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N.O. City Council to consider ordinance that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 10:21 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans City Council is looking at several ordinances and a motion that would fully decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. Something Council President Helena Moreno said would help NOPD officers focus more on violent crimes. But opponents to the motion say this will only make the crime problem worse.

“It’s all about fully decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana,” said Moreno, who said this motion--if it passes-- would allow police officers to focus on bigger more violent crimes elsewhere. She said it takes about an hour for an officer to ticket someone with simple possession, which is roughly two grams of marijuana.

“You possess, you’re fine. If it’s simple possession, you’re fine. If you’re carrying a joint or if you’ve got one in the back of your ear or whatever, that’s ok,” she said.

“But if you’re out smoking, we’re going to ask that you’re not smoking in public spaces, and then yes, you can get a ticket, but it’s not going to be a ticket under a drug charge. It’s going to be a ticket under the smoke-free ordinance.”

Her ordinance says someone could get a ticket under the smoke-free section of the municipal code, meaning the ticket wouldn’t require a police report, and would not be written as a drug charge.

And while marijuana is still a controlled substance, Moreno said by enforcing the drug isn’t smoked in public places will save time and resources.

“Nobody is scared when they smell marijuana smoke in the air. They’re scared when they hear gunshots,” said Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams.

He believes this ordinance would be a good thing for the city. He said when it comes to officers responding to the scene of a crime, time is of the essence.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be permissible to just light up in the streets. That’s not what this is about. That is still not allowed, but we’ve got to be smart about how we’re using the limited number of police officers that we have on the streets,” said Williams.

But some believe this pardon for simple possession would only increase violent crime in the city.

Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission believes this change would not save any time for the officers. He said by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in this way, would only support the dealers-- making them more aggressive. He adds many violent gangs are involved with the drug trade.

Back at City Hall, Moreno said this is not something that will change overnight.

“We want to make sure people receive tickets instead of being arrested for simple possession of marijuana,” she said.

Moreno said this ordinance would also pardon those who have been fined in the past. However, she said it is still months away before this would even become a reality.

The smoking prohibition would be more in line with most cities in the country that allow for simple possession.

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