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LMPD Says Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance May Not Change Much

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A group of Metro Council members is hoping to cut down on the number of Louisville residents cited for marijuana possession with a new ordinance. But Louisville police say the new law may not change how they operate.

The ordinance aims to direct police to treat possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana by an adult older than 21 as the “lowest law enforcement priority.” One sponsor said officers can use their discretion to not cite adults in situations where possession is the highest-level offense.

Councilman Brandon Coan of District 8 compared it to an officer breaking up a bar fight.

“If no real damage has been done, instead of arresting and booking those two guys, the police will say to their buddies, ‘Get these guys out of here, you know, they're causing a problem,'" he said.

Coan said state law tells officers how to cite those found guilty of possession, not whether they should issue citations. He would like to see citations for this circumstance — an adult holding a small amount of marijuana for personal use who has not committed another crime — go to zero.

"The officer should confiscate that drug, but send that person on their way instead of putting them through the criminal justice system, and leaving that person with a mark on the record and something that could impact their lives and their family's life," he said.

He described it as a "modest, reasonable" criminal justice reform effort, since there are racial disparities in who is most cited for marijuana possession. A Courier-Journal report earlier this year found that citations for this offense were given six times more frequently to black drivers than whites in 2017.

Kentucky classifies possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a maximum fine of $250.

Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the Louisville Metro Police Department, said the proposed ordinance would not supersede Kentucky law, which already classifies marijuana possession as a low-level offense requiring a citation.

"I’m not sure exactly that you would see any major changes by this department and how they operate because we follow the state statute," she said.

Halladay said LMPD already considers violent crime to be its highest priority and allocates resources based on that designation.

The council’s public safety committee will take up the ordinance next month, Coan said. As written, there would be no penalty for officers who choose to continue issuing citations to those possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Read the ordinance below:

[scribd id=411384519 key=key-uRmADuFd6UhCRXqazbAn mode=scroll]

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

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