New policy on marijuana could bring positive change

Daniel Horowitz, Staff Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Being a traditionally conservative region, the Southern United States has typically been very strict when it comes to drug laws. New Orleans seems to be breaking this trend with the presentation of a new marijuana policy to the City Council. If passed, this new policy would be a significant stepping stone toward decriminalization, and potentially legalization, of marijuana in Louisiana and the rest of the South.

The aim of this new legislation is to essentially make possession of marijuana punishable by a fine instead of by arrest. Under this new policy, possession would be punishable by a verbal warning as a first offense, a written warning as a second offense, a $40 fine as a third offense and a $100 fine for every offense after. Councilwoman Susan Guidry introduced this ordinance because she felt too many people were being imprisoned for marijuana possession in New Orleans and that taxpayers’ money should be going toward preventing crime from occurring rather than overburdening the court system.

This new policy is a blessing for New Orleans for several reasons. First, it will begin the process of bringing down the incredibly high incarceration rate. Louisiana is notorious for its imprisonment rates, which is not only the highest in the country, but the highest in the United States. Arresting citizens for marijuana possession only contributes to and encourages these high imprisonment rates.

Second, making possession punishable by a fine reduces the stigma surrounding marijuana. Sophomore Steven McAfee, vice president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, attended the town hall meeting when the bill was first introduced. He said he believes that eliminating arrests for marijuana possession will help reduce the stigma surrounding it because it offers an opportunity for people to learn that marijuana, like alcohol, can be used in a responsible manner. McAfee added that if we can start by reducing the stigma in our community, it is possible that we could be on our way to the eventual legalization of marijuana.

McAfee also said that he believes this new legislation will be a great deal of help to members of minority communities in New Orleans. He explained that black people in New Orleans seem to be arrested more often than their white counterparts based on information presented at the town hall meeting he attended. If people can no longer be arrested for possessing marijuana, then all who fall victim to possession charges can benefit from this decriminalization bill.

The New Orleans City Council will be voting on the bill Thursday. McAfee noticed at the town hall meeting that three city councilors were in favor of the policy while three remained undecided. Four votes are required to pass this legislation. Hopefully, one or more of the councilmen who is currently undecided will recognize the benefits of this ordinance. The changes will bring positive changes to the city and serve as a stepping stone toward the decriminalization of marijuana in Louisiana.

Daniel is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]