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A Little Rock city director has revived a proposal to make misdemeanor marijuana offenses the lowest priority for the city police officers.

The proposed ordinance, put forward Tuesday by Ward 2's Ken Richardson, is nearly identical to one the city board rejected a little more than a year ago when Richardson pushed for it. It's scheduled for a vote next Tuesday.

The ordinance would apply to marijuana offenses when the drug is intended for adult, personal use and would make law enforcement activities related to it -- including investigation, citation, arrest and seizure of property -- the department's lowest priority.

Richardson said he proposed the legislation again after seeing that other cities have implemented similar policies in the months since. He cited Oklahoma City and New York City.

There have been other changes since, too. The city has a new mayor and police chief -- former Mayor Mark Stodola and former Police Chief Kenton Buckner spoke against the previously proposed ordinance. Arkansans also have been able to purchase marijuana for medical use since May.

Richardson added that he'd heard that making marijuana arrests a low priority was the general, unofficial practice within the Police Department.

"I don't know if that's codified ... I think, to my desires and wishes, I would like for us to have something beyond, 'that's our approach,'" he said.

Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley said Tuesday that although he'd had some conversations about the idea with department leadership, he was unsure of Police Chief Keith Humphrey's stance on the specific ordinance and didn't want to speak for him while he was out of town. Bewley said the department was "hung up" on some of the ordinance's wording.

Little Rock wouldn't be the first city in the state to de-prioritize marijuana arrests.

In July 2018, Jacksonville implemented a policy to issue citations to people who possess fewer than 15 grams of marijuana instead of arresting them, unless those individuals have previous convictions for drug activities.

At least two other Arkansas cities -- Fayetteville and Eureka Springs -- instituted similar policies more than a decade ago. North Little Rock, across the Arkansas River from the capital city, has not.

There were 820 marijuana-possession arrests in Little Rock in 2017, and 702 in 2016. The ordinance cites an estimate that $30 million in taxpayer dollars are spent annually enforcing marijuana laws in the state.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. expressed support for the de-prioritization of low-level marijuana offenses during a mayoral debate last fall, as did other candidates.

Metro on 08/14/2019

Print Headline: Proposal to make Little Rock pot crimes low priority is revived

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