Updated 4:58 pm, Wednesday, June 6, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Little Rock officials have rejected a proposed ordinance mandating police officers and prosecutors largely ignore minor marijuana crimes.

The Little Rock Board of Directors voted Tuesday against the proposal that would’ve made misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests the Police Department’s lowest priority.

City Director Ken Richardson said he created the proposal because arrests for low-level marijuana offenses put nonviolent offenders in jail, taking up jail space and wasting taxpayer money.

“We’re not decriminalizing it, we’re not legalizing it and I’m not encouraging it,” Richardson said. “I’m talking about how we utilize our resources, given the fact we have a number of vacancies on the police department, we have concerns about violent crime in our community; we have a whole host of issues that to me are far more serious than simple, misdemeanor possession.”

Police Chief Kenton Buckner spoke against the proposal, saying offenders in the city would take advantage of the fact that police couldn’t do anything if they smelled marijuana on a person. Officers also should have the discretion to further investigate marijuana misdemeanors because it could lead to more severe charges, he said.

But police discretion often depends on the race of the officer and the offender, according to many residents who spoke Tuesday. One woman told board members that enforcing minor marijuana crimes disproportionately affects black men from poorer neighborhoods, where it can already be difficult to find employment or stay in school.

Little Rock police made more than 820 marijuana-possession arrests last year, including misdemeanor and felony offenses. Such arrests have nearly doubled since 2013, according to the department.

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