NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans City Council member Susan Guidry says the City's marijuana reform law has dramatically reduced arrests in the city and freed up time for NOPD officers to go after violent offenders. But, the Orleans Parish District Attorney says the law could contribute to violence in the French Quarter.
Orleans D.A. Leon Cannizzaro says from the beginning he disagreed with the City Council's marijuana reform ordinance that lowered fines and took away the possibility of jail time for those in simple possession of the drug.
"There's no big secret there's a great deal of narcotic activity in the French Quarter and if an individual wants to use marijuana and he believes the penalties are not as severe in Orleans Parish as they might be in maybe the neighboring parish where he or she may reside they would be inclined to come to New Orleans," said Cannizzaro.
City Council member Susan Guidry authored the marijuana reform ordinance and the council unanimously passed it in 2016. During a Criminal Justice Committee meeting Tuesday, Guidry said it's clear the ordinance is doing what it was designed to do.
"It is helping us save our police resources for more important police work," said Guidry.
Guidry says marijuana arrests fell from 157 in the year prior to the ordinance being implemented to just 17 the year following.
"Each arrest takes approximately six hours of police time. Time that the police could otherwise be on patrol, answering calls for service and going after violent criminals. So citizens want their police force to protect them from criminals, not from a victimless offense," said Guidry.
But, Cannizzaro sees it differently. He says the ordinance could lead to violence in places like the French Quarter.
"If someone is interested in dealing marijuana they also know that maybe their best market might be in the City of New Orleans also. Now, the consequences may be a little bit more severe for those individuals that deal the drugs but they know that there is a market available in New Orleans," said Cannizzaro. "Certainly some of the violent activities that we have seen in the French Quarter have resulted in a marijuana deal, the taking of someone's marijuana stash so, we have certainly seen the violent criminal activity escalate and I think certainly that is something that has to be taken into account when we pass statutes of that sort."
In response to Cannizzaro's comments, Councilwoman Guidry said, "the 2016 ordinance has now been in effect for nearly two years, and we simply have not seen any evidence that supports the D.A.'s statements."
Under the ordinance, there is no jail time for simple possession. A first conviction will cost $40, a second is $60, a third goes up to $80, and on a 4th conviction, the fine is $100.