Louisiana House Approves HB 652, A Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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The Louisiana House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that effectively decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the measure, House Bill 652 (HB 652), possession of up to 14 grams (about a half an ounce) of cannabis would be punished by only a fine of up to $100 on the first and second offense. Minor marijuana possession offenses would still be classified as misdemeanors but would no longer carry the threat of time in jail.

“We don’t need to be filling up our jails with misdemeanor offenses of marijuana,” Democratic Rep. Denise Marcelle, a supporter of the bill, told local media.

The bill was approved last week by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice in advance of this week’s floor vote. The full House approved HB 652 on Tuesday with a vote of 67 to 25. The measure sponsored by Rep. Cedric Glover received significant support from both his Democratic colleagues and members of the GOP majority.

“I think it’s a fairly good compromise,” said Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Republican and one of the most conservative members of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Some of Louisiana’s largest cities, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, have already taken action to reduce the penalties for low-level marijuana possession. In New Orleans, penalties for a first cannabis possession offense are capped at a fine of only $40, while some city leaders are calling for the fine to be dropped even further to $1. In 2018, Baton Rouge eliminated jail time as a possible penalty for possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana. Instead, a fine of between $40 and $100 will be assessed, depending on the number of prior offenses for a particular defendant. Shreveport’s revised ordinance is similar to HB 652.

HB 652 now heads to the Louisiana Senate for consideration. If the measure is passed by the upper house of the state legislature, it would become law if signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Despite Approval of HB 652, Vote On Adult-Use Cannabis Bill Delayed

Louisiana lawmakers are also considering a separate measure, House Bill 699 (HB 699), that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults and regulate commercial cannabis production and sales. The measure is scheduled for debate on the House floor on May 18 after being delayed on Monday so that Rep. Richard Nelson, the sponsor of the legislation, could revise the bill.

“So we had some people absent that we needed to vote, we are also working on some amendments to bring more people on board,” said Nelson.

To address opposition to the measure, Nelson plans to reduce the amount of marijuana that can be legally possessed under the bill and remove a provision of the legislation that would allow adults to cultivate cannabis plants at home.

“We are going to try and take out that home grow piece that allows people to grow it at home and it’s basically a lesson learned from some of the other states like Colorado,” said Nelson. “We’re also decreasing the amount that you can legally possess. It was two-and-a-half pounds, we are looking at two-and-a-half ounces instead.”

Nelson commented on concerns that cannabis reform is proceeding too quickly in Louisiana, noting that the state is losing out on revenue that could be generated by levying taxes on commercial cannabis sales.

“Kicking that can down the road is a 100 million dollars a year, so we can delay it but not only do we lose a 100 million in tax money, but we still send all the hundreds of millions of dollars to drug dealers and cartels, which is less than ideal,” Nelson said.

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