LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Louisville passes ordinance telling police not to prioritize marijuana possession


The Louisville Metro Council has passed an ordinance that tells police officers not to prioritize marijuana possession.

Filed in May by four Democrats on the Metro Council, the ordinance will create a new city code making "investigation, citations, and arrests" relating to adult possession of a "small amount of marijuana" the lowest law enforcement priority.

The ordinance defines adults as 21 years or older and states that "personal use" could be half an ounce or less of marijuana.

The legislation will not penalize police officers who disregard the mandate. It also wouldn't change Kentucky criminal law, which classifies marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a $250 fine, though most judges impose only a $50 fine.

The Metro Council voted 15-9 to pass the ordinance Tuesday evening following a lengthy debate.

Before the debate took place, one of the authors of the ordinance, councilman councilman Brandon Coan, D-8th District, proposed an amendment that removed the word "decriminalize" to avoid confusion about the document. The amendment passed without any resistance.

Coan emphasized Tuesday evening that the ordinance does not legalize or advocate for marijuana.

"It's supposed to be a simple criminal justice reform that makes our system more equitable and more fair and less discriminatory," Coan said.

Councilman Mark Fox, D-13th District, voted against the ordinance because he thought it would raise confusion surrounding punishment for possession.

"Lowering the bar on bad behavior does not make us better people," Fox said. "Saying something is right when it's wrong, whether you agree with it or not, demonstrates a disrespect to the rule of law."

Council members also discussed how drug enforcement policies have disproportionately impacted African Americans in Louisville. A Courier Journal report found that African Americans make up less than one-fourth of Louisville's population, they accounted for two-thirds of those charged with marijuana possession, according to a review of 21,607 cases in which possession of marijuana was the most serious charge.

Black drivers were also cited at six times the rate of white people for possession in 2017, even though national studies show both groups smoke it at virtually the same rate.

Councilwoman Paula McCraney, D-7th District, voted against the ordinance because she doesn't believe that it will stop the discriminatory drug enforcement policies.

"I don't see that this ordinance is going to get them (police) to stop arresting African Americans in unfair and disproportionate ways," McCraney said.

Other council members who voted against the ordinance were Democrats Brent Ackerson, Rick Blackwell and Kevin Triplett and Republicans Stuart Benson, Robin Engel, Kevin Kramer and Scott Reed.

Neither the Louisville Metro Police Department nor Mayor Greg Fischer have voiced outright support for the ordinance.

Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for LMPD, previously said in a statement that Chief Steve Conrad "must follow the laws as written in Kentucky and marijuana remains illegal in this commonwealth."

"Police are statutorily required to write citations for small amounts of marijuana possession already, unless there is some other circumstance related to public safety," Halladay wrote. "Our department continues to focus on violent crime as a top priority."

Additionally, Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Fischer, wrote in an earlier statement that "the goal of the (legislation) is already in effect."

"First, marijuana is still illegal in Kentucky, and the mayor has a constitutional duty to uphold the law," Porter wrote. "Second, LMPD already prioritizes violent crime, and state law has, since 2011, required police to issue citations instead of arresting individuals for possessing marijuana in low amounts."

Louisville is not the first city to try to reform marijuana penalization. Seattle, Denver, New Orleans and Chicago, among others, have taken independent steps toward decriminalizing the drug, despite the fact that it remains illegal under federal law and in many states.