Louisiana Senate Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Jesse Coates

HB652, the Marijuana Decriminalization Bill by Rep. Cedric Glover, was passed in the state Senate on Monday and is heading to the Gov. John Bel Edwards’s desk.

The Governor’s spokesperson gave no comment on his decision to either sign or kill the bill there.

If the bill is signed into law, Louisiana will join the 27 other states, along with the District of Columbia, in decriminalizing it statewide.

Though these bills are all conceptually the same, each vary in the details put forth to have the 20 votes needed to advance it.

So, let’s talk about HB652. HB652 removes any jail time spent for 14g or less, as well as pardoning those who were incarcerated for those minor drug charges.

Possession of that amount is also reduced to a misdemeanor and fined $100 no matter the number of offenses.

Possession over 14g however maintains the policy stated in SB143 passed in Jun 2015.

SB143 was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal whose article penalized minor possession with a $300 fine or 15 days in prison as well as a felony charge on your record, unlike the decriminalization bill that would reduce it.

Any subsequent charges over 14g weren’t amended from SB143.

Possession of 14g to 2.5lb results in a $500 fine and a mandatory 6 month minimum in prison.

2.5lb+ is a 2-year minimum sentence which can be upwards to 25 years depending on the severity.

Over 60lbs is a heavy fine of $100k to $1M Alternatively, SB143 was supposed to build the groundwork for legal medicinal use.

The regulations still in place made it difficult to establish the dispensaries and delayed progress to the program.

Gov. John Edwards however did expand the program in 2016 to allow doctor recommendations.

Eventually in June 2019 the agricultural centers in LSU and SU were able to produce for the 9 dispensaries funded through the program.

The decriminalization bill faced some opposition from republicans. Sen. Stewart Cathey argued that the $100 fine may undercut the program by making fine payment less inconvenient than going through the legal process of acquiring a prescription and buying through the dispensaries which earn taxes.

The other argument is the inevitable next step of full legalization.

Full legalization was shut down just last year through the strong influence of the Louisiana Sheriff Association and has maintained neutrality over decriminalization.

However, comments from republican lawmakers and the LSA suggest that passing this bill will make recreational legalization a probability in the coming year.

As a side note, I personally believe Sen Steward Kathey’s assessment to be mostly incorrect.

It will not impede on the dispensary consumer traffic.

Those prescribed and able to buy it cheaper will be able to profit from the black-market consumer base who aren’t and production sources will be localized, strengthening the dark economy that can only thrive through any continuation of prohibition.

That being said, recreational legalization is a certainty if the bill is officially passed.

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