With action by the town council in Baton Rouge, this city just loosened penalties for marijuana charges. On February 28, the East Baton Rouge Town Council voted to reduce the penalties for cannabis possession. The new provisions would go into effect 30 days after a signature from Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
Broome Responds To Measure
Broome has responded positively to the measure. She said she plans to “extensively review” the law with the parish attorney, according to reports in local media. Broome added that she had “no plans to veto” the law.
Broome also said the new provisions will allow police to focus on more serious crimes. Local law enforcement supports the ordinance.
“My position aligns with BRPD and Chief Murphy Paul. This ordinance will allow us to rededicate resources to felony offenders. It also attaches penalties to possession without the stigma of prison,” said Broome.
She also mentioned the new law would align with the policy already in effect. “Our current practice is to issue summonses for simple possession of marijuana, and this new ordinance will not change that.”
Under the new provisions of the city’s marijuana ordinance, possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana would be punished by a fine instead of jail time.
Police officers would also issue citations instead of arresting offenders and taking them to jail. Fourteen grams is equivalent to about half an ounce.
Fines Instead of Jail
A person convicted of possession of fewer than 14 grams would be required to pay a fine of $40. The fine for a second offense would be $60. A three-time offender would have to pay $80.
Fines for fourth and subsequent violations would be $100. The new rules are similar to those adopted by the City of New Orleans in 2016.
Many residents of Baton Rouge attended the town council meeting. Most supported the measure. Others thought it didn’t go far enough, and advocated for the full legalization of marijuana.
Jacob Irving is a law student at LSU and a cannabis activist. He has been working to reform cannabis laws at the state level, as well. He told the council that the measure is a better use of community resources.
“I don’t want one of my tax dollars to be spent incarcerating someone for marijuana,” he said.
Addressing Racial Inequalities
Councilman LaMont Cole is one of the sponsors of the new ordinance. He said enforcement of cannabis laws has “destroyed our community.”
Cole said that the war on drugs has sent people of color to prison for using marijuana. Once there, they are forced to live with hardened criminals and violent felons.
However, Cole was careful to point out that the new provisions are not pro-cannabis.
“I don’t know if I would use the language ‘let people smoke weed,’ but I would say ‘let’s not send people to prison,'” he said.
Final Hit: This City Just Loosened Penalties For Marijuana Charges
But not all of the council was on board with the measure. Councilman Trae Welch, who voted against the ordinance, said the law would send mixed signals to youth and jeopardize their safety.
“Until there’s a safe place to buy drugs, why are we sending kids to drug dealers and saying it’s ok?” asked Welch.
The town council passed the measure by a vote of 8-4. However, Mayor-President Broome has yet to sign off on the new provisions.