In an effort to address racial disparity in drug arrests, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute people for possession of a small amount of marijuana when that is the only or primary charge.
“For me to truly be a minister of justice, I cannot sit idly by when communities of color are treated differently,” Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said at a press conference Wednesday.
He cited a Courier Journal investigation that found that African Americans accounted for two-thirds of the marijuana possession cases in 2017, with black drivers cited for possession by Louisville Metro Police at six times the rate of white people.
That disparity on marijuana charges along racial lines occurred despite national studies showing that both groups smoke marijuana at roughly the same rate.
The origin of this disparity “is likely not intentional or malicious, but that does not change the end results,” O’Connell said.
Because of the policy change, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said he will instruct his officers not to “routinely write citations for this specific offense.”
However, Conrad noted that it is important for the public to understand that marijuana possession remains illegal in Kentucky and police officers “still have a duty to uphold that law.”
Under the new policy, the county attorney’s office will no longer prosecute possession of marijuana cases involving 1 ounce or less, so long as that is the only charge or the most serious charge against the defendant, according to a memo from the office.
It also will decline to prosecute cases involving possession of drug paraphernalia when that is clearly only used for marijuana consumption.
However, the policy will not affect marijuana cases involving trafficking, cultivation, driving under the influence, public consumption or intoxication. And people younger than 21 years old will continue to be prosecuted for simple possession of small amounts of the drug.