Bill to decriminalize marijuana in small amounts heads to Louisiana Governor’s desk

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A bill that will decriminalize marijuana in small amounts is headed to Governor John Bel Edwards’ desk after passing in the Louisiana Senate Monday.

The Senate’s 20-17 vote gave final passage to the proposal by Rep. Cedric Glover, a Shreveport Democrat, with the exact number of votes it needed to pass the chamber. The House already had backed the bill in a 68-25 vote. Gov. Edwards, a Democrat, has not taken a public position on the bill.

Under House Bill 652, when someone is found in possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana it is considered to be for personal use. The jail time would be removed and the fine is reduced to $100. The goal of the bill is to keep people out of jail for the first offense of having marijuana. The fine is currently set at $300 which some people can not afford and they end up in jail.

“With the Governor’s signature, HB 652 will end incarceration and felony convictions for possession of small quantities of marijuana in Louisiana. This common-sense legislation is an act of both equity and mercy, and I thank Representative Cedric Glover, Representative Alan Seabaugh, Mayor Adrian Perkins, and Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor for their bipartisan efforts to secure its passage,” Shreveport City Councilor John Nickelson said in a statement Monday.

Representative Cedric Glover modeled his bill after an ordinance in Shreveport that is already enacted.

There are similar rules in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Rep. Glover wanted to make the law consistent across the state and make it easier for law enforcement to know where the rule applies.

Supporters say the change would keep the criminal justice system from being burdened with people arrested for minor offenses and will give police the ability to focus on violent crime. Some municipalities around Louisiana already have switched to fines, rather than arrests for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Sen. Jay Luneau, an Alexandria Democrat, said the state spends millions of dollars a year jailing people unnecessarily for minor offenses.

“This is a common sense approach,” he said of Glover’s bill.

Opponents say frequent use of marijuana can damage the brain, and they argue the drug is a gateway to substance abuse issues.

“This is just a walk down to decriminalizing any form of punishment for possessing” other drugs, said Sen. Bodi White, a Central Republican.

After years where similar ideas stalled, this session’s debate shows just how much opposition to marijuana has eased — particularly among younger, newer legislators. This year’s proposal passed with bipartisan support.

It comes only six years after lawmakers created a framework for dispensing medical marijuana, a program the majority-Republican Legislature has expanded nearly every year since then. This session, lawmakers agreed to broaden the therapeutic cannabis program to allow patients to use raw, smokable marijuana, an idea considered unthinkable when the medical program was created.

But even as lawmakers voted to lessen the penalties for possession of recreational marijuana, they refused to legalize it outright, suggesting that was still a bridge too far. That legalization effort failed in the House earlier this session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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