Louisiana decriminalizes small amounts of cannabis!
Last update: August 16, 2021
On June 14, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Rep. Cedric Glover’s decriminalization bill — HB 652 — into law!
This new law will save thousands of Louisianans from being incarcerated for small amounts of cannabis. Starting on August 1, the penalty for possessing up to 14 grams (or 0.49 oz.) of cannabis was reduced to a fine of up to $100. For those unable to pay, the court must use its discretion for alternatives, such as community service or installment payments.
Possession of up to 14 grams is now enforced by a summons (like a traffic ticket) not an arrest. HB 652 does not reduce penalties for possessing over 14 grams or for possession with intent to distribute or sales of any amount. Those penalties remain harsh.
Louisiana was the incarceration capital of the United States until recently. While the legislature reduced several penalties over the years, many continued to be jaw-droppingly harsh and tear families apart.
We are grateful to everyone who has worked so hard for humane cannabis policies in Louisiana, including Louisiana Progress — which led the charge on legalization and decriminalization advocacy this year; Kevin Caldwell and Common Sense NOLA, whose trailblazing local decriminalization efforts laid the foundation for statewide reform; and Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, who have been key to medical cannabis progress and broader reform over the years.
New Orleans pardons past, present, and future cannabis tickets
On August 5, 2021, the New Orleans City Council approved a package of three ordinances to move the city as close as it can legally get to legalizing cannabis possession.
Beginning on September 15, the ordinances — sponsored by Council President Helena Morena — will pardon about 10,000 cannabis possession convictions and pending charges. New Orleans had previously reduced the penalty for cannabis possession to a fine-only offense.
Anyone who receives a summons for cannabis possession under the new ordinances will have it immediately forgiven, with no action needed from the court or the ticketed individual. However, smoking cannabis in public will be a ticketable offense under the Smoke-Free Air Act.
Congratulations to our allies at CommonSense NOLA, including Kevin Caldwell; Council President Morena; and everyone else who worked so hard to enact these measures!
Legislature seriously considers legalization
While decriminalization will prevent a great amount of trauma, it does nothing to address the harms of pushing cannabis sales underground. Louisiana’s legislature has also begun to seriously examine full legalization.
For the first time ever, the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice advanced two legalization bills, though neither passed the floor. Rep. Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville) sponsored HB 699 (formerly HB 524), which would have legalized and regulated cannabis for adults 21 and older and included no cap on the number of businesses. Meanwhile, Rep. Candace Newell's (D) legalization bills — HB 243 and HB 637 —would have put equity and inclusion at the forefront of legalization but included low limits on the number of cannabis businesses. Our summary is available here.
While neither legalization bill passed, the House did pass a study resolution — Rep. Marcus Bryant’s HR 1. Between now and when the legislature reconvenes in 2022, the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice will consider “the impact of legalizing the possession and use of cannabis.” The resolution requires the committee to consider a number of areas of inquiry, including “evaluating best practices for potential tax structure, rates, and economic impacts on potential legal framework and illicit markets.”
Medical cannabis program improving; governor signs bill to legalize raw, flower cannabis
Louisiana’s medical cannabis program started as perhaps the most restrictive in the nation, leaving behind most patients and modes of administration. The legislature has made significant improvements, but the law still has problematic limitations.
Louisiana’s medical cannabis law initially prohibited inhaled and flower cannabis. However, on June 21, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signed SB 391 into law, allowing whole-plant (flower) and smoking. Banning flower drives up costs, making medical cannabis inaccessible to most low-income and middle-income patients, and can result in cannabis businesses not being economically viable. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2022, but flower may not be immediately available at medical cannabis businesses.
Louisiana’s list of qualifying conditions also began as unduly restrictive. In 2020, however, the legislature passed and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed HB 819, which allows doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any medical condition the physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient” that the physician is qualified to treat. It also added several qualifying conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, traumatic brain injury, and chronic pain associated with sickle cell anemia or fibromyalgia.
HB 819 was sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R), who had been opposed to medical cannabis until he heard from constituents who found it relieved their pain. Now, he has become a champion.
His turnaround shows the dramatic impact constituent stories can have on their lawmakers. Considering reaching out to your state legislators about other marijuana policy reforms you care about.
One way Louisiana’s law remains among the most restrictive in the nation is the inadequate supply of cannabis: Louisiana has only two state-licensed cultivators — Louisiana State University and Southern University — and the state has authorized only nine locationsto dispense medical marijuana.
Medical cannabis access a "game changer" in Gov. Blanco's final days
After years of waiting, Louisiana medical marijuana sales finally started on August 6, 2019. Less than a month later, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s eldest child shared that medical marijuana was a “game changer” for Blanco. Blanco was near death when medical marijuana access became legal. Marijuana allowed Blanco to regain the ability to eat and hold conversations, allowing her to survive nearly two more weeks — long enough to celebrate her 55th wedding anniversary.
Louisiana provides for safe access during the coronavirus
Louisiana relaxed some rules and regulations in times of coronavirus to allow safe access to medical cannabis in a manner consistent with social distancing. Pharmacies can now deliver medical cannabis to patients at home — or wherever else they are. (That change is permanent, not just during COVID.) And existing patients can get medical cannabis recommendations renewed via telemedicine.
Polling shows Louisiana voters support legalization
The people of Louisiana are ready to rid their state of the overly harsh penalties currently imposed for marijuana offenses. A March 2021 poll found 67% of Louisianans support legalizing cannabis. Only 24% said using or possessing marijuana should be illegal.
Louisiana’s largest city has listened to voters: In 2016, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. Encouragingly, officers are by and large abiding by the ordinance (rather than arresting under state law), and statistics show plummeting arrests. Shreveport and East Baton Rouge followed suit, and in 2021 the legislature decriminalized simple possession statewide.