New Orleans: Marijuana Possession Arrests Plunge Following Enactment Of Decriminalization Ordinance

Minor marijuana possession arrests have plunged in the city of New Orleans following the adoption of a municipal ordinance one year ago that called for fining rather than arresting low-level offenders.

According to data made available last week, just one percent of encounters between police and someone accused of possessing marijuana resulted in an arrest between June 2016 and May 2017. In prior years, over 70 percent of such encounters resulted in an arrest. In those cases, some 75 percent of those arrested were African Americans.

Under Louisiana state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are punishable by a term of incarceration of up to eight years, depending on whether the person convicted is a repeat offender.

In March of last year, members of the New Orleans city council voted 7 to 0 in favor of legislation permitting police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (defined as those who possess 14 grams or less), including repeat offenders. First-time violators are subject to a $40 fine while subsequent offenders may face fines of up to $100. In recent years, nearly 60 municipalities in states where cannabis remains criminalized have enacted local ordinances either partially or fully decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.

According to a study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the enactment of recent statewide decriminalization laws has similarly resulted in a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests while having no adverse impact on youth use patterns.

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