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4 Years For 14 Grams?! Louisiana Eyes Pot Prison For Teens

Sometimes we here at The Leaf have trouble believing some of the (true!) news stories that it’s our job to report.

Shepherd Express

The Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature may put prison back on the table for possession of modest amounts of marijuana. The bill locks teens repeatedly caught with marijuana away for up to four years. But Adults would still be able to easily avoid prison time if caught with a little weed — even for repeat offenses. 

Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, is the unhappy man who feels that not locking up kids long enough for pot is a problem that needs fixing. Bagley wants to backpedal Louisiana’s sweeping marijuana decriminalization law enacted last year.

His House Bill 700 would impose harsher penalties on children and teenagers than adults, reports the Louisiana Illuminator.

Repeat Offending Teens Could Get 4 Years

Now, remember. Louisiana has a new decrim law. Under decrim, folks convicted of having 14 grams or less of weed aren’t fined more than $100. They aren’t arrested or thrown in prison.

Bagley’s ill-considered proposal allows kids under 18 convicted of possessing 14 grams or less of marijuana to be incarcerated for up to 15 days. 

The bill would also escalate the penalties for minors repeatedly caught with up to 14 grams of marijuana (half an ounce). A third conviction for that offense could result in two years behind bars, and a fourth could mean four years behind bars.

Cannabis Consequences Differ Dramatically Than For Adults

Those pot penalties would be dramatically different than the ones adults face.

What happens to adults caught repeatedly with 14 grams or less of marijuana? Well, they would face no prison time at all. 

The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice forwarded Bagley’s proposal to the full Louisiana House for consideration last week. Lawmakers carved out an exception was for children and teenagers carrying their own medical marijuana.

Forcing Kids Into Rehab For Weed…

Bagley claims K-12 schools in his community are unable to keep marijuana off their campuses. The district attorney’s office in DeSoto Parish, where Bagley’s from, said it can’t force minors into drug treatment for weed through drug court. But that changes dramatically when those little ingrates have the threat of serious incarceration hanging over their heads.

Bagley claims it would be “unlikely” for a judge to put a child or teenager in a youth detention center a small amount of marijuana. But he said threatening kids with serious incarceration is useful in forcing them into (mostly useless) pot rehab programs. 

“It was presented like this bill is about trying to put people in prison. It’s not,” Bagley claimed.

“We Don’t Think We Should Be Criminalizing Youth More Harshly Than Adults”

Progressive groups, Democrats, and Cannabis advocacy organizations oppose the bill. They say discipline within the school system — suspension, expulsion, or removal from sports and other school activities — would be preferable. 

“We don’t think we should be criminalizing youth more harshly than adults,” said Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress. 

Other methods to get children and teens into drug treatment are available through the court system as well. Passing harsher laws just isn’t necessary, according to Megan Garvey with the Louisiana Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. Family court judges can mandate that guardians and parents put children in rehabilitative programs and place minors on probation, Garvey said.

Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol

Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, didn’t formally object to the bill moving forward. But he expressed reservations about the incarceration component.

McCormick also noted the penalty for minors being caught with marijuana is harsher than when caught with alcohol. 

Louisiana law fines those under 21 $100 and suspends their driver’s license for up to six months if they are caught drinking alcohol. But they don’t face jail time.

“Alcohol, in my opinion, would be greatly more harmful than marijuana,” McCormick said.

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