The third time was a charm for Little Rock Director Ken Richardson’s ordinance that makes misdemeanor marijuana offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement. Richardson, who represents Ward 2, had failed to pass similar ordinances in 2018 and 2019.
The vote on Tuesday was 7-3 with At-Large Director Joan Adcock, Vice-Mayor and Ward 5 Director Lance Hines and Ward 7 Director BJ Wyrick voting no.
Richardson said his intent with the ordinance was to address the disparity between how Black and white people are treated with regard to marijuana arrests. A report from ACLU last year found Black people in Arkansas were arrested for marijuana offenses at more than twice the rate of white people. Richardson noted that marijuana arrests can lead to college students losing Pell Grants, keep people from finding housing and prevent them from finding a job. He also argued that the ordinance would save money and keep people out of jail.
Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey told the board the police department hadn’t arrested anyone for small amounts of marijuana in several years, stretching back to the tenure of his predecessor, Kenton Buckner. He cautioned the board against prioritizing parts of the criminal code and said he worried that it would send a signal to Little Rock residents that it’s now legal to smoke marijuana in the city.
Hines echoed that concern. “It sends the wrong message from this body on what we’re going to tolerate in this city,” he said. The state, through the medical marijuana program, has provided a means for people who want to smoke cannabis legally, he said, adding that he’d seen videos of people caravanning and drag racing smoking marijuana.