City Board Of Directors Passes Ordinance De-Prioritizing Marijuana Offenses For Law Enforcement

May 19, 2021

The Little Rock Board of Directors discusses the ordinance during its meeting on Tuesday
Credit City of Little Rock

Investigations, citations, arrests and other police actions concerning adult misdemeanor marijuana offenses will be the "lowest law enforcement and prosecutorial priority" in Little Rock due to a recently passed ordinance.

Under the ordinance, sponsored by Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson, law enforcement officers in Little Rock would make marijuana offenses where the drug is intended for use by anyone 18 or older their lowest enforcement priority. 

The board voted 7-3 to pass the ordinance in a meeting Tuesday night. 

The ordinance would not apply to any statutes that deal with driving under the influence, operating machinery while impaired, violent or gun-related crimes, or other statutes designed to prevent physical injury. The ordinance also does not further legalize marijuana than what is already allowed in the state.  

Speaking at the request of a board member on the ordinance, Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey said the department is already doing what the ordinance would require, but saw some issues with codifying it into city law.

"There’s a concern when you start prioritizing or listing what’s a priority in the criminal codebook. So why not make shoplifting a non-priority? Why not make speeding under ten miles an hour not a priority? Why not make misdemeanor vandalism not a priority? When you start doing this, you’re going to, I think, open a Pandora’s box," Humphrey said. 

Humphrey also said while the department does not have this policy "in writing" that someone would be "hard pressed" to find someone currently in the Pulaski County jail who was arrested solely due to a marijuana charge. 

In speaking against the ordinance, Vice Mayor Lance Hines said the state already provides a legal outlet for adults to obtain marijuana.

"If you want to smoke marijuana, go get a medical marijuana card. I just think it sends the wrong message from this body as to what we’re going to tolerate in this city and it creates a slippery slope and it removes the discretion for the chief and his LRPD officers to run the department in a manner that’s judicious for them," Hines said.

In response to Hines’ comments, Richardson spoke on Police Chief Keith Humphrey’s earlier testimony that the department’s existing policies already make marijuana related offenses a lower priority.

"What’s the problem with codifying it if we’re already doing it? It’s what we say. Why not put the icing on the cake so that we don’t have that selective, often in terms, of how we enforce it?" Richardson said.

The ordinance initially passed on a voice vote, and a roll call vote revealed the same result.