Yesterday the Louisiana Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would substantially reduce the state’s penalties for marijuana possession, currently among the harshest in the nation. Under current law, possessing even the smallest amount of cannabis is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for the first offense, up to five years and a $2,500 fine for a second offense, and up to 20 years and a $5,000 fine for subsequent offenses. Under S.B. 241, which the Senate approved by a vote of 27 to 12, possessing less than 14 grams of marijuana (about half an ounce) would be punishable by no more than 15 days in jail and/or a $300 fine. The maximum term would rise to six months for a second offense, two years for a third offense, and eight years for subsequent offenses. The corresponding maximum fines would be $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000, respectively.
Those penalties are still pretty heavy, especially compared to what you get for possessing up to 10 grams in Maryland (a $100 civil fine), up to 28.5 grams in California (ditto), up to an ounce in Colorado or Washington (nothing), or less than two ounces in the District of Columbia (ditto). But if the Louisiana House of Representatives approves S.B. 241 and Gov. Bobby Jindal signs the bill, it will at least no longer be even theoretically possible to serve two decades in prison for being caught with a joint on three different occasions in the Pelican State. “This is a long-sought opportunity to take a more compassionate and commonsense approach to marijuana,” says Yolande Cadore, director of strategic partnerships at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Louisiana’s overdue for a major overhaul of its drug policies, and this is a good first step.”