New Orleans City council takes another step towards fully decriminalizing marijuana

Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - “Today we’re going to end criminalization of simple possession of marijuana in the City of New Orleans,” said Helena Moreno.

Council president Helena Moreno wants to do even more to fully legalize recreational marijuana in the city. But hamstringed by state law, the city’s criminal justice committee introduced three ordinances and a motion that will do all but legalize marijuana in the city.

“We can’t make it legal but what we can do is enforce our laws and put in mechanisms that puts us as close to legalization.”

The first of those mechanisms is enhancing the mayor’s pardon powers. The legislation would automatically pardon all future possession summons and more than 10,000 past summonses or convictions.

“This is important for racial and social justice when we end the conviction for this drug charge we’re going to help with housing and employment issues,” said Moreno.

Legal analyst Bobby Hjortsberg says the appetite to prosecute simple marijuana charges simply isn’t there anymore.

“There are no prosecutors who are trying to be heavy-handed on marijuana,” said Hjortsberg.

He says the committee’s work-around approach to decriminalizing marijuana is certainly creative, though he cautions pardoned charges may still appear in some circumstances.

“Certainly she doesn’t have the ability to do anything with the state and federal charges… how much teeth it will ultimately have because when you say pardon someone if they go and apply for a job and it still shows up on a background check what good does that pardon actually do,” said Hjortsberg.

Beyond the legalities of decriminalized marijuana, Moreno says it will free up law enforcement to better address violent crime.

The Police Association of New Orleans says processing the paperwork and evidence for simple possession can take an officer up to three hours.

“Our members are very much concerned about policing and protecting the citizens especially from violent crime, anything that takes away from that is detrimental. However the other side of the coin is he still have to enforce the laws that are on the books,” said Eric Hessler.

After input from more than a dozen public comments, there was nothing but support for the measures.

“We take away these impediments we make it easier for people to be successful and crime never becomes an option,” said councilmember Jay Banks.

All the measures passed unanimously.

It would also include a provision to prohibit smoking cannabis in public.

The full city council will now have to take up the measures before they are adopted.

Moreno said that could possibly take place in August.

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