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Leaders believe La. bill decriminalizing marijuana a step towards legalization

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 9:25 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans has always been a little different than the rest of the state of Louisiana, but the city may have been leading the state in policing marijuana.

Senate legislators voted 20 to 17 to approve House Bill 652 that would essentially decriminalize possession of recreational marijuana in the state of Louisiana.

Instead of a $300 fine and potential jail time for possessing up to 14 grams if signed into law, users could face a fine of only $100.

“What New Orleans started in 2011 is now what would be the norm across the state,” said City councilwoman Helena Moreno.

And while reduced, the state-level fines would still be steeper than those in New Orleans. The municipal code levies a 40 dollar fine for possession.

City councilwoman Helena Moreno sponsored a motion hoping the council reduces this even further, especially if it means giving officers more opportunity to police violent crime.

“I just don’t believe there are many people who are saying you must jail someone for having a joint anymore it just isn’t the sentiment anymore… we had eight people shot in one incident over the weekend, I think the people of New Orleans would rather have their NOPD officers out try to prevent violent crime and doing community policing then giving people tickets for having a joint,” said Moreno.

“I don’t think this is a change event for law enforcement I think it’s a further indication of the changing sentiments of the lawmakers in the public with respect to marijuana,” said Rafael Goyeneche.

Rafael Goyeneche with the metro crime commission believes this also falls in line with what law enforcement officers are encountering on the streets.

“I don’t believe marijuana users are being incarcerated and I believe in jurisdictions that you summons they’re going to be summoned in lieu of an arrest and the penalties,” said Goyeneche.

Both, however, expect there’s more legislation on the horizon. The question is when.

“I think we’re probably headed towards legalization it will be in a couple years,” said Goyeneche.

“Let’s start training our officers on how to respond to individuals who may have a joint etc. and how does that look for us as we look to legalization,” said Moreno.

District Attorney Jason Williams in a statement also voiced support:

“By returning capacity to the criminal legal system, this smart piece of legislation decriminalizing marijuana takes the right action to support our efforts to focus on the serious, violent offenders in our communities and increase safety in New Orleans. This is a big step forward for the State of Louisiana and I look forward to its impact in our city.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

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