Louisiana Ends Jail Time for Small Amounts of Cannabis

Even repeat offenders who are caught with up to 14 grams of cannabis in Louisiana will have no possibility of jail time.

Louisiana ended the punishment of jail time for possession of small amounts of recreational cannabis, which took effect Sunday. It was one of more than 250 new laws that took effect on the same day, including new requirements for doctors administering the abortion pill and restrictions on when police officers can use chokehold restraints.

That means people in Louisiana caught with small amounts of recreational cannabis will only face a fine—with no possibility of heading to jail. The new law makes possession of up to 14 grams of pot only a misdemeanor crime carrying a fine up to $100, even for repeat offenses.

The decriminalization effort there is long overdue. Several municipalities in the Louisiana area already had switched to fines instead of arrests for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Louisiana Progress is a partnership between two organizations—Coalition for Louisiana Progress and Louisiana Progress Action Fund. The group was created to be a powerful statewide network focusing on supporting individuals, allies, advocates, organizations and elected officials who want to move an agenda built around more just and equitable systems in the state.

“Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” said Peter Robins-Brown, policy & advocacy director at Louisiana Progress. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”

It comes about six years after lawmakers created a framework for dispensing medical cannabis, and the majority-Republican Legislature has expanded nearly every year since then. 

Last June, the state’s Senate voted 20-17, giving the green light to House Bill 652, or Act 247, proposed by Representative Cedric Glover. It happens to be the exact number of votes needed to pass the Senate. The House already had easily backed the bill in a 68-25 vote. Governor John Bel Edwards avoided taking a public position on the bill.

Senator Bodi White expressed worry that the bill follows a slippery slope toward decriminalization of all drugs. But despite warnings from leaders such as White, the warnings are in vain as the state is clearly headed in a more progressive direction.

Louisiana’s Road Here

Louisiana’s medical cannabis laws date back to 1978, but it was only for patients with glaucoma and those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment. Louisiana’s medical cannabis legislation was signed into law in 2016—which is why the state emphasizes the distinction between medical and recreational use regarding punishments. The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy has chosen nine distributing “pharmacies.”

The state does not allow home cultivation—one of the most fought-over provisions—but the Louisiana State University and Southern University agricultural centers have selected two companies to cultivate and produce medical cannabis.

This session, lawmakers agreed to broaden the therapeutic cannabis program to allow patients to use raw, smokable cannabis—an idea once unthinkable when the medical cannabis program was first created. Before then, metered-dose inhalers were a thing in Louisiana.

As of April 2020, there were 4,350 registered patients, according to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and likely many more today.

But as lawmakers voted to reduce the penalties for possession of cannabis, they originally refused to legalize it outright, suggesting that it was out of the question at the time. An earlier legalization effort failed in the House.

The state is poised to become a better place for cannabis consumers to live without fear of jail time over personal amounts of cannabis.

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