In New Orleans, You Can Get 5 Years in Prison for a Joint of Marijuana
The flood of new felony charges didn’t target murderers, rapists or armed robbers — they targeted small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threatened them with lengthy prison sentences.
The resulting impact has clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system and damaged low-income African-American communities, [Orleans Public Defenders Office Chief of Trials Steve] Singer said.
A first-time marijuana possession charge in Louisiana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison but typically results in a small fine. A second offense is a felony that can carry up to five years in jail and a third offense up to 20 years.
Some say Landrum-Johnson’s decision to buck history and charge marijuana users with felonies is a political decision meant to assist in her run for Orleans Criminal District Court Section E judgeship. By prosecuting thousands of marijuana possession cases as felonies, Landrum-Johnson can then go to the voters of New Orleans and claim she is “tough on crime,” [Tulane University criminologist Peter] Scharf said. She can point to the massive increase in felony prosecutions under her tenure without explaining that those prosecutions were for people holding joints and not guns, he said. [New Orleans CityBusiness]
Only Landrum-Johnson knows what her motivations are, so I won't belabor that point. She is presiding over a deliberate effort to place large numbers of small-time marijuana users in prison for 5-20 years and there exists no noble motive for doing that. Whether she believes this can help her become a judge, or she possesses a virulent and vindictive animosity towards people who smoke marijuana, or she is merely detached utterly from the consequences of the authority she wields, the result is disastrous and the justification is a fraud.
This, I'm afraid to say, is the reality of America's war on drugs. Everyday our drug policies produce outcomes none of us intended and almost none of us support. The idea of imprisoning nonviolent drug users is so obviously unpopular that the DEA has a whole page arguing that it almost never happens. But will anyone in Washington, D.C. approach the New Orleans DA's office and tell them to stop? Of course not. The very people who so vigorously argue the scarcity of such injustices are the same ones who work tirelessly to conceal them and enable their continuation.