Legislature concludes after improving medical marijuana program, more revisions still needed
Last update: October 6, 2016
The Louisiana Legislature first sought to establish a medical marijuana program in 1978. Since that time, the law has remained unworkable and merely symbolic. The 2016 legislative session saw the passage of two bills, both offered by Sen. Fred Mills and signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, that led to some key changes that significantly improved the law. SB 271 allows doctors to “recommend” marijuana to qualifying patients instead of requiring them to “prescribe” it, which is a violation of their federal DEA licenses. SB 180 amends criminal statutes to specifically offer protections to patients and their caregivers for possession and consumption of medical marijuana.
However, the law does not explicitly exempt growers, pharmacies, and their staff from state felonies for growing and distributing marijuana. While it is possible that the law will eventually prove workable, it should be improved to explicitly offer protections to the entire supply chain. In addition, the current draft regulations also put the system at risk. MPP looks forward to the future rulemaking period during which advocates will have an opportunity to seek changes that will help ensure the system becomes workable.
New Orleans City Council unanimously passes ordinance decriminalizing marijuana
On March 23, 2016, the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, signed into law a sensible new ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. On March 17, the city council unanimously passed the ordinance. It will become effective on June 21, 2016.
Ordinance 31,148 will allow law enforcement to issue a ticket — rather than arresting — for marijuana possession and reduces penalties from possible jail time to a civil fine of $40 to $100 if the officer cites under local law instead of arresting under state law. For more details, please click here.
You can also ask your legislators to impose a civil fine — not possible jail time — statewide for simple possession of marijuana, or to legalize and regulate marijuana for all adults’ use.
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 allowing 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. Unfortunately, these laws disproportionately effect Louisiana’s African American community. 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 by legalizing marijuana and regulating it for adult use similarly to alcohol.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Louisiana, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.