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Marijuana Bust No Longer Automatic Arrest in New Orleans

In a bid to reduce congestion in the city's criminal courts, the New Orleans City Council voted last Thursday to make marijuana possession, prostitution, and two other minor crimes municipal offenses. That gives police the option to issue a summons instead of making an arrest.

The New Orleans City Council just made life a bit easier in the Big Easy.
Up until now, pot possession and the other offenses have only been addressed by state laws, which required police to arrest and book offenders. With the offenses now municipal, police are no longer required to make arrests, saving the city the expense of booking, housing and feeding jailed pot smokers. The move will also reduce the caseload of judges and prosecutors, who also handle serious felonies.

"These ordinances will contribute significantly to the city's efforts to promote greater efficiency and equity in our criminal justice system, particularly for our police officers, the District Attorney's office and in the criminal court," said Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chair of the council's Criminal Justice Committee. "These measures have unanimous support from the City's criminal justice agencies, and we are thankful for the many people who have worked so hard on this initiative."

Possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids, prostitution, a driver's failure to stop when a police officer has used flashing lights and a siren to signal the driver to stop, and refusing to leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by police are the four offenses that will now be dealt with by summonses.

While it is a scaling back of marijuana enforcement, the council's move does not amount to true decriminalization. Like Louisiana state law, the new city municipal ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro complained mightily when he took office in 2008, only to find more than a thousand marijuana possession cases clogging his docket. At his urging, the city already tries pot possession cases in municipal court, but Thursday's ordinances mean the prosecution of those cases can be shifted from Cannizzaro's office to the city attorney's office.

The ordinances are a continuation of ongoing efforts by the city council to reduce the number of people arrested and jailed for minor offenses in the city. Two years ago, the council passed ordinances directing police to issue written summons instead of arresting people found with outstanding traffic warrants and a number of municipal offenses, including disturbing the peace, trespassing, making threats, urinating in public, playing loud music and public intoxication.

New Orleans police arrested 58,219 people in 2007. Half of those arrested were for municipal or traffic offenses. Although no hard numbers are available, the measures undertaken since then have certainly decreased that percentage, and Thursday's ordinance should see it decline further.

New Orleans, LA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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New Orleans Marijuana Law

Your article is mistaken in one major respect.  For more than thirty years Louisiana law has allowed issuance of a summons in lieu of arrest in any misdemeanor case.  Simple possession of marijuana has for just as long been a misdemeanor everywhere in Louisiana, including New Orleans.  It is not correct to say that New Orleans police were previously required to arrest simple possession offenders.  This was simply their willful, thuggish practice.  What the City Council has done with its latest action is simply to require the cops to use the misdemeanor summons in simple possession pot cases, in which they always had the discretion to do so.  While this is a minor improvement in the treatment of marijuana offenders, it mainly highlights the ongoing perversity of "criminal justice" in New Orleans and Louisiana generally.  We are a backward, failed police state with few pretensions to justice or humane law enforcement; and little prospect for improvement in the near future.  Most of our citizens simply like the swamp of bigotry and brutality.  It's what feels right for them.


Michael S. Wolf

Attorney at Law

Baton Rouge, LA

Is it or isn't it?

Either marijuana is so dangerous that people using it need immediate removal from society and harsh punishments inflicted upon them, or it hardly poses any danger at all. 

The city council of New Orleans clearly believes that people that use marijuana are not dangerous enough to remove from the streets in most cases. That leads me to ask, what then is the problem and why is there a penalty at all? 


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