Happy New Year! Over the past year CommonsenseNOLA has been working with partner organizations to lobby on behalf of the sentence reduction bill and the medical cannabis bill. Both of these bills did pass and were signed into law. They both leave a lot to be desired but were great first steps toward a sensible cannabis policy in Louisiana. CommonsenseNOLA has always been about promoting change on a local level as well. In that facet, we have been quietly working with members of the City Council (specifically Susan Guidry) to implement a new cannabis policy for the City of New Orleans.
This process began eighteen months ago when we requested data to analyze the effectiveness of the 2011 ordinance #28246 which gave officers the ability to write a municipal summons vs. actually arresting people for possession of marijuana. NOPD deserves to be recognized for scaling back prohibition enforcement. By analyzing the four years before the ordinance was implemented versus the four years after, a good data field was given for analysis. The data was reviewed by the Vera Institute of Justice and their analysis confirmed the Council member’s findings.
In a nutshell, the average number of arrests went down by over half (6000 a year down to 2600). The number of summons issued was 1400 a year. That is a significant decrease and the police department respected the wishes of the Council and the citizens. Even more importantly the data shows that summons and arrests was not demographically skewed. Summons and arrests reflected the city’s demographics well (roughly 60/40). The one glaring piece of data was that the DA’s office prosecuted just under 1000 felony possession for marijuana every year-93% were young African American males. The example that has been getting national attention was the case of Bernard Noble who is serving 13.3 years for 2.8 grams of marijuana.
The councilperson reviewed these statistics and had decided on moving forward with a new ordinance. We were part of the organizations who submitted policy recommendations that helped shape the ordinance. We are proud to be part of the process to bring about change in our city, and hopefully eventually the state. We believe the new policy will improve community relations with the police department, hopefully decreasing citizen’s fear of the police. This ordinance could free up to 15,000 manpower hours that the NOPD used in enforcing prohibition annually. We also recognize that sometimes an officer arrests a serious criminal with possession and those tools will still be their disposal. Even if we take this into consideration a considerable amount of scarce police resources are being spent on marijuana prohibition. With support from the Chief of Police we seriously hope that a new day is dawning in relation to prohibition enforcement.
What do we need from you? The new ordinance will be introduced on January 27th at 2pm in City Council chambers. Put on your best clothes (preferably business attire) and show up to support the new ordinance. The new policy will allow officers to write a civil infraction (similar to a jaywalking ticket) for the first three marijuana offenses with fines at $100 for first , $200 for second and $300 for a third infraction. This is a step that cities around the nation have been implementing to better reflect the values of the communities they serve. We need to show support for this huge step forward but remember we are there to show support for Councilwoman Susan Guidry who authored the new ordinance, as well as the rest of the council who hopefully will support this commonsense measure. From a state wide perspective, it will give other cities in Louisiana more freedom to fashion similar policies in their cities, which will hopefully in turn create pressure for the legislative sessions coming up in the Spring. Let us put forth our best foot forward and make Wednesday a positive day. This is the kind of policy changes that help promote change statewide. New Orleans has always been at the forefront of social change in our region and this is another example of our city moving forward. Change takes time and processes can work. Patience is virtue and government processes take time but we at CommonsenseNOLA are very pleased to have participated in this process.
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