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Getting caught with a joint in New Orleans is likely to result in a fine, not handcuffs, following the the passage of a citywide ordinance reducing penalties for simple possession.

A measure from District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry, who also chairs the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, introduces fines for possessing fewer than 14 grams of pot: $40 for a first offense, $60 for a second offense, $80 for a third, and $100 for a fourth and subsequent offenses. The measure received unanimous support from councilmembers and is expected to get Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s approval; it goes into effect 90 days later.

Nearly 30 New Orleans musicians — including Kermit Ruffins and Phil Frazier of Rebirth Brass Band — endorsed the measure, which also has the support of marijuana advocacy and criminal justice reform organizations.

New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers still have the discretion to make arrests under state law, which carry a penalty of 14 days in jail and a $300 fine for a first offense. (Possessing any amount of synthetic marijuana carries a penalty of $500 for a first offense, with other fines reaching $1,000 or more for subsequent offenses.) Guidry said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison will instruct officers how to process the new law.

Guidry introduced a 2010 ordinance affording that discretion to officers by making simple pot possession a municipal offense, not a criminal one. Guidry was compelled to introduce her latest measure after analyzing raw arrest data finding that while NOPD issued summonses 70 percent of the time, black New Orleanians account for 75 percent of misdemeanor pot arrests, and 92 percent of felony pot arrests. Guidry's original draft of the ordinance called for warnings, not fines, for the first and second possessions, with fines for a third and fourth.


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