EBR Metro Council passes ordinance to reduce penalties for marijuana

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - UPDATE: The East Baton Rouge Metro Council has passed an ordinance to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession in Baton Rouge.

The change means under Baton Rouge law, if you're caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana, you face fines only based on the number of offenses:

$40 for first offense
$60 for second offense
$80 for third offense 
$100 for fourth offense

"We have a lot of violent crime that's occurring in the city of Baton Rouge and if our officers can issue a summons and that would allow them to get back on the streets and investigate some of the violent crime, we see that as an opportunity for us to not waste, but to redirect those resources," said Police Chief Murphy Paul.

He added officers could still make arrests under certain circumstances.

ORIGINAL: Baton Rouge could be on its way to becoming a lot more lenient when it comes to marijuana if one member of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council has his way.

"It's something I've been thinking about I guess for three or four years at least," said Councilman Chandler Loupe.

Loupe is proposing an ordinance that would allow those caught with a small amount of the drug to avoid arrest and jail time. "If you have under a certain amount, you will be given a civil penalty," said Loupe. "You won't be arrested, you won't go to our jail, and you shouldn't."

Instead of the arrest, violators would be given a summons. It would then be left up to a city judge to decide what punishment is appropriate. As for the possible penalty, the ordinance still matches state law. Those with less than 14 grams could face up to a $300 fine and/or 15 days in jail, while those with more than 14 grams or any amount of synthetic marijuana could get hit with a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.

"You're going to reduce it to a citation, a fine, a ticket, more like a civil fine rather than an actual criminal penalty," said Loupe.

He says the goal is to cut down on the number of folks who land behind bars after lighting up and to stop one bad decision from ruining lives. "It's decriminalization. That's the effect I want it to have is not to ruin anyone's life," Loupe added. "It's more of something I'm doing because I think it's the right thing."

Loupe also believes if police officers are arresting fewer people for small possession, they could instead focus on more serious crime. It's something he says he has already taken to the police chief.

"I had a great meeting with the chief of police," said Loupe. "Although we may not agree on everything, we agreed on one thing. We have a lot of serious crime problems in Baton Rouge and simple possession of should not be a priority."

The council is expected to take up the measure on Wednesday, February 28 at its regularly scheduled meeting.

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