“You want to buy some weed?” John, 42, quietly asked me as he walked by. He was careful not to speak too clearly. If someone wasn’t interested, it could be blown it off as a misheard mumble. If they were interested, they would know exactly what John was offering.
In some areas of New Orleans, you can’t walk more than a block without getting a whiff of someone smoking pot. Some, like John, who chose not to share his last name, don’t think it is that big of a deal.
“It should be legal,” John said. “I mean, we don’t have so many accidents, like people under the influence of alcohol. Not all that crime. In New Orleans, you see the majority of homelessness is caused because of alcohol.”
John said that in his experience, nobody has tried to stop him from smoking marijuana in public. He said that at most, the penalty is a $50 ticket. “They don’t really say nothing if you’re not causing trouble,” John said.
The Times-Picayune reported in March that New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to lessen the penalty for possession of small amounts of pot. Fines now start at $40 for the first offense and they go up to $100 for the fourth offense. It’s all an effort to reduce the number of drug arrests.
Hannah, 22, is an employee if a Hookah and pipe store. She also chose not to share her last name because of her advocacy for the use of marijuana.
“It’s weird here,” Hannah said. “It’s the vibe of the city.” She said that she felt safe just driving around and smoking pot without having to worry about getting arrested.
Hanna said that it is a cultural part of the city of New Orleans and that she has never gotten in trouble here.
Both John and Hannah say marijuana in the city of New Orleans has been decriminalized, but public safety ranger Jarren Abron says that’s not exactly accurate. Abron is not a police officer, per se. Pubic safety rangers act as an extra set of eyes and ears for the New Orleans police department and the Downtown Development District.
Abron said people who get caught smoking pot in public get a verbal warning for the first offense. “And the second offense, you get arrested,” he said.
It’s true, police may still arrest people for smoking pot in public. But they would be doing so under a stricter state law, not New Orleans city law. State penalties range from $300 to $30,000 for non-felony offenses and start at $100,000 for felony amounts of pot, according to the Times-Picayune.
Abron said pot smokers have become bolder about where they choose to inhale. Just five minutes before I spoke with him, Abron said someone walked right in front of him smoking a joint.