Starting Sunday, August 1, people in Louisiana caught with small amounts of marijuana will only face a fine and no possibility of heading to jail.
Possession of up to 14 grams of Cannabis — a half-ounce — is now a misdemeanor crime carrying a fine up to $100. This is true even for repeat offenses. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the law in June.
House Bill 652 reduces the penalty for the possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana for first-time as well as subsequent offenses to a $100 fine only. While there would be no possibility of jail time under the bill, these offenses would still be classified as misdemeanors.
The fine-penalty remains in place regardless of whether the offender has any prior marijuana convictions. Enhanced penalties and jail time will still be enforced for repeat offenders who are convicted of possessing more than 14 grams of marijuana.
The change comes as attitudes about cannabis have shifted in the state, reports the Associated Press. Several municipalities around Louisiana already had switched to fines, rather than arrests, for possession of small amounts of recreational Cannabis. Louisiana has also had a legal medical marijuana program for several years.
State Rep., Liberal Group Promote FAQ On New Law
State Rep. Cedric Glover sponsored the bill to decriminalize marijuana in the Louisiana Legislature. Now he’s teaming up with Louisiana Progress to promote an FAQ on the new law. The launch of an awareness campaign will help Louisianans know their new rights, reports KLFY.
“I knew it was time to take this reform to the state level,” Glover said, reports the Shreveport Times.
“Criminalizing marijuana possession is harmful to the people of Louisiana in so many ways. But it’s been particularly harmful for Black and Brown communities, lower-income folks, and young people,” Glover said. “My fervent hope is that this new law will finally bring some relief and a feeling of freedom to those communities.”
“Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” according to 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,” Robins-Brown said.
Rep. Glover and Louisiana Progress worked together to answer some frequently asked questions. That FAQ sheet is here.
They will also be launching an awareness campaign to promote the new law. That will include a social media push and more informational materials. It will also include outreach to law enforcement agencies and local elected officials, and, eventually in-person events.
Louisiana Governor: ‘This Is Not A Decision I Took Lightly’
Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in June signed the law to remove jail time for low-level marijuana possession.
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Gov. Edwards said in a statement. “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.”
NORML: ‘Much Needed Policy Change’
“This is a much-needed policy change for Louisiana,” NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said. “The enactment of this legislation is great progress toward ending the racially discriminatory policy of branding otherwise law-abiding Louisianans as criminals for minor marijuana possession offenses when law enforcement should instead be focusing on fighting legitimate crime.”
Louisiana law enforcement arrests Blacks for marijuana at three times the rate of whites. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has shined a spotlight on these discriminatory arrests. In some cities, including Baton Rouge, police arrest Blacks for marijuana at six times the arrest rates of Whites.