Last Update: January 27, 2014
Lawmakers discuss marijuana policy reform
The Louisiana House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice met on January 21 to hear testimony on reforming the state’s marijuana policies. The information-only hearing, which took place at the request of Rep. Dalton Honoré (D – Baton Rouge), took testimony for four hours and mostly focused on the need for a medical marijuana law and to reduce penalties for marijuana possession. The committee took no vote, as there is no active bill. Please email your lawmakers urging them to introduce medical marijuana legislation once the legislature reconvenes in March.
Last year, the Louisiana House took a big step forward when it voted 54-38 to approve a bill that would have reduced marijuana possession penalties for second and subsequent offenses. House Bill 103, sponsored by Rep. Austin J. Badon, Jr., was approved 4-2 by the Senate Judiciary Committee but, unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Sen. J.P. Morrell, the bill was not debated on the floor of the Senate. However, the success of HB 103 in the House, coupled with the recognition that it’s time Louisiana discuss changing marijuana policies leaves us hopeful that the legislature will take a serious look at excessive marijuana penalties this year. Ask your legislators to support replacing criminal penalties and possible jail time for simple possession of marijuana with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.
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Poll shows Louisiana voters support reform
The people of Louisiana are ready to rid their state of the overly harsh penalties currently imposed for marijuana offenses. An August 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found that an overwhelming 65% of Louisianans support medical marijuana. Fifty-six percent of likely voters favor citing individuals for simple marijuana possession over arresting them, and 53% thinks the state should change its law “to allow marijuana to be regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, for legal use by adults age 21 and older.”
ACLU study shows Louisiana's harsh marijuana laws result in racially disproportionate arrest rates
Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. First-offense possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to six months in jail.
In 2010, SB 576 passed into law and actually increased the penalty for second-offense marijuana possession by including a mandatory minimum fine of at least $250 and 48 hours in jail. Also in 2010, the legislature passed HB 117, a parole revocation bill that treats with slightly more lenience certain offenders who are convicted of simple possession of marijuana while on parole. It also passed SB 502, which removed possession of less than 60 lbs. of marijuana from the legal definition of racketeering, so that only those individuals who possessed 60 lbs. or more may be charged.
A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in Louisiana are 3.1 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Please take a moment to send a letter to your legislators asking them to reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana to a civil fine or asking them to end marijuana prohibition entirely. You can also ask them to protect seriously ill patients who find relief from medical marijuana.
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