Spurred by cannabis reform in the city council, police in the Big Easy have made significant changes to their enforcement tactics. Tourists and residents in the Crescent City can breathe (or rather smoke) a little easier these days, as newly released city statistics show that New Orleans police have taken the city’s cannabis decriminalization efforts seriously, and now make arrests in only 1% of minor cannabis incidents.
The New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance two years ago decriminalizing minor cannabis possession, giving police officers the discretion to ticket rather than arrest suspects found with small amounts of pot.
Responding in kind, the NOPD has all but eliminated marijuana charges from their protocol, reducing the rate of possession-related arrests from 72% of all police and pot interactions in 2011-2014, to the newly released number of only 1% in the last half of 2016 and first half of 2017.
In terms of individual interactions, last year saw 5,000 fewer cannabis-related arrests in New Orleans than took place half a decade ago.
“It was just astounding to see the effect this message had,” New Orleans City Councilperson Susan Guidry said after announcing the new arrest statistics on Tuesday.
Across the American South, where socially conservative state legislators, governors, and voters have rejected comprehensive cannabis legalization, urban hubs like New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis and more have looked toward local decriminalization to stem the tide of racially charged policing tactics and mass incarceration.
But while cities like New Orleans have found incredible success by giving police officers the option to only ticket marijuana users, shifts in local laws around cannabis have not been a universal panacea.
For example, police in New York City have reduced their marijuana arrest numbers, but are still facing criticism for mostly arresting New Yorkers of color, while letting white pot users go with tickets. In New Orleans, though, the decriminalization ordinance — and its overwhelmingly successful real-world application — has been a necessary first step for all parties involved.
“In our estimation, the punishment more neatly matches the crime,” Guidry said. “This means our money and resources and efforts can be spent elsewhere…The effects of this are of course valuable not only to the defendant but also the NOPD.”
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