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Louisiana marijuana law changes endorsed by House, headed to Senate
    #778675 - 05/13/15 09:35 PM (2 years, 11 months ago)

"No, I'm not nearly as stoned as I would like to be, Mr. Chairman."

A proposal to reduce marijuana penalties for those convicted multiple times of possessing pot cleared the House floor Wednesday (May 13) in the Louisiana Legislature.

Current law allows for someone to be sentenced up to 20 years in prison for getting busted and convicted three or more times with as little as one joint. Among the changes proposed in the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, is a reduction of the maximum penalty from 20 years to eight.

"It starts chipping away at Louisiana being the incarceration capital of the world," Badon said from the House floor, after his bill passed.

The legislation now heads to the Senate after the House voted 53-36 to advance it.

The legislation, (HB 149), drops the maximum sentence for second-offense marijuana possession from five years in prison to two years. It would also drop the maximum sentence for third-offense possession from 20 years to five. Subsequent convictions could allow for a maximum sentence up to eight years.

Under current law, a first-time offender could be jailed up to six months -- that sentence would stay the same under Badon's proposal.

Fines would be also be reduced. Maximum fines for second offenses would be reduced from $2,000 to $500; and for subsequent offenses from $5,000 to $2,000.

The bill could save taxpayers approximately $12 million over five years in incarceration costs, Badon said.

Badon has brought similar bills to the Legislature for nearly a half decade.

But this year, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and the District Attorneys Association, two influential lobbying groups, worked with Badon to get the bill in a posture they would not oppose. When his bill failed last year, the sheriffs' group opposed it.

Badon originally sought to exempt marijuana possession as a consideration under the state's habitual offender -- or three strikes -- sentencing law. He removed that measure as part of a compromise with the lobby groups after learning simple marijuana possession was rarely applied as a factor in habitual offender sentencing.

Another billon the Senate side, also sponsored by a New Orleans Democrat, seeks to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well.

J.P. Morrell's legislation, (SB 241), carves out a new section of the law that deals strictly with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or synthetic marijuana -- all the offenses would be considered misdemeanors.


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