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Little Rock Board Rejects New Marijuana Leniency Policy

A proposed policy to reduce the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana charges was rejected by the Little Rock Board of Directors. The proposal faced opposition by the mayor and police chief. Police Chief Kenton Buckner voiced his appreciation regarding the intent of the proposal introduced by Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson.

The vote, after considering the objections, was 6-2 not in favor of the proposal, Arkansas Online reports. The police chief also voiced concerns over “unintentional consequences” of lessening the penalty for simple marijuana infractions. Residents are displeased as a large number was present to show support for the proposal.

Reports say that the boardroom was “overflowing”. There were 12 residents that signed up to speak on the proposal.

Richardson’s proposal was in an attempt to stop arresting people for low-level marijuana crimes. He indicates that those actions waste time and taxpayer dollars. It also negatively impacts the lives of those charged with job losses and difficulties in obtaining proper higher education opportunities.

Buckner commented that “criminals” would try to take advantage of the new ordinance. He also cited that the mere odor of marijuana is probable cause for a vehicle search. Those searches, according to the chief, often lead to more serious charges.

Buckner also seemed to be unconvinced that misdemeanor possessions arrests are contributing to overcrowding in jails as Richardson pointed out.

Buckner previously said, “I challenge you to find anyone sitting in the Pulaski County jail today solely for use of marijuana.”

Omavi Skukur, an attorney, accepted the chief’s challenge. He actually presented the board with a list of 20 that were on court dockets for marijuana possession (misdemeanor amounts), with jail sentences.  The Little Rock police were listed as the arresting office on all of the cases.

Shukur said, “This includes one man who was sentenced to 300 days in jail.”

Shukur also said, “People cannot get jobs and housing because of these marijuana arrests, and we have a shortage of police officers. This is about a police officer not spending time investigating solely a misdemeanor marijuana offense when there’s a domestic violence call, when there’s property crime. This is about misplaced priority. …This is a test to see how responsive our city board is to its constituents. This is a chance for you to be heard. Are you going to ignore the hard proof that people do serve time in jail on misdemeanor marijuana offenses?”

In 2017, there were 800 misdemeanor marijuana arrests in Little Rock. Arrests have increased 81-percent since 2013.

It is not said whether the issue will be taken up again.