Jefferson Co. Attorney won’t prosecute small pot possession

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Jefferson County Attorney has announced he will no longer prosecute small marijuana possession case, while pointing out racial disparities in the enforcement of pot laws in Kentucky’s largest city.

County Attorney Mike O’Connell says his office will dismiss citations for possession of marijuana for one ounce or less when it is the most serious or only charge against the person. Saying he “must act,” O’Connell referenced the relaxing of marijuana laws in other U.S. cities and states.

“I can do more to develop reforms that avoid needlessly bringing people into the justice system,” he said. “Simple possession of marijuana for personal use is not a danger to others.”

O’Connell said the policy change will free up his office to focus more on gun, domestic violence and drunken driving cases.

O’Connell spoke from a courtroom to announce the policy Wednesday morning. He cited a 2013 study that found that African Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Louisville’s police chief welcomed the new policy, saying in a statement that “public attitudes on marijuana use continue to evolve in this country.” Chief Steve Conrad said he will instruct officers to not “routinely write citations for this specific offense.” Conrad said the detection of marijuana may still provide probable cause for officers to conduct a search.

Sadiqa Reynolds, CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said the county attorney’s new policy would help remove burdens from people who face hardships when they have to go to court or pay fines for possession charges.

“This will change a lot of people’s lives. It’s no small thing when it comes to finding a job or trying to be promoted,” Reynolds said.

Currently, marijuana possession under one ounce is a class B misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 45 days in jail, the county attorney’s office said. Under the new policy, those citations would still be sent to the county attorney’s office, but they won’t be prosecuted. The policy also extends to possession of drug paraphernalia that is only used for smoking marijuana. The county handled about 3,400 citations on marijuana possession in 2017.

The policy does not extend to people under 21 and does not include cases involving indicators of trafficking or cultivating marijuana.