Today, the Louisiana State Senate passed legislation which decriminalized the possession of marijuana. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator J.P. Morrell who wants to bring Louisiana’s marijuana laws closer in line with other states.
Under current law, the possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds is treated the same. First time offenders receive a $500 fine and six months in jail; second time offenders receive a $2,500 fine and 5 years in prison; third time offenders receive a $5,000 fine and a 20-year prison term.
On the Senate floor, Senator Morrell said that law enforcement groups were willing to compromise partly in effort to reverse the perception associated with Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate.
Senator Morrell said, “In most states, the maximum penalty for simple marijuana possession does not exceed one year of jail time. By reducing the maximum penalty for repeat offenders from 20 years in prison to eight years, Louisiana’s penalties are still eight times higher than surrounding states”
What does the legislation do?
The legislation does not change the penalties for first time offenders that are caught with any amount of marijuana between 14 grams and 2.5 pounds. The legislation makes the possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana punishable by a $300 fine and 15 days in jail. Second offenses are punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 6 months in jail; third offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and 2 years in prison; and fourth or subsequent offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and 8 years in prison.
The legislation gives first-time offenders a chance to get their conviction expunged if they are not convicted of a marijuana violation within 2 years of the first offense. Offenders, however, are only allowed one opportunity to expunge their records of marijuana convictions.
Second attempt by Senator Morrell
Senator Morrell attributed passage of the bill to the support received from the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorney Association. He worked with the groups this year to get his bill into a posture on which they felt comfortable maintaining a neutral stance.
Last year, dozens of sheriffs appeared at a Senate committee hearing last year to show their opposition to his bill, which sought similar statutory changes. Morrell’s bill died in that committee in 2014 after more than three hours of debate on the measure.
The legislation is expected save the state around $17 million over a five years period. Senator Morrell’s bill will now head to the House for consideration.