Bill to reduce marijuana possession penalties passes Louisiana House but fails in Senate
The Louisiana House took a big step forward May 29 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., would have also removed marijuana possession from the list of offenses that receive mandatory minimum sentences. The bill 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. Legislators adjourned for the year June 6.
Prior to this year, Louisiana legislators did not seem willing to consider reducing Louisiana's draconian marijuana penalties whatsoever. HB 103 was a modest attempt at reform, but its surprising success could help Louisiana legislators see that reforming marijuana laws is good politics in addition to being good policy. Because HB 103 passed the House so late in the session, a supermajority was needed in the Senate to even bring the bill up for debate. We’re very hopeful that next year the legislature will take a serious look at excessive marijuana penalties.
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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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