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New Orleans City Council takes first step in decriminalizing marijuana

The Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously Tuesday in passing legislation. It now goes to the full council for discussion and a vote.

NEW ORLEANS — The City of New Orleans is taking the first steps toward decriminalizing marijuana. On Tuesday, the Council's Criminal Justice Committee met to discuss if simple possession of marijuana cases should be decriminalized.

On a Federal level, marijuana is illegal. These ordinances being discussed by the Criminal Justice Committee will not legalize pot, it will make it so those found with 14 grams or less of marijuana would not be arrested.

The Committee met Tuesday and they were on board with it. It was mentioned that up to 2,700 simple possession summons are issued by New Orleans police per year, and that a lot of manpower and time is used to file each of those summons. 

"Eighty-six percent of people getting these summons are Black," City Council President Helena Moreno. "Where if you look at studies done across the country it shows that cannabis use is equal among all races and ethnicities, so obviously enforcement is skewed."

Committee members strongly believe it'd be a better use of NOPD resources if officers could instead focus on other issues, like trying to curb the city's violent crime.

"I found out when it comes to these summons, it isn't like they just write you a ticket," Moreno said. "There's a lot of work that happens afterward by the NOPD once these tickets are written. After it's written there's a police report that has to be done, that takes anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. Then after that, whatever evidence there is now has to be taken to evidence and be logged. Then there has to be supervisor approval, so now we're spending thousands of NOPD manpower hours on pot tickets? That doesn't make sense to me."

Another part of this focuses on the past. People who have been convicted of simple possession of marijuana in New Orleans would be pardoned. That's believed to be around 10,000 people.

"The fact that people want to smoke weed, should not be something that sends them to jail," Councilmember Jay Banks said. "It should not be something that limits their capacity to be able to sustain themselves, we need to take away the impediments that stop people from being able to successfully and legally support themselves." 

People who spoke at Tuesday's meeting were all in favor of it. The committee was also on board. There has been some opposition however, mainly from people who fear, if passed, crime would increase. Moreno argues that's not the case and it's time to move forward.

"It's right on so many levels," she said. "It's right when it comes to best utilizing our NOPD manpower, it's right for racial equity, it's right for criminal justice reform for people so they don't get entangled in the criminal justice system. It checks every box, so it's time to move forward with this."

The Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously Tuesday in passing legislation. It now goes to the full council for discussion and a vote. That's expected to take a few months.