The latest Gallup poll indicates a clear increase in adults who use (or admit to using) marijuana, a substance that has been rapidly decriminalized in various states and municipalities in the last few years, New Orleans among them. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. If the poll is accurate, pot is the most widely-used illegal drug in America, by a wide margin. Over 50% of America's 2,400,000 inmates are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.
13 percent of America's adult population now admit to being marijuana users, up from 7 percent in 2013. Extrapolating the data, this means the U.S. now has 33 million active users. If the growth in cannabis use persists, the number of active users may soon eclipse the number of cigarette smokers, which is currently around 40 million. Tobacco use has steadily fallen in recent years. The well-known carcinogenic effects of smoking cigarettes have substantially hurt the tobacco industry's bottom line, along with the rise of other nicotine delivery systems like vaporizers or “e-cigs.” Nicotine vaporizers appear to be substantially safer, although their long-term health effects are as of yet unmeasured.
Meanwhile, the once-demonized cannabis plant has been fully legalized in Colorado and Washington. Marijuana was made illegal by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, on the basis that it had a high risk of abuse and no potential for medicinal use. This assertion has been challenged by the ascension of the medical marijuana movement, whose proponents claim that pot can help treat the symptoms of a number of illnesses, including improving appetite for HIV/AIDS patients, alleviating nausea for people undergoing chemotherapy, and helping with chronic pain.
25 states have passed laws allowing prescribed patients to purchase medical marijuana, occasionally encountering trouble from the federal government. The recreational use of marijuana without a prescription is still illegal in most of the country; however, in many states and municipalities, it has been decriminalized, meaning possessing a small amount of marijuana will not result in jail time or a permanent criminal record. This essentially makes a marijuana arrest the same level of infraction as a speeding ticket; pay a fine and you'll never hear about it again. Possession of large amounts is still a criminal offense in most of these areas, with the intent to discourage distribution and the associated crime that comes with it.
New Orleans is among the cities and states that have recently decriminalized marijuana. Following a City Council decision in March, possessing anything under 2.5 pounds of weed in New Orleans (outside of designated drug-free zones like schools) won't get you an arrest. For reference, 2.5 pounds of marijuana is roughly the size of a pillow; probably not the amount a recreational user would be carrying. Anything less than that will still net you a $40 fine for a first offense, with an increase of $20 for each subsequent offense, leveling off at $100 for any offense beyond your fourth. NOPD superintendent Michael Harrison has expressed hope that the change will save his department's officers time during their shifts, ideally giving them more time to deal with serious crimes. The law went into effect on June 22.