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Louisiana Legalizes Medical Marijuana, Eases Up on Pot Penalties

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is often considered the poster child for the pot-hating politician, signed two pieces of pot legislation into law on Monday—one that legalizes a statewide medical marijuana program and another that reduces the penalties associated with cannabis possession.

Upon the governor’s highly anticipated action, Louisiana has become the first state in the South to legalize a functional public health program catering to seriously ill patients who require access to medicinal cannabis. The signing of Senate Bill 143 picks up where a decades-old law left off by allowing the proper regulations to be implemented to establish the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. In addition, unlike the 1991 version of the law, physicians will be able to offer patients recommendations for medical pot rather than write prescriptions—a process that is prohibited under federal law.

Unfortunately, it could be years before patients have the ability to walk into a dispensary and purchase medicine. Now that the bill has been signed, the state has the challenge of developing the stringent regulations demanded as part of its passing. The law requires that only one cultivation center be responsible for the state’s cannabis production, which will likely be overseen by the Louisiana State University AgCenter, and only permits 10 dispensaries to sell cannabis products to all of the state’s qualified registrants.

The Department of Agriculture and Forestry has already begun trying to figure out how the state will moderate everything from security to quality control, while the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy has yet to begin drafting the rules outlining how cannabis will made available.

“This is all new ground,” Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain told the Associated Press. “We’re going to follow every rule, every regulation with a great care.”

The second bill that Governor Jindal graced with his signature is a measure aimed at reforming the unreasonable sentences that often get handed down to habitual pot offenders. The new law allows second offenses for minor pot possession to be considered a misdemeanor rather than a felony. It also gives first-time offenders the opportunity to have the charge stricken from their record. Most importantly, however, this reformative action will eliminate the potential for individuals, like Corey Ladd, to be sentenced to 20-years hard labor inside the Louisiana Department of Corrections. It will instead guarantee that nobody ever does more than eight years in prison for pot.

Although the new law still maintains a high level of severity for pot sentences—as well as does nothing to help potentially thousands of prisoners get their sentences reduced—it does initiate change to a system that has enslaved countless individuals for pot, a plant being legalized all over the country, at a rate higher than any other state in the union.

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