Commentary: It’s high time for Louisiana to legalize — and tax — recreational cannabis

March 6, 2023 · Gambit

This week’s cover story by Kaylee Poche asks an important question: When will Louisiana finally, and fully, legalize cannabis? While the future of legal recreational cannabis may appear grim in light of conservatives’ hold on state politics, more and more Republicans — including some GOP lawmakers — are realizing prohibition doesn’t work. In fact, it hurts us all by unnecessarily criminalizing people while robbing the state of much needed revenue.

As Louisiana Progress’ Peter Robins-Brown told Poche, the winds have shifted enough that it is no longer a question of if, but when, cannabis will be legalized here.

Legalization is long overdue. Drug laws have disproportionately affected the Black community, subjecting Black men in particular to lengthy — in some cases lifelong — prison terms. Meanwhile, that has robbed Black families of the ability to build and maintain generational wealth, one of the key components to breaking the cycle of crushing poverty.

Criminalization also has abetted the illegal cannabis trade, which doubtless has contributed to chronic violence in our communities. It has clogged our criminal courts, pointlessly swelled state and federal prison populations, and cruelly inflicted widespread pain and suffering for generations.

Sheriffs and many other prohibitionists prefer to couch their opposition to legalization in the language of public health and safety. Truth is America’s drug war has never really been about safety, at least as applied to cannabis.

As the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man noted 30 years ago, “Cash rules everything around me.” It doesn’t matter if you’re selling it, buying it or policing it, the drug war is big business. Money has always been its heartbeat.

Every year, the federal government pours tens of millions of dollars into the coffers of Louisiana sheriffs and city police forces. Sheriffs tie their budgets to the number of prison beds they can keep filled, creating a perverse incentive to seek and jail people who otherwise do no harm and need treatment, not incarceration.

Meanwhile, according to a report by the conservative Pelican Institute, between 2000 and 2020, law enforcement in Louisiana seized $186 million worth of property under asset forfeiture laws. The majority of that came from drug cases. Unsurprisingly, most of that money was funneled back into local criminal justice agencies — cops, jails and courts.

Legalizing cannabis would cost sheriffs some federal grants tied to its criminalization and eliminate their authority to seize cars, homes and other valuable assets after cannabis busts. However, they likely would offset much if not all that federal funding by receiving a share of the tax proceeds from legal cannabis.

The bottom line is clear: Louisiana should join the 21 other states that have already legalized recreational cannabis. That includes Missouri and Montana, neither of which rank among America’s progressive bastions. Legalization isn’t an issue of liberals versus conservatives. Louisianans of every political persuasion already use cannabis, either for its medical benefits (which the state, thankfully, now fully recognizes) or recreationally.

It’s high time Louisiana allows everyone over age 21 to use cannabis safely and without having to worry about breaking the law. (Full Story)

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