Louisiana: Bill Which Would Have Reduced Marijuana Penalties Gets Majority Support; Fails Anyway

(Graphic: Disinfo.com)Bill Would Have Ended Life Sentences For Marijuana In Louisiana

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Legislation that would have reduced Louisiana's draconian marijuana penalties found a majority of support in the state House of Representatives on a 46-45 vote -- but it failed anyway, because House rules require any bill to pass with a simple majority of total House members, making 53 votes necessary to enact a new law.

The bill would have greatly reduced prison sentences and fines for marijuana offenders in the state. On May 21 it went to the House floor for the third reading; the final 46-45 vote was tantalizingly close to changing the face of marijuana enforcement in Louisiana.

HB 103 would have concentrated more on fines and less on prison sentences than the current law, and thus would have helped reduce Louisiana's world-record prison population with more realistic sentencing guidelines, reports William Dilella at NOLA Defender.

The law, notably, would also have created separation between penalties for marijuana and its synthetic imitators such as Spice and K2, which have been shown to have actual side effects and can create legitimate health concerns.

The law would have reduced fines and sentences for second and third time pot offenders, and, unlike the current marijuana law, would have distinguished between third and subsequent offenses.

Crucially, it would also have distinguished between marijuana offenders and violent felons, who currently fall under the same habitual offender law, making pot offenders subject to life sentences.

Louisiana prosecutors sometimes use marijuana possession charges to send offenders to prison for life under the state's Three Strikes habitual offender law.

Third marijuana offenses in Louisiana currently carry prison sentences of up to 20 years and fines of up to $5,000. HB 103 would have lessened those to prison terms of no more than two years and fines of no more than $2,000.

Proponents said the opportunity to reduce pot sentences would have benefited the state, since Louisiana currently has the highest per capita prison population in the world, with an estimated 40,000 people locked up in state correctional institutions.

The bill is currently being reconsidered in the House; bills can be reconsidered in the same session if a majority of those who voted against it allow that to happen.

(Graphic: Disinfo.com)