City Director Ken Richardson, Ward 2, is beginning a push for marijuana arrests and investigations to be made a low priority in Little Rock.
He sent an email, after conversations from the board, with a sample ordinance from Fayetteville and says he hopes to take up the issue in January. “This email from me and the accompanying ordinance is long overdue,” he said. “I believe the merits of an ordinance like this go without saying.”
He also cited some statistics in the email:
In September of 2016, I asked staff to provide data for five years documenting the number of misdemeanor marijuana arrests where that was the only violation. The number of arrests in Little Rock increased from 68 in 2011 to 225 in 2016. The total number of arrests during that timeframe was 928. That is a dramatic increase. That increase was dramatic enough for us to make national news. A November 21 article in The Washington Times noted that the increase in arrests from 2012 to 2016 was 95% Without conducting a mapping of these arrests, I would guess the lion’s share of these arrests occurred south of I-630 and Southwest Little Rock.
A few things worth remembering:
1. Recently, Arkansas legalized medical marijuana, and the industry is likely going to make tons of money for people jumping into it. At the same time, marijuana is still illegal for recreational use in Arkansas. So: you can both make money off weed and also get arrested for it. The Marshall Project recently wrote about the frustrating dichotomy of having a marijuana conviction in states where cannabis is now legal in some form. From that article:
Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical marijuana, and eight states plus D.C. have sanctioned recreational use. But fewer states have made it possible to clear past marijuana offenses. In the last three years, at least nine states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
2. Arkansas, as a state, has been trying to stop the overcrowding of its prisons — after, in recent years, having the fastest growing prison population in the country. Part of the problem was folks on parole being sent back to prison for minor violations. Another problem has been the harsh laws leftover from the “tough on crime” era and judges not using sentencing guidelines that call for less time in prison. The drive of mass incarceration as related to the war on drugs is now debated (some say prosecutors are more to blame), but there’s no doubt that some people go to prison for drug charges.
UPDATE (10:14 a.m., Dec. 15)
Price McKeon, from Fox16, reported on the possibility of the ordinance, talking with folks in Southwest Little Rock about it.