OKLAHOMA CITY – In two weeks, council members will vote to change an ordinance on the penalty for marijuana possession in Oklahoma City.
At a council meeting Tuesday, the public was invited to speak on the proposal by Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty. Under the proposal, those caught with simple possession of marijuana would be subject to a $400 fine.
Under the current ordinance, offenders are arrested and can face a $1,200 fine and six months in jail.
“I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a crime. It is, but the fines were too steep,” Citty said. “In all the cases on possession of marijuana, we were actually automatically booking people into jail because it was what we called a class B offense, which makes it a court of record.”
Eleanor Thompson, a resident of Oklahoma City, spoke in favor of the proposal on Tuesday.
“I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. It’s a service organization of college women, and we educate the public and the youth and the young adults on the laws, how to respond to law enforcement, among other things, education is our base,” Thompson said. “We’re not here advocating drug use, but we commend the city for doing anything that allows the youth and the young adult to remain employed, and incarnation for up to six months is employment prohibited and it could potentially block future meaningful employment.”
Citty said, if passed, it does not do away with the risk of jail time completely. For example, an individual could face state charges if there’s evidence to prove the amount of marijuana he or she is caught with is meant to be sold.
“You could have six little bags of an ounce. Well, there’s a reason why you have six bags. That’s usually for sales – so if you could show that. Maybe the person also has a large amount of money to go with that. It’ll be up to the officer to define those elements – to be able to put them in and have enough probable evidence to put them in jail,” he said.
The proposal is also not retroactive.
“If you are arrested and charged under the law prior to this being passed, you’re still going to serve. That’s not going to change that,” Citty said. “It’s one of those deals where, in many cases, judges are pretty reasonable. A lot of them won’t serve their entire time or six months in jail for something like that.”
Citty said he’s gotten far more support for the proposal than push back.
However, one issue that has been raised is rehabilitation.
In late August, the District Attorneys Council said their concern with the ticketing process is it doesn’t address addiction to drugs.
“When the district attorneys’ offices were handling these cases, requirements were placed on defendants to receive counseling for their drug use. The ticketing of these crimes or the requirement of only paying fines does not provide any ability to make sure the person gets off the drugs if they’re on them,” said council chair Brian Hermanson.
Citty said most cases don’t involve individuals who haven’t reached the stage of addiction.
The proposal will go to a vote on September 25. If it passes, it will be up to the city council to decide whether it will go into effect immediately.