Politics & Government

Bill would decriminalize possession of marijuana

A proposal to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana has been introduced in the Kentucky Senate.

Senate Bill 82, sponsored by state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, would treat possession of a “personal use quantity” like a minor traffic violation. It would also exempt “personal use marijuana accessories” from penalties regarding drug paraphernalia.

Now, if a police officer finds someone with a marijuana cigarette or “joint” or a small quantity in a cellophane wrapper for one’s own use, the officer has a choice whether to take the person to jail or write a ticket. Higdon’s bill would take away the officer’s discretion.

“Basically, what my bill says is, they shall write them a ticket,” Higdon said at a public forum in Bardstown Wednesday.

He said his main reason for sponsoring the legislation is that he hears of people who want to provide marijuana to a cancer patient, but they’re afraid they’ll go to jail.

If his bill becomes law, Higdon said, “it’s no more than a speeding ticket.”

His other reason, he said, is to reduce jail overcrowding.

The measure would amend the state law that deals with controlled substances. It defines a personal use amount as one ounce or less of a marijuana plant or five grams or less of resin.

Under current law, possession of anything less than half a pound is a misdemeanor.

Nelson County Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa sees taking away the officer’s discretion as to whether to ticket or arrest as a hindrance to police work.

“You’re creating a bigger window for a criminal to possess or commit more crimes,” he said.

Nelson County Attorney Matthew Hite doesn’t see the decriminalization bill as having a big impact on relieving jail overcrowding. He said there aren’t many people in jail now for simple possession of personal use amounts.

A first or second offense, he said, is usually only a $100 fine and court costs, and if the person convicted takes a marijuana education course, the first offense can be removed from the person’s record as if it never happened.

“There’s a lot of them, but those aren’t the people who are clogging up the jails,” Hite said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Terry Geoghegan wouldn’t take a position on the decriminalization bill Thursday.

“Whatever the legislature decides on the marijuana issue, I will certainly respect it and expect to enforce the statutes that apply in Kentucky,” he said.

This article is provided via the Kentucky Press News Service.