New Orleans city council unanimously voted to decriminalize personal cannabis possession in the city, as well as for a separate measure to pardon an estimated 10,000 people with convictions and pending charges for low-level marijuana offenses.

New Orleans city officials had previously moved to reduce marijuana possession to a fine-only offense, but such offenses could still land a person with a criminal record. The “prospective pardon” ordinance passed by the council means law enforcement can still issue summons for cannabis possession, but it will be automatically waived without requiring a court appearance. This measure will take effect on September 15.

The second cannabis-related ordinance approved by New Orleans city council will retroactively pardon individuals convicted of low-level cannabis possession under city law since 2010, as well as those whose cases are still pending. This amounts to around 10,000 people who’ll be pardoned.

Speaking after the vote, City Council President Helena Moreno said the ordinances are aimed at building community trust with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), while focusing law enforcement resources on combating violent crime.

“This policy will help NOPD build community trust, plus is aimed at saving manpower hours so that they can instead focus on the major problems like shootings, murders, and overall preventing violence in our city,” said Moreno. “The time to end the criminalization of cannabis possession is now.”

An NOPD spokesperson has yet to publicly comment on whether the department will continue to issue summons for cannabis possession once the ordinance takes effect.

Smoking marijuana in public in New Orleans will, however, remain an offense but only as a violation of the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act.

While New Orleans city council doesn’t have the power to legalize marijuana, its decriminalization and pardoning ordinances are just the latest in a series of moves to reduce penalties associated with cannabis. Few New Orleans residents have gone to jail in recent years for marijuana possession, but council members pointed out that racial disparities continue to persist even with simple citations. City Council Public Safety Analyst Jeff Asher had previously shown council members that 86 percent of cannabis possession summons issued in New Orleans since 2010 were given to Black people.

“We have been criminalizing our residents, and disproportionately criminalizing Black men and women, for using a drug that most of us believe should be legal for too long,” said District “D” Council member Jared Brossett. “Today was an important step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues as we fight to make the city we love more equitable.

At the state level, a partial marijuana decriminalization bill took effect in Louisiana on August 1. Possession of up to 14 grams is now a civil offense punishable by a maximum fine of $100, with no possibility of jail time.

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