In a city with such costly obligations that money to prosecute criminals has to be weighed against fixing roads, finding new revenue and holding down expenses are the only way to increase the services the city can afford.
And one possible solution, two candidates for District B suggested Monday night, may be legalizing marijuana, reducing the cost of enforcing drug laws that overburden all elements of the criminal justice system and raising money for new projects through taxes.
The two candidates — Catherine Love and Timothy David Ray — were speaking before the Faubourg Delachaise Neighborhood Association on Monday in one of the first public question-and-answer sessions with the candidates leading up to the October city government elections. Both gave an introduction and noted the unusual coincidence that both had lived in Germany — Love while working on a doctoral degree at Frei University, and Ray while teaching legal courses at Humboldt University in the same city.
For the next half hour, the candidates then took a handful of questions from the neighborhood association members about crime issues and the city’s spending. Marijuana played into their answers on both issues.
Regarding funding for the criminal justice system, Love said she had spent the day watching the city’s revenue forecasting sessions, which consists of “a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“We really just need to re-look at how we’re spending money and where we’re getting money,” Love said. “One of the worst problems is that we’re criminally prosecuting things that are not criminal issues in our society anymore. You’re talking about somebody that has a joint that’s getting criminal prosecution. They’re sitting in jail for months for a joint.”
Love said she doesn’t personally use marijuana, but her parents were hippies, and when she studied in Holland it was widely accepted as part of society.
“Why are we putting people in jail and leaving them sitting there for crimes that are not violent that do not affect other people?” Love asked. “If we took the limited resources we have and focus on violent crimes and property damage crimes and things that are affecting us as citizens, instead of somebody who goes in their backyard and smokes a joint – likes who cares? Instead of overburdening the system, I think re-evaluating our criminal justice is just as important.”
When association members asked about how the city could generate new forms of revenue, Ray returned to the theme.
“I’ve thought about, if the citizens of New Orleans are open to this, legalizing marijuana and also regulating marijuana,” Ray said. “I don’t think we’ve ever looked at that as a city yet.”
The legalization of marijuana has been a success in other places where it has been tried — such as Colorado — in recent years, Ray said. That success can be measured in new tax revenue — much of it from tourists — to pay for governmental services that would be especially helpful in New Orleans, where everything is chronically underfunded.
“Amsterdam is a very high tourist destination for many reasons, but I think it’s something we should look at,” Ray said. “Other states have done it. What I’m afraid of is that Texas and Mississippi are going to do it first, and if they do, it’ll take the edge of us a little bit. We won’t make as much money. We won’t be the first ones.”
Three other candidates have also announced for the District B seat — Jay Banks, Seth Bloom and Eric Johnson — and all were invited to the meeting, Faubourg Delachaise members said. Johnson was expected to attend, but did not show up, said organizer Debby Pigman.