Smoking marijuana

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Kentucky lawmaker says having a small amount of marijuana should not be a crime.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) has filed a bill that would prohibit jail time for adults caught with a "personal use quantity" of marijuana.

Right now, police have an option when they stop people with small amounts of pot. They can write a ticket, or they can arrest them and take them to jail.

Higdon's bill would remove the option.

The possession of one ounce or less would not land anyone 18 or older behind bars.

Higdon said it would allow officers to focus on more lethal drugs such as heroin.

"We need to put all of our attention on those drugs, and not concentrate on something as minor an offense as possession of small quantities of marijuana," Higdon said.

Senate Bill 82 would make possession small amounts of marijuana no more serious than a traffic stop.

Offenders would receive a $100 fine and 15 hours of community service. The penalty would increase to a $250 fine and 30 hours of community service for marijuana possession at an elementary or secondary school.

Higdon believes it would help relieve jail overcrowding and cost.

"We're incurring a sizable cost if somebody spends 30 days in jail waiting for trial or waiting to make bail," he said. 

Nelson Co. Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa told WDRB News he would prefer to keep the option of arrest, especially if the suspect has a history of other crimes such as stealing to pay for drugs.

"Law enforcement knows who we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis that are repeat offenders for possession that leads them into being involved in other crimes," said Pineiroa.

"I think we're opening a can of worms," he added.

Higdon said he understands the police concerns.

"Officers use that as a tool," said Higdon. "But, again, we're talking about changing attitudes."

Higdon said he is hearing from a growing number of constituents who are medical marijuana users.

"If a person has a need for marijuana for medical reasons, they would not fear being arrested and incarcerated for that," he said.

Higdon's son, James, wrote the well-known book, "The Cornbread Mafia," about police efforts to bust a Kentucky-based marijuana syndicate that was the largest in the country.

The senior Higdon joked there is no connection between the idea for his bill and his son's book.

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I cover a range of stories for WDRB, but really enjoy tracking what's going on at our State Capitol. I grew up on military bases all over the world, but am a Kentuckian at heart. I'm an EKU alum, and have lived in Louisville for 30 years.