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James L. White/Staff

Harrison City Council committees have green lighted an ordinance that would police officers to cite violators for possession of minor amounts of marijuana, such as seen here in seized evidence, rather than taking hours out of the day to book and process them.

The Resources and Policy Committee of the Harrison City Council looked at drafts of two proposed ordinances Thursday night, one dealing with regulating the use of medical marijuana and the other concerning presumption, detention and arrest of shoplifters. The drafts were presented by Harrison Police Chief Chris Graddy.

Persons who have a legal prescription and possess a medical marijuana card are able to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana that is properly packaged and sold for medicinal purposes. Graddy said 99% of that marijuana is going to be smoked. "If we don't take some sort of measure, they can walk down the sidewalk and smoke in public."

Several cities have already enacted ordinances regarding this, Graddy said. He contacted the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police and received several ordinances. He said he and city attorney Grant Ragland pieced together an ordinance suitable for Harrison.

"Is this basically like consuming alcohol in public?" asked council member Bill Boswell.

"I guess you can look at it that way," Graddy responded. There are state statutes that prohibit drinking in public, but there aren't any laws prohibiting people from taking medicine in public, he said.

If this was in the form of a THC pill nobody would care, the chief said. "But when you have somebody sitting on the square getting high, I think the majority of people don't want that whether they are doing it legally or not."

Graddy also said people can be intoxicated on legal medication. It doesn't have to be alcohol or illegal narcotics. There are certain medications you aren't supposed to take and operate machinery. "They can make you as impaired as someone who is intoxicated on alcohol or high on some illegal narcotic."

He said the proposed ordinance is similar to tobacco laws restricting smoking in public places. This just prohibits people from smoking marijuana in public. Many people are offended when people are standing next to them smoking a cigarette. He said he is sure some people will be offended if someone stands next to them smoking a joint.

A section of the ordinance cites Arkansas Department of Health rules and regulations that do not permit a person to possess, smoke, ingest, consume or otherwise engage in the use of marijuana: In a school bus; on the grounds of a preschool, primary school or secondary school; in a correctional facility; in a motor vehicle; in a private residence used at any time to provide licensed child care, foster care or other similar social service care; in a public place where an individual could reasonably be expected to be observed by others including all parts of buildings owned in whole or in part, or leased by the state or a local unit of government; in a health care facility or any other place where smoking is prohibited by the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006; and knowingly in close proximity to anyone under the age of 18.

The ordinance also includes sections on packaging and possession by amount or weight.

Packaging cannot be attractive to minors and must be packaged in a child-resistant container.

No qualifying patient may have in their possession more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. No designated caregiver may have in their possession more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana per qualifying patient with whom they are documented as providing care.

Fines/punishment for violations of any of the three sections of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of no less than $100 and shall not exceed $1,500.

Graddy continued that officers spend a lot of time processing minor cases of marijuana possession and particularly shoplifting.

"I am looking at saving man-hours," the chief said. The minimum charge facing a person who shoplifts is a class A misdemeanor. Police officers have to physically arrest the subjects, fingerprint them and photograph them and then they can post bond or be transported for incarceration. He said it takes about two hours to process a person. That's two hours an officer is not on the street.

Instead, the ordinance would allow officers to cite the suspect. He/she would still have to appear in court and face the same potential consequences.

Shoplifting presumption in the criminal code is the same in the proposed ordinance, however, the criminal code doesn't carry a penalty. Shoplifters are charged with theft of property, which is a class A misdemeanor, he explained.

Rather than going through the time of processing, the person charged with shoplifting can be written a ticket that assigns a court date. Basically, they are signing a signature bond and are released, Graddy explained.

Officers have the option of issuing the citation or they can bring them to the police station for formal processing. They know who needs to be charged, he said.

Retailers are only concerned that the person is written a ticket and the property is returned, he said. Usually if a person shoplifts, they are criminally trespassing and if they show up at that establishment again, they can be charged with trespassing, he said.

The ordinance draft states that a written statement from the owner, employee or agent of the business where the shoplifting occurred would serve as probable cause to justify an arrest. It would also serve as probable cause to cite and release the person for property valued at $500 or less under this city ordinance.

The ordinance also establishes a fine of not more than $500 and not less than $100, and or imprisonment not less than one day nor more than five days.

Both ordinances were approved by the committee to be forwarded to the full council when it meets in regular session on Thursday, Jan. 23.

Also forwarded to the council was a proposed amendment to the city's new business license ordinance. Since its recent implementation, a question arose if the owner of the business is also defined as an employee. The number of employees required for a license is included in Section 4. Committee members contend that the owner should be counted as an employee and approved clarifying the language in the ordinance.

Next month's committee hearings will be held on Thursday Feb. 6, so that city officials can attend meetings of the Arkansas Municipal League.

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