NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In less than two days, possession of up to two-and-a-half pounds of marijuana will be treated as a misdemeanor in New Orleans. But dealers won't get a pass.
For the past six years, New Orleans police issued summonses in many marijuana possession cases, but under new rules adopted by the city, that practice is expanding.
"What I like about it is it will keep non-violent offenders out of jail," said Councilwoman Susan Guidry.
People caught with up to two-and-a-half pounds could be forced to give up their pot and pay a fine as low as $40.
"The procedures makes the offender eligible for a summons," said New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison.
The new law is expected to free up police manpower and jail space
"I think it does, but I don't want to give this council a false sense that it will save a lot of time. We still have to deposit the evidence in a custodial way, bringing it to the evidence room," said Harrison.
But in some cases, marijuana offenders will still wind up in Criminal Court if the offenders are found to be distributing, but the arresting officer will need outside approval.
"When the officer suspects that he will get supervisor's approval by explaining all circumstance to a supervisor, who will give approval for arrest on the state charge," said Harrison.
For now, the misdemeanor charge will apply only to those over 17, but the council may lower the age.
"We are working on that right now, to create that policy. National League of Cities has issued a grant to help us do that, we will do it in short order," said Guidry.
Only one citizen spoke out on the new misdemeanor pot laws.
"We believe the ordinance reflects the values of the community," said Kevin Caldwell of Broadmoor.
The chief said arrests will be monitored to make sure that no neighborhood or group is being singled out for selective enforcement. The new laws fine tune a state law that allowed summons to be issued. That state law was passed six years ago and had already reduced marijuana arrests in New Orleans by 50 percent.