Fayetteville discusses misdemeanor marijuana cases

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Misdemeanor marijuana cases are once again a topic of discussion in Fayetteville.

The City Council on Tuesday discussed an ordinance that would encourage the city prosecutor to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana possession for personal, private, adult use.

The proposal was sponsored by Ward 2 Council Member Mark Kinion after a recent report was released from the Arkansas Justice Collective which found that arrests in Fayetteville for misdemeanor marijuana possession had not decreased since 2008 when voters approved a ballot measure that instructed the city to make misdemeanor marijuana cases its lowest law enforcement priority. The report showed that 192 possession-only arrests were made in 2018, compared to 50 arrests in 2008.

The report also stated that 26% of arrests or citations for misdemeanor marijuana offenses were to black people, which represent a much lower percentage of Fayetteville’s population.

City Attorney Kit Williams said although prosecutors have traditional inherent discretionary powers to dismiss cases that should not be further prosecuted, that discretion is not currently reflected in the Fayetteville City Code. This ordinance, he said, could help clarify what voters intended when passing the 2008 measure.

Several council members and members of the public applauded the idea, but said they wish it went further. Some said the city should instruct the prosecutor to ignore or dismiss all misdemeanor possession of marijuana charges.

Williams said the city can only do so much, and must enforce all state statutes. He read an Arkansas law regarding removal of elective or appointed officers, which states:

If the mayor, member of the city council, or any other elective officer of any city of the first class or second class or incorporated town in this state shall willfully and knowingly fail, refuse, or neglect to execute, or cause to be executed, any of the laws or ordinances within their jurisdiction, they shall be deemed guilty of nonfeasance in office.

It shall be the duty of the circuit court of any county within which any officer may be commissioned and acting, upon indictment charging any such officer with nonfeasance in office, to hear and determine the charges.

“What I have presented to you in incurring the city prosecutor to use his discretion is as far as we can go under the law in which we have taken an oath to follow,” said Williams. “So I do not recommend that you attempt to force me, or the city prosecutor, not to prosecute any marijuana charge. I will not do that.”

Council Member Matthew Petty said he hopes the ordinance is just the first step towards addressing the issue.

“It’s one thing to give the prosecutor the ability to dismiss cases and not put forward further penalties,” Petty said. “But it’s another thing to correct the excessive issuing of citations.”

The council left the ordinance on the first reading. The discussion will continue at the next meeting on July 16.