Louisiana Senate Approves Bills Allowing For Marijuana Pardons And Decriminalizing Cannabis Paraphernalia

May 24, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

Senators in Louisiana decided this week to advance two separate pieces of cannabis-related criminal justice legislation after previously voting them down. The moves breathe new life into proposals that would decriminalize cannabis paraphernalia and make certain past marijuana convictions eligible for pardons by the governor.

Both measures, HB 165 and HB 391, passed out of the Senate on reconsideration votes Tuesday and next return to the House of Representatives to consider changes made to the bills by the opposite chambers.

HB 165, from Rep. Delisha Boyd (D), would limit the penalty for the possession, sale and use of marijuana paraphernalia to a $100 fine without the thread of jail time. Under existing law, cannabis paraphernalia carries a penalty of up to $300 and 15 days behind bars on the first offense, which increases on later offenses. A second conviction carries up to a $1,000 fine and imprisonment of not more than six months, while third and subsequent convictions carry fines of up to $2,500 and imprisonment “with or without hard labor” for up to two years.

HB 391, also sponsored by Boyd, would make people convicted of cannabis possession eligible for a pardon after paying all court costs associated with the offense, without the need for a recommendation from the Board of Pardons. Individuals could only receive a pardon for their first possession offense, and anyone “who received such pardon shall not be entitled to receive another pardon by the governor pursuant to this Section,” the measure says.

Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said he was pleased lawmakers in the Senate decided to revisit and pass the proposals after previously moving to reject them.

“MPP was relieved to have both criminal justice focused pieces of legislation reconsidered and soundly passed,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Bipartisan support for cannabis policy reform in Louisiana continues to move forward. We will continue to grow our support in the state legislature.”

The latest developments follow a decision by House lawmakers on Monday to scuttle separate legislation that would have laid out a regulatory framework for legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state, with members voting 57–37 against the proposal from Rep. Candace Newell (D).

That measure, HB 978, would not have legalized cannabis itself but instead would have begun establishing a regulatory system that would take effect if either the state or the federal government later legalized marijuana for adults.

Opponents, however, said they were against legalizing marijuana and couldn’t support a regulatory bill.

Another bill, which lawmakers this week sent to Gov. Jeff Landry (R) desk, would transfer medical marijuana cultivation duties in the state from Louisiana State University and Southern University to private contractors.

“They are the only two higher education systems in the country that are in the pot business right now,” Sen. Patrick McMath (R) said of the bill, “and it is my belief that it’s time we get them out of that business and let them focus on higher education.”

As it stands in Louisiana, possession of up to 14 grams (or half an ounce) of marijuana is decriminalized, punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time.

Last year, former Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) also signed into law a measure that was designed to streamline expungements for people with first-time marijuana possession convictions.

Whether current Gov. Jeff Landry (R) will be willing to sign into law any legislation moving the state toward adult-use legalization is another question. While his Democratic predecessor approved more incremental steps and acknowledged legalization as inevitable, he consistently said the state would not legalize under his tenure.

Seven in 10 Louisianans support legalizing recreational marijuana possession for adults—and nine in 10 back medical cannabis legalization—according to a survey released last year.

While marijuana legalization has stalled in the Louisiana legislature, there have been efforts to end prohibition and tax cannabis sales that have moved without being enacted.

For example, a comprehensive legalization measure and complementary cannabis tax bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) advanced through committee before the tax proposal was rejected on the House floor in 2021, torpedoing the broader measure’s chances.

Lawmakers have also taken several steps to reform other cannabis laws and build on the state’s medical marijuana program in recent sessions.

In 2022, for example, the former governor signed a slew of marijuana reform bills, including one key measure that would expand the number of medical dispensaries that can operate in the state and another to prevent police from searching people’s homes over the smell of cannabis. (Full Story)

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