Louisville, Kentucky Lawmakers Propose Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

The proposal is not without criticism.
Louisville, Kentucky Lawmakers Propose Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
Vitaly Fedotov/ Shutterstock

Members of the Louisville, Kentucky city council introduced a proposed ordinance on Wednesday that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority for the city’s police department. The proposal was filed by four Democratic members of the Louisville Metro Council, including Councilman Brandon Coan, who represents Louisville’s District 8.

“The idea is pretty straightforward: You don’t want to punish somebody who makes a minor indiscretion … to prevent them from getting a job or advancing in their career or being prejudiced in any other normal way of life,” said Coan.

The ordinance would make “investigation, citations, and arrests” for possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, although it would not legalize cannabis possession or use. Marijuana possession cases related to “an act or threat of violence, or where public safety officials reasonably believe that the marijuana offense poses a substantial threat of serious physical harm to the public” would not be covered by the ordinance.

“We don’t want to have to send people downtown and through the court system for small infractions that are not serious problems,” Coan said. “We really need police to be on the street and available to respond to violent crime and other serious crimes.”

Police, Mayor Push Back

Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the Louisville Metro Police said that officers have already stopped making arrests in most marijuana possession cases.

“Police are statutorily required to write citations for small amounts of marijuana possession already, unless there is some other circumstance related to public safety,” Halladay wrote. “Our department continues to focus on violent crime as a top priority.”

Halladay added that Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad has said previously that “he must follow the laws as written in Kentucky and marijuana remains illegal in this commonwealth.”

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, wrote in a statement that the goal of the proposed ordinance is already in effect.

“First, marijuana is still illegal in Kentucky, and the mayor has a constitutional duty to uphold the law,” Porter wrote. “Second, LMPD already prioritizes violent crime, and state law has, since 2011, required police to issue citations instead of arresting individuals for possessing marijuana in low amounts.”

Earlier this year, an investigation revealed that Black people, who make up less than one-fourth of Louisville’s population, were the defendants in two-thirds of the cases where possession of marijuana was the most serious charge.

Coan, who was joined in proposing the ordinance by Councilwomen Jessica Green, Barbara Sexton Smith, and Cindi Fowler, said he believes the measure could be considered by city council committees as soon as May 29.

A measure similar to Louisville’s bid to relax the enforcement of marijuana laws was proposed by a member of the city council in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday.

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