Shreveport City Council to vote on legislation to reduce punishment for cannabis possession

At the March 9, 2021 Shreveport City Council meeting, Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor (District A) and Councilman John Nickelson (District C) will introduce legislation that, if adopted, would change how the local criminal justice system handles cannabis possession.

Under current state law, first-offense possession of 14g (a hair under half an ounce) or less of cannabis is punishable by a fine of not more than $300, imprisonment in the parish jail for not more than fifteen days, or both. The new local legislation to be introduced in Shreveport City Council would create a municipal offense for possession of 14g or less of cannabis and set a $50 fine. The fine would be the only penalty for violation. The legislation would also require Shreveport Police Department officers to issue a ticket rather than arresting an offender.

The new rules would look very much like the New Orleans’ and Baton Rouge legislation The fines in Shreveport would be $50 whereas first offenses in New Orleans and Baton Rouge are set at $40. The council could vote on this legislation as soon as March 23rd.

“This will remove the threat of arrest and jail time for defendants charged with the municipal offense.” said Coucilman Nickelson in a statement on Facebook.

“A criminal conviction can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life. It can prevent them from securing a job, housing, higher education, and more,” Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor wrote to Heliopolis. “Councilman Nickelson and I worked closely with the administration to bring forth this legislation. I believe it is a step in the right direction and we hope that it will lead to changes at the state level.”

While removing arrest from the arsenal of options for low level possession may be a step in the right direction, one of the most problematic parts of the failed War on Drugs would still be present: By having such a law on the books, police still have the authority to approach citizens for minor amounts of cannabis. The presumed presence of even a trivial amount of drugs can still be used to initiate stops which can create tense and dangerous situations for those stopped by police, not unlike the sagging pants law which Shreveport repealed in 2019.

If we have the wherewithal to reduce the offense to a simple fine, we could simply instruct Shreveport Police to not approach for simple possession at all and reduce potentially harmful interactions altogether. The legislation also fails to address people currently or formerly incarcerated for low level cannabis-related offenses and the lives that have been upended for minor possession of a globally-recognized substance with medicinal value. Additionally, cannabis does not have chemically addictive properties as insinuated by Councilman Nickelson’s Facebook post, though nicotine and alcohol do — both of which remain comparatively under-regulated at the state and local level.