- Hammond Lewis
Little Rock Marijuana Math – City Numbers Don’t Add Up
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
Arkansans with a medical marijuana card may enjoy the freedom of purchasing and using cannabis legally in the Natural State, but for those without a card, possession of cannabis is still illegal.
In May of 2021, the city of Little Rock approved an ordinance that designated misdemeanor marijuana offenses as the lowest priority for law enforcement, with the Little Rock Police Chief insisting this had been the unofficial policy of the department for years already.
Now, new information suggests that this may not have been the case, and that low level marijuana crimes were not only pursued by the city, but were possibly a higher priority for law enforcement in 2019 than was originally thought.
City of Little Rock Passes Ordinance on Marijuana
On May 18th, 2021, the Little Rock Board of Directors met and passed an ordinance to make marijuana misdemeanor offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.
At that meeting, which was livestreamed on YouTube, Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey was quoted saying:
“What I want to establish here to the directors and to the citizens is the Little Rock Police Department has not arrested anyone physically for the sole purpose of small amounts of marijuana in several years …even under the leadership of my predecessor, we already cite and release…”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a true statement. Or at the very least, it appears Chief Humphrey was either uninformed or unaware of the reality of Little Rock arrest reports.
City of Little Rock has History of Arresting for Small Amounts of Marijuana
After examining publicly available data from the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network (ANNN) determined that in 2019, 322 out of 833 marijuana arrests in Little Rock were for possession alone, involving less than one ounce of marijuana, and didn’t involve any other drug-related or criminal charges.
That’s just under 40%, a bit far from “has not arrested anyone…”.
Chief Humphrey continues with his dialogue in the meeting, saying:
“…so we already do that, I’ve expressed that to Director Richardson numerous times, I came before the directors last year [and] expressed the same thing, we already do that, what he’s asking. The problem is, I think with Director Richardson, he wants it documented. And I will tell you there’s a concern when you start prioritizing or listing what’s a priority in the criminal code book. 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 open a Pandora's box. I’ll say this again, we already do this. We don’t have it in writing, but you’ll be far-fetched to find any person currently in the Pulaski County jail that is in there for [the] sole purpose of being arrested for small amounts of marijuana.”
Unfortunately, this also seems to be an inaccurate assessment of law enforcement in Little Rock.
Racial Disparity & Apprehending “Criminals”
The FBI data reports arrests as falling into the category of either a citation, an apprehension with a warrant, or an on-view arrest, meaning that they were taken into custody by law enforcement without a prior warrant.
The numbers from the ANNN report that only 39% of the 322 low-level marijuana possession arrests resulted in a citation.
Around 11% involved a warrant, and over 50% were “on-view” arrests.
The numbers become much worse the more they are examined, with the data revealing that 85% of the low-level arrests were made on black people alone, making a black person 8x more likely to be arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Little Rock.
While officials from the department suggest that the unsettling arrest records for low-level possession in the city might be because of “paperwork errors”, it seems unlikely that checking the wrong box on citations resulted in hundreds of people being arrested.
Not Exactly Policy Reform, But Definitely Not Change
While police reform has been a hot topic lately, diminishing budgets and loose training procedures might be a problem for Little Rock, with the city receiving a $4 million cut in its 2021 annual budget, and the state’s basic police training course lasting only 13 weeks.
But with over a quarter of a billion dollars still dedicated to less than 200,000 people, money and training are not the reasons why law enforcement has historically pursued low-level marijuana arrests while making unsubstantiated claims that suggest they have done otherwise.
Afterall, over half of the city’s full time employees work for the police or fire department, and nearly 70% of officers don’t even live in the city.
The city of Little Rock has a responsibility to perform and report factual information about their procedures, and we should not allow the arrests of 300 of our sons, daughters, fathers and mothers to go unnoticed behind the dark back rooms of lawmakers, or law enforcers.
Marijuana is Still Illegal in Arkansas, Despite City Policy
Arkansas is home to beautiful culture, natural sights and gorgeous landscapes. We pride ourselves in being fair, honest, and expect our quality of life to grow, not recede.
Being unaware is very different from being ignorant, and Arkansans are not ignorant. We may be unaware of what is happening to our communities behind the veil of legislature, but we’re not ignorant to the facts.
And the facts are, that Arkansans without a medical marijuana card have been arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana alone, and that is an inappropriate use of law enforcement as the glue that keeps our communities safe.
These are not policies that protect or serve, instead they penalize and criminalize otherwise innocent people, often with permanent repercussions in a person’s life.
That is at the heart of City Director Ken Richardson’s goal in “documenting” the official policy of the city of Little Rock, to make it clear that the city will not pursue turning people who possess a small amount of a plant into a labeled criminal for the rest of their life.
Medical Marijuana Rights
Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Arkansas, and regardless of whether it should be, it’s still against the law to possess it without a medical marijuana card.
While the discussion of federal legalization is looming, Arkansans without a medical marijuana card are not exempt from being pursued by law enforcement for what they consider criminal activity.
Qualified medical marijuana patients do enjoy immunity from law enforcement concerning marijuana possession.
It is a right to use medical marijuana as a qualified patient in Arkansas.
Patients who have received their medical marijuana cards are legally able to possess and purchase marijuana from retail storefronts and can use the plant in the safety and comfort of their own home without the fear of prosecution or arrest.
While some day in the future we might see the same rights extended to those without medical marijuana cards, right now they do not exist.
Becoming a medical marijuana patient in Arkansas gives you the freedom to use the plant without fears of lifetime legal repercussions or incarceration, and that’s at least a critical step in the right direction for Arkansas marijuana.
Become an Arkansas Marijuana Patient
Arkansas medical marijuana patients enjoy immunity from the state’s legal repercussions of cannabis possession under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act.
Qualifying Arkansas patients can schedule an appointment to meet with one of our certified physicians and get approved for medical marijuana treatment.
We’re dedicated to helping patients every step of the way, feel free to give us a call at 844-249-8714, and we can answer your questions about getting medical marijuana in Arkansas.
Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.
Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.
If you have any questions, call us at 844-249-8714, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!
Check out Arkansas Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Arkansas.