Louisiana: Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Bill Reforming Marijuana Possession Law
Measure Would Allow Second Chance for First-Time Offenders and Save Millions of Dollars
Bill Heads to Full Senate
Lawmakers in Louisiana on Wednesday took a major step forward when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to reform the state’s harsh marijuana possession law. If passed, Louisiana would join the growing number of states that have recently reduced penalties for small amounts of marijuana.
“This is a long-sought opportunity to take a more compassionate and commonsense approach to marijuana,” said 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."
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world – and Louisiana has the highest rate in the U.S. Louisiana’s incarceration rate has doubled in the last 20 years and is nearly five times higher than Iran's, 13 times higher than China's and 20 times higher than Germany's.
One of the key drivers of Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate is the War On Drugs – 18,000 Louisiana residents are arrested for drug law violations each year.
According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Louisiana suffers from some of the worst racial disparities in marijuana enforcement of any state in the U.S. Black Louisianans are arrested for marijuana possession at three times the rate as their white counterparts, despite the fact that black and white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates.
One tragic case in Louisiana is that of Bernard Noble, a father of seven, who is serving 13 years behind bars after he was arrested for possessing two joints of marijuana. Noble had two prior minor drug offenses more than 10 years earlier and because of Louisiana’s habitual offender law, the “third strike” gave him a mandatory sentence of 13 years of hard labor behind bars.
“The opportunity for redemption is to be applauded and signals that a run-in with the law shouldn’t be a burden one carries her entire life," said Jee Park, deputy chief defender at Orleans Public Defenders. “Criminal penalties and the social and economic barriers they create are major hurdles for many families in Louisiana and need to be removed.”
According to a 2014 survey conducted by the ACLU, the majority of Louisianans are in favor of marijuana sentencing reform.
An August 2013 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that 56 percent of likely voters favor citing individuals for simple marijuana possession over arresting them. The same poll found that 64 percent said they are against strict penalties for repeat offenders.
"It's outrageous to punish marijuana possession so severely when a clear majority of Louisiana voters support reducing criminal penalties for it," said Cadore. "It's a relief to see that smart policymakers are starting to recognize this political reality."