor would limit the long term harm of a drug violation on a person’s record. Although some lawyers argue that the current policy does not, the prevailing thought is that even a municipal misdemeanor does count as a drug violation. That affects the ability to get a student loan, housing and employment opportunities-the very thing that many people in our poorer communities need to better their life situation. That, coupled with the uneven enforcement, continues to create more harm than the substance itself. 

The state legislature did pass a state law that goes into effect on August 1, that will take jail off the table for simple possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis in its natural form, but it still creates a criminal record. It is important that New Orleans shows the legislature what real decriminalization looks like and these ordinances will achieve that goal.The ordinances would pardon the over 10,000 people who have received summons (over 8,500 of whom are African American) and pardon future violations after the summons is issued. It also decriminalizes cannabis paraphernalia and takes cannabis off of the testing regiment that the city employs except for some jobs such as police, fire and jobs that employees drive etc. 

To make sure that public consumption of cannabis is curtailed ordinance #33329 amends the city’s smoke free ordinance so that police can write tickets for public consumption. NOPD still spends too many hours writing police reports and getting cannabis to the evidence room-roughly 4,000 hours a year that we believe most citizens would like to see spent fighting violent crime in our community. These ordinances still allow officers to arrest if the violator has other narcotics, a gun or if they are involved in other criminal activities. 

So these ordinances keep the cannabis policy of the city in line with an overwhelming majority of its residents; keeps our law enforcement community on the street protecting and serving the community; helps build trust in the criminal justice system and creates a level playing field in the inequitable enforcement of prohibition. Please consider reaching out to your councilpersons to show support. The council will vote on Thursday August 5th at 10AM. New Orleans should continue to lead our region (and nation) on ending this failed policy of prohibition.

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