New penalties for pot possession set for New Orleans City Council vote on March 17

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Smoking a joint in New Orleans could land you a fine, not an arrest, if the New Orleans City Council approves an ordinance that reduces penalties for simple pot possession.

In January, District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry introduced a measure to expand a 2010 ordinance that gives police officers more discretion in handing first-time offenders a municipal summons. Her new measure extends that discretion to all simple possession offenses, whether for a first strike or fourth (or fifth, or sixth).

Under those proposed rules, officers have the discretion to give verbal and written warnings for first and second possessions of 14 grams or less of marijuana. But today, council members approved Guidry's amendment that turns those warnings into fines. The latest draft of the ordinance includes $40 for a first offense, $60 for a second, $80 for a third and $100 for fourth and subsequent offenses.

"It has become clear to me that the provision in the original draft, the warning provisions ... are not practical or possible at this time," said Guidry, adding that police don’t have the resources to track previous warnings and subsequent offenses. Voting on the ordinance, however, "is too important to delay," she said.

Guidry stressed that officers still would have the discretion to apply state law to possession arrests. "This ordinance, especially as amended, would not limit anything about current police practices or procedures," she said. "This law would merely extend that choice to all possessions."

The council held off from voting on the newly amended ordinance — the council votes Thursday, March 17.


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