Louisiana Looks Toward Cannabis Reforms
June 3rd, 2015
Policy, Top News
Governor Bobby Jindal has voiced his support for recent cannabis reform policies, saying he would sign House Bill 149, which aims to reduce second and third marijuana offenses to significantly less jail time, and Senate Bill 143, which would setup procedures for patients to get medical marijuana. While medical marijuana has been legal in the state for decades, rules for growing or dispensing the drug were never passed.
These developments are impressive considering that reduced penalties for possession didn’t even get out of committee last year thanks to the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s opposition to the laws. This time around, Sen. Morrell and others working on the Senate Bill sought out support from the sheriffs, who were primarily concerned about the distribution of larger amounts of the drug, which will still carry a stiffer penalty with the new laws.
The new bill would greatly reduce jail time and fines for a first offense with 14 grams or less, while those given probation would have to attend a court-approved substance abuse program. Second possession convictions would also be reduced to a misdemeanor and produce a second-chance for first-time offenders. If a second possession charge doesn’t happen for two years, the original charge is automatically expunged from their record.
The existing draconian laws involve a stiff maximum five year prison sentence for a second possession offense and a maximum 20 year prison sentence for three-time offenders. Reducing these harsh penalties could make a huge difference in helping people keep jobs and support their families rather than spending time in prison and perhaps being unable to secure a job afterwards – creating a viscious cycle of crime.
The bill is also expected to save more than $16 million over five years thanks to the reduction in the number of prisoners. Over the past 20 years, the state’s prison population has doubled to over 40,000 thanks to mandatory minimum sentences.
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