Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed into law a bill that takes away the possibility of jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. It’s the latest shift away from Louisiana’s historically harsh stance on the herb.
Edwards is a conservative-leaning Democrat who is often moves in lockstep with the state’s sheriffs and has long opposed legalizing marijuana. But he signed House Bill 652 by Representative Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport. Gov. Edwards hailed it as a criminal justice reform effort, reports The Advocate.
Glover’s decrim bill kept gaining strength in the two-month legislative session that ended last week. Some viewed it as a make-good after a GOP-sponsored bill to legalize Cannabis narrowly failed in the state House. The push indicated a growing willingness by the conservative Louisiana Legislature to look at loosening the state’s punitive laws surrounding marijuana.
Glover’s bill to decriminalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of Cannabis will keep people from going to jail for a plant that is legal in 17 other states, according to advocates. Twenty-seven states already passed similar decriminalization laws. Advocates often describe such measures as one step short of legalization. Decrim takes away jail time as a penalty for small amounts of pot. The fines and amounts of marijuana those laws apply to vary by state.
‘Not A Decision I Took Lightly’
Edwards, like some legislators backing the bill, denied the legislation amounts to “decriminalizing” marijuana. The governor said violators can still be hit with penalties. “Instead, anyone convicted of this crime will now be subject to a maximum penalty of $100 instead of being exposed to parish prison time,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Edwards said. “In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly.”
“This measure passed Louisiana’s Legislature with bipartisan support following a robust discussion of the toll of over incarceration on our people and our state, Edwards said. “Taking this action is another step forward for Louisiana’s criminal justice reform efforts.”
Louisiana’s Textbook Decrim Measure
The National Conference of State Legislatures advises lawmakers around the country and tracks legislation. It defines decriminalization as making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction or the lowest class of misdemeanor, with no possibility of jail time.
Whatever the goveror says, that’s exactly what Louisiana’s law does. It makes each possession offense of a half-ounce or less a misdemeanor with no possible jail time. Instead, offenders will get a summons for a fine of up to $100.
Louisiana lawmakers also sent Gov. Edwards a separate bill this month to let patients in the state’s medical marijuana program legally smoke whole-plant Cannabis flower. He hasn’t weighed in on that proposal yet, reports Marijuana Moment. Edwards previously called it an example of the type of incremental reform he expects to support.