By "Radical" Russ Belville
(Best of New Orleans) On Thursday, Dec. 16, members of the New Orleans City Council gave unanimous thumbs-up to reclassifying simple marijuana possession as a municipal offense. The decision gives New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers the option to issue a summons rather than make an arrest. District A councilwoman and Criminal Justice Committee co-chair Susan Guidry said, “These ordinances will contribute significantly to the city’s efforts to promote greater efficiency and equity in our criminal justice system, particularly for our police officers, the District Attorney’s office and in the criminal courts.”
Pending proper implementation with NOPD and city coding practices, the new ordinance goes into effect at 7 a.m. on Jan. 30. The first available court date is the following Monday.
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The ordinance does not, however, decriminalize or “reclassify” possession. The term was reported and proliferated following the council meeting, but both District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office and the Vera Institute, which advises the council on criminal justice, emphasize neither decriminalization nor reclassification are correct terms. The penalties for possession — a $500 fine or up to six months’ jail time — remain the same. “People say it’s decriminalization. It’s not,” says assistant DA Christopher Bowman. “Offenders are subject to the same penalties. The only difference is they’re not arrested.”
I’m still looking for the right word for this. It is not decriminalization as the Assistant DA noted – you’ll still have a “drug crime” on your record. It’s not depenalization as the penalties stay the same. Dearrestification just doesn’t play right. It is almost literally the least they could do in marijuana law reform – save the taxpayers the expense of the arrest and the cannabis consumers the cost of bail.
But it is a baby step in the right direction.