Louisiana has always played hardball when it comes to punishing small-time drug offenders, but that could soon change. The state House's Administration of Criminal Justice Committee voted 10-4 Wednesday to approve a bill that would soften the state’s restrictions on people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana. The proposal is next expected to go to the House floor for debate, the Times-Picayune reported.
House Bill 149, introduced by state Rep. Austin Badon, a Democrat, would reduce the maximum sentence for repeat marijuana offenders -- people convicted of possessing pot for a second time -- from five years to two. Third-time offenders would face a maximum sentence of five years instead of 20. "This is a well-studied measure to produce reform and reduce recidivism," Badon told the Times-Picayune. Supporters of the bill say it could save taxpayers millions of dollars over the next five years.
Louisiana has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country. First-time offenders caught with even a small amount of marijuana face up to six months in prison.
In 2014, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law that reduced the charges against marijuana parolees. Louisiana law does not allow marijuana to be consumed for any purpose, including medical. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Four of them -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- also legalized recreational pot. Louisiana lawmakers will consider a bill this year that would allow voters to decide whether to legalize weed in 2016.
Proponents of Louisiana’s new marijuana bill say lawmakers are warming up to idea of marijuana legalization, or at least its decriminalization. The conversation used to be “we are really tough on marijuana -- and it is working,” Democratic state Sen. J.P. Morrell told the Associated Press. “Now we are having conversations about marijuana that were not even possible five years ago.”