Last Update: April 11, 2014
Marijuana policy reform debated in Baton Rouge
A handful of proposals have been introduced in Baton Rouge that would roll back some of Louisiana’s draconian marijuana laws. Proposals to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to a criminal fine only, to recognize the medical benefits of marijuana, and to remove marijuana crimes from the habitual offender statute have all been offered. Louisianans from across the state should email their lawmakers and ask them to support allowing medical marijuana.
Earlier this year, the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice held an information-only hearing to take testimony on the need for marijuana policy reform. The hearing mostly focused on the need for a medical marijuana law and to reduce penalties for marijuana possession. The legislature also debated these issues last year when the House voted 54-38 to approve a bill that would have reduced marijuana possession penalties for second and subsequent offenses. Unfortunately, this bill was not debated in the Senate, but the chorus of those demanding reform continues to get louder. Join the choir by asking 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. A February 2014 LSU State Survey found 79% of Louisianans support medical marijuana. These results are more than 10 points greater than an August 2013 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey that found 65% support for medical marijuana. The PPP poll also found that 56% of likely voters favor citing individuals for simple marijuana possession over arresting them, and 53% think 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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Louisiana, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.