For many communities who are seeking reform, but cannot do much because of state laws, decriminalization can be a wonderful alternative. It allows law enforcement to issue a civil citation and a fine, rather than arrest followed by court. Well, it’s a good day to be living in New Orleans because their mayor just signed into law an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The new law is an expansion of a 2010 law that allowed officers to issue a court summons to first-time marijuana offenders, rather than arrest. Now police officers will have the option to issue a court summons to all offenders in possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana. If the individual is convicted at trial, then they will be fined anywhere from $40-100 dollars.
For the first offense, the fine would be $40, second would be $60 and $80 for a third – any offense from that point on would be fined at $100 each time. The court hearings would not see the defendants facing jail time and alternatives to a fine – community service, for example – may be offered for those who cannot financially afford to pay the fine.
Now, if the officer feels it is necessary they do still have the option to arrest people – however, it is not likely they will spend the time to do so. If the offender is carrying more than 14 grams or it appears that there is intent to sell, then they are still going to be arrested under current state laws.
Prior to implementation of this law, an arrest for possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana for a first time offender could result in up to 15 days in jail and a fine up to $300. For all subsequent offenses, the individual could face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500. This new law imposing minimal fees is an excellent alternative that will save both citizens and the government money in the long run.
The ordinance was voted unanimously at 7-0 in just last week by the New Orleans City Council – after being pushed through by city councilwoman Susan Guidary. This is a big step-forward and many more cities and counties have been taking this route to reduce the number of arrests and people in jail – and it works. While it is in no means how this should work in the long run it is definitely a worth-while temporary solution.