If you have ever been to New Orleans, chances are you’ve smelled marijuana smoke on the breeze. In New Orleans, marijuana is a close second to daiquiris in open cups carried by people walking down the street, except marijuana is illegal and open alcohol containers are completely legal and very much part of the culture.
Louisiana is a state that has strict laws against possession of marijuana, even for personal use. Depending on the officer involved, or the parish in which you could be busted, you might find yourself faced with a misdemeanor charge, or a felony charge that could mean time in a state prison.
In the face of a chronic violent crime situation in New Orleans, the City Council has voted to lessen the fines involved with simple possession, and it also gives police officers greater discretion on whether to take someone to jail, or just give them a citation with a small fine instead.
Local law already allowed NOPD officers to write a ticket for first-offense possession, and they still have the option to use the stricter state law that calls for arrests. Council members Susan Guidry and Jason Williams backed the ordinance that allows police to issue summonses for third and subsequent simple possession charges.
“Our hope with this is that fewer people will be brought to jail and fewer people will have their lives disrupted with this charge,” Guidry said.
The new law doesn’t make it legal to smoke marijuana in New Orleans; it only lessens the penalties for possession of small amounts. Fines would start at $40 for a first offense and be capped at $100 for fourth offenses and beyond. Cases would be tried in Municipal Court, as opposed being handled as state cases in Orleans Criminal District Court. (Source)
The War on Drugs has been a miserable failure, and Louisiana would do well to legalize and tax marijuana. This would lessen the costs on individuals, the crowding of the court system and bring in millions of dollars of revenue through the regulated sales of marijuana for recreational use.
This step forward doesn’t go far enough, but it is better than the backwards policies in the Bible Belt that allow drunk drivers to do less time in prison than people who possess or even sell small bags of marijuana. Louisiana faces a massive budget crisis, and legalizing marijuana along with encouraging the tourism that would come with it would go a long way towards filling that budget gap.