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Arrests for Simple Possession of Marijuana and Public Safety

Arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana are very common in Lafayette Parish.  In many cases, the person will simply receive a summons for a misdemeanor charge of simple possession of marijuana.  Most commonly an arrest occurs when the police pulls someone over for a traffic violation such as broken tail light or running a stop sign. The drugs may be openly visible or could be discovered after the police conduct a search of the vehicle.

Many of those charged have never been in trouble before and suddenly find themselves navigating the criminal justice system.   It’s a shame because an arrest or conviction can have serious lifelong repercussions.

No Arrests for Small Amounts of Marijuana in NY

As a criminal defense attorney I was interested to read that New York has a state law that prohibits the police from arresting people with small, personal amounts of marijuana (under 25 grams) unless they are displaying the drugs in a public manner.  This means that police officers would not arrest someone who had the marijuana hidden from view in their purse or in their car.  The goal of the law is to allow the police to focus on more serious, violent crimes and to avoid putting young people in the criminal justice system.

Study Shows Simple Possession Does Not Usually Lead to Violent Crime

Opponents of this law argue that marijuana use is a gateway to more serious crimes and cracking down on offenses early on is important for public safety. To test the assumption that marijuana possession leads to violent felonies, the organization Human Rights Watch conducted a study of roughly 30,000 people who were arrested for simple possession of marijuana in New York City and had no prior convictions. The study followed them for a period of 6 ½ – 8 ½ years to determine whether they were convicted of any violent crimes.  During that time, over 90% of the people followed were not convicted of a subsequent violent felony.  Over 80% had no criminal convictions at all.  In this study, possession of a personal amount of marijuana did not usually lead to violent crime and therefore, arrests for simple possession did not significantly improve public safety.

Personally I think the New York law is a great idea. Possession of a small amount of marijuana, intended for personal use and not to sell to others, is not a violent crime and usually does not harm anyone else.   A charge for simple possession brings otherwise law-abiding citizens into the criminal justice system without measurably improving public safety.  However, for the time being Louisiana considers possessing any amount of marijuana a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by possible jail time, although jail is unlikely on a first offense. There are pre trial diversion programs for first time offenders with a clean record, but it would be better to keep them out of the courts altogether.

Thomas Alonzo

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