LA: NOPD Marijuana Arrests Plunged To 1 Percent After Ordinance Change

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People arrested and held on simple marijuana possession became nearly non-existent in New Orleans in the year since the City Council passed an ordinance that allowed police to issue summons instead of using a custodial arrest.

City Councilwoman Susan Guidry shared data on Tuesday (March 27) showing that just 1 percent of encounters between police and someone accused of possessing marijuana resulted in an arrest between June 2016 and May 2017. A year before, 15 percent of people were arrested for simple possession.

Between 2011 and 2014, the arrest rate was 72 percent.

Guidry said those numbers reflect the fact that beginning in 2010, City Council members began urging the New Orleans Police Department to stop spending time on simple marijuana possession arrests because it was a waste of its resources.

During that time period, Guidry said, the message resulted in police reducing simple marijuana possession arrests by about 5,000 compared with the four years prior to the council taking office. She said it also reduced the number of contacts police made with marijuana offenders.

“It was just astounding to see the effect this message had,” Guidry said.

Even so, Guidry said that the data during 2011-2014 showed there was more work to be done: 75 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession were black. The council was able to begin reducing that number in 2016 after the Louisiana Legislature changed marijuana laws in an effort to reduce the state’s jail population, and allowed for municipalities to handle marijuana offenses using municipal ordinances.

That resulted in the council adopting an ordinance that fines an offender $40 for a first offense, $60 for the second, $80 for the third and $100 for fourth offense and any other subsequent offenses. Officers were still allowed to use their discretion on whether a custodial arrest was needed, but NOPD implemented a policy that made arrests the exception rather than the rule.

“In our estimation, the punishment more neatly matches the crime,” Guidry said. “This means our money and resources and efforts can be spent elsewhere.”

Guidry also called the number of arrests “an incredible decrease,” adding, “the effects of this are of course valuable not only to the defendant but also the NOPD.”

Each marijuana arrest takes about six hours, Guidry said, meaning that officers have much more time they can use to investigate more serious crimes.