More Municipalities Move Forward With Marijuana Decriminalization

New Orleans, LA: Local legislators in New Orleans, Louisiana and Tampa, Florida voted last week in favor of municipal ordinances to halt minor marijuana possession arrests within city limits.

Members of the New Orleans city council voted 7 to zero in favor of legislation permitting police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (defined as those who possess 14 grams or less), including repeat offenders. First-time violators are subject to a $40 fine while subsequent offenders may face fines of up to $100. Under state law, first-time possession offenders are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution (punishable by up to 15 days in jail) while repeat offenders face up to eight years in prison.

Members of the Tampa city council voted 5 to 1 to amend local laws so that the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis within city limits is a non-arrestable, fine-only offense. First-time offenders face a $75 fine, while multiple offenders could face fines up to $450. By contrast, Florida law defines similar possession offenses as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine, and the suspension of one’s driver’s license for a period of one year.

Tampa’s pending policy is similar to those recently enacted in a number of Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, West Palm Beach, and Volusia, as well as in several other metropolitan areas, such as Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

In Pittsburgh, city officials are debating the passage of an amended ordinance to make minor marijuana offenses (involving the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana) punishable by a summary citation and a fine. Summaries can be expunged in five years if the defendant is convicted and do not require the defendant to be fingerprinted or to appear at a preliminary hearing. Local lawmakers alleged that an earlier version of the ordinance that sought to wholly decriminalize marijuana possession offenses would likely have led to legal challenges.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.