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Louisiana Governor Says He Has ‘Great Interest’ In Marijuana Legalization Bill Advancing In Legislature

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The governor of Louisiana said on Tuesday that he has “great interest” in a marijuana legalization bill that advanced out of a House committee hours earlier—a notable departure from his typical dismissive response to questions about the policy change.

While Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) isn’t endorsing the legislation at this point, he stressed he would closely look at its provisions if it arrives on his desk. Historically, when asked about adult-use legalization, he has tended to flatly express opposition. But this time, as lawmakers in the Republican-led legislature are advancing the reform, the Democratic governor seemed to leave the door open to potentially embracing it.

“As I almost always do, I will take a look at the bill as it arrives on my desk and see what it contains and what amendments have been added to it,” the governor said. “I’m not going to speculate now on that, but I do have great interest in that bill and what it says, especially if it does make it up to the fourth floor. I’ll take a look at it at that point and then make sure that you all know exactly how I feel about it.”

It remains to be seen if the legalization bill, which cleared the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the floor, will make it to Edwards’s desk. But its passage through one panel so far, along with a separate decriminalization proposal, signals that reform does stand a chance in the traditionally conservative legislature this session.

Edwards has been an anomaly among Democratic governors in his steadfast opposition to legalization. He’s signed legislation to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and support the hemp industry, but he’s consistently drawn the line there.

“I’m just not in favor of legalizing marijuana,” he said in November 2018, adding that he would like to see how other states have fared after regulating cannabis.

“I’m just not comfortable” with legalization, he also said that year.

At one point when asked about legalization, the governor simply pointed out that Louisiana was no longer the state that incarcerates the most people per capita.

Reporters pointed out that Edwards’s stated opposition to legalization became a monthly tradition on a radio show where people could call in and ask him questions.

That’s what makes Tuesday’s new comments stand out. Given the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to the reform proposal, he instead insisted that he’d give it real consideration.

The legislation he was asked about is being sponsored by Rep. Richard Nelson (R). It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retailers. Possession of up to two and a half pounds of cannabis would be lawful. Regulators would be tasked with creating a permit for adults to grow up to six plants for personal use.

During Tuesday’s committee hearing, there was significant discussion among lawmakers dedicated to polling that shows Louisiana voters strongly support legalizing marijuana, as well as the seeming inevitability of the policy change taking place given the spread of the state-level reform movement across the country.

Nelson’s bill does not lay out a tax structure for the regulated cannabis market, but complementary legislation that he’s also sponsoring would fill in that gap. It’s been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it will receive a hearing on Thursday.

The House Agriculture Committee will also consider an additional marijuana legalization proposal that day.

Meanwhile, a bill to allow medical marijuana patients in Louisiana to access raw cannabis flower cleared a key House committee last week. The full chamber also recently approved complementary legislation on taxing those products if they are legalized.

The legislation would amend the state’s existing medical cannabis law to make it so physicians may recommend raw marijuana products intended for inhalation. Dispensaries could sell up to two and a half ounces of flower cannabis to each patient in a 14-day period.

Last year, the legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Edwards signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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