Louisiana Cannabis Hearings: Background, Logistics, and Talking Points
Tuesday Hearings — Decriminalization and Legalization
What: House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee hearing on:
HB 652, which would reduce the penalty for up to 14 grams to a $50 fine, with an alternate in lieu of a fine for those who can’t pay.
HB 524, which would legalize cannabis for adults if approved by voters.
HB 243, which would legalize cannabis for adults if a separate regulatory bill is adopted.
There are also a number of other bills on the committee’s agenda, including HR 1, which would request a study of legalization.
Where:State Capitol, Committee Room 6 on the House side (Bigby Hall), which is down the stairs after you go through the main hall.
When: Tuesday, April 27, meeting starts at 9:00 a.m.
Thursday Hearing — Legalization
What: House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development hearing on HB 637, which would legalize and regulate cannabis. There are also a number of other bills on the committee’s agenda.
When: Thursday, April 29, meeting starts at 9:00 a.m.
Directions and Parking
The State Capitol is at 900 North Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70804.
Parking is available at the River Road Levee parking lot in front ofthe Capitol Park Welcome Center. There is also parking at the Welcome Center Parking Garageat the corner of North Street and River Road. You can find more details, along with directions to the capitol, here.
Fill out a green card in support — you'll need to include the name of the committee, date, and bill number, and your name, address, email, phone number, and who you're representing (if applicable). You'll also check a box indicating whether or not you'd like to speak.
Then, you turn that card into the Sergeant-at-Arms (who will be in the room and have a blue, usher-looking coat).
When the bill sponsor is done presenting, the committee chair reads in the cards and calls up the people who want to testify.
Witness should typically testify for no more than a few minutes, in addition to answering any questions from the committee members.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, that’s okay! You’re not a cannabis policy expert. You can offer to get back to the committee member and write us for help at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The committee meetings include several other bills and could last several hours. Be prepared for a wait.
Be polite and respectful, including to lawmakers you disagree with.
Make sure you have a professional appearance and demeanor, one that is appropriate for a house of worship or a business meeting.
Summary of the Cannabis Bills Being Heard on Tuesday
HB 652, sponsored by Rep. Cedric Glover (D), would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis to a $50 fine, or alternative penalties in lieu of a fine (such as up to four hours of community service). The current penalty is up to 15 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $300.
HB 524, sponsored by Rep. Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville), would put the question of legalization to voters in November 2022. If it is then approved by voters, HB 524 would set up a legal, regulatory system for adult-use cannabis. Rep. Nelson’s companion bill, HB 434, would impose a tax and distribute the revenue. MPP has summarized his bills here.
HB 243, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell (D-New Orleans), would legalize and regulate cannabis if separate regulatory legislation passes. A summary of both HB 243 and Rep. Newell’s separate regulatory bill is available here.
HR 1, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Anthony Bryant (D-New Iberia), would authorize the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee, or a subcommittee of it, to study legalization.
Summary of the Cannabis Bills Being Heard on Thursday
HB 637, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell (D-New Orleans), would regulate cannabis if a separate legalization bill passes. A summary of both HB 637 and Rep. Newell’s separate legalization bill is available here.
Talking Points for Decrim (HB 652, Tuesday)
We’ve provided some talking points below. However, be prepared to adapt if needed to avoid repetition. If other witnesses have already made your points, you may want to briefly re-state one or two points and note your agreement with their comments. If you know individuals whose lives were negatively impacted by arrests for low-level cannabis possession, sharing those stories can also be powerful.
A super-majority of Louisiana voters agree marijuana should be legal for adults. This bill is a very modest step that surely enjoys even stronger support.
Arresting and incarcerating people for marijuana is excessive for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.
Police should not be wasting their time arresting and jailing people for possessing a small amount of marijuana. HB 652 would free up time for police, prosecutors, courts, and jails so they can focus resources on serious crimes.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 19,135 cannabis possession arrests in Louisiana in 2018. That same year, Louisiana’s cannabis arrests far outnumbered arrests for all violent crimes combined. Meanwhile, according to the FBI’s 2018 data, the national clearance rate for murder was 62%, 33% for rape, and under 14% for burglary. (Louisiana does not make its data on clearance rates easily available, but there is reason to believe they are even worse.)
Thirty-one other states, including Mississippi and North Carolina, have stopped jailing individuals for simple possession of marijuana.
Many decriminalization laws were first enacted in the 1970s, and they have proven so non-controversial that several have been expanded. None have been repealed.
More background and talking points are available here.
Talking Points for Legalization (HB 524 and HB 243 on Tuesday; HB 637 on Thursday)
We’ve provided some talking points below. However, be prepared to adapt if needed to avoid repetition. If other witnesses have already made your points, you may want to briefly re-state one or two points and note your agreement with their comments. If you know individuals whose lives were negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition, sharing those stories can also be powerful.
Ending cannabis prohibition will create jobs and economic opportunity, significantly increase state and local tax revenue, ensure product safety, and free up law enforcement resources so they can focus on real crime.
Cannabis prohibition has been a disastrous failure. It has torn apart millions of families, put cannabis consumers and workers alike in danger, and failed to stop cannabis use.
Regulation is only possible with legalization. Illicit cannabis is not tested, and it can be laced with other drugs or contaminated with dangerous pesticides or contaminants. Legalization allows the state to control where, when, and to whom cannabis is sold. In jurisdictions where cannabis is legal, it is produced and sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses instead of drug cartels and criminals.
Cannabis prohibition has been just as ineffective and problematic as alcohol prohibition.
We should treat adults like grown-ups and not penalize them for choosing to use a substance that is safer than alcohol. By what logic does our state ban marijuana but not alcohol? For those who believe it’s appropriate for Louisiana to ban cannabis, why not ban failing to exercise or junk food?
Cannabis is objectively less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society. It is less toxic, less harmful to the body, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violent or reckless behavior. Adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use cannabis instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer.
Legalizing cannabis allows it to be used as an over-the-counter medicine. Surveys indicate that most adult-use cannabis users (who are not in medical programs) use cannabis for pain or as a sleep-aid. For many, it is a safer alternative. The long-term use of large amounts of over-the-counter pain pills can cause organ damage and stomach bleeding. Signing up for a medical cannabis program can be a significant hurdle, and most doctors aren’t knowledgeable about medical cannabis.
Law enforcement should focus on solving real crime instead of wasting resources on cannabis.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 21,311 cannabis arrests in Louisiana in 2018. Louisiana’s cannabis arrests are more than double arrests for all violent crimes combined (10,465 in 2018). Meanwhile, according to the FBI’s 2018 data, the national clearance rate for murder was 62%, 33% for rape, and under 14% for burglary.
Prohibiting cannabis hasn’t stopped Louisianans from using cannabis. All it’s done is deprived us of tens of millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue and thousands of good jobs.
In 2019, Colorado collected more than $300 million in taxes from marijuana businesses.
Meanwhile, over 40,000 individuals are licensed to work directly in Colorado’s marijuana industry, as are 1,693 marijuana business owners.
Failing to act on cannabis is hurting our tourism industry and related revenues. More than 10% of Americans use cannabis regularly. Just as those who enjoy a glass of wine at night wouldn’t vacation in a dry state (if there were any), why would cannabis consumers choose our state over an array of destinations like Las Vegas where they can relax with legal cannabis?
We have more information on legalization, including rebuttals to common concerns and lots of data, here.
Thank you for raising your voice for humane cannabis policies!!