The governor of Louisiana says recreational marijuana legalization will likely happen in his state—but he doesn’t feel lawmakers will reach a consensus on the issue while he’s still in office.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who signed legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession a day earlier, said during a monthly radio appearance on Wednesday that a stalled broader legalization bill led by Republican sponsor this session “actually got more traction with it than most people thought.”
He also said he thinks “there’s a growing recognition that this is going to happen in Louisiana one day,” though he and law enforcement agencies would hope to avoid the “mistakes” that other legal states have made in implementing the policy change.
Listen to the governor discuss marijuana, starting around 4:40 and 14:35 into the audio below:
The effort in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize recreational cannabis stalled in the House this session after the chamber failed to pass a complementary measure on taxing adult-use marijuana. Edwards also said last month that he believes the reform “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”
Despite the acknowledgement that legalization is likely to happen in Louisiana in the future, Edwards said on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect that to occur in the immediate future.
“It’s on the march, and that certainly might happen here in Louisiana,” he said. However “I would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor.” (Edwards is term-limited and cannot run again in 2023’s upcoming gubernatorial election.)
But in the meantime, the governor did sign legislation to decriminalize low-level possession of cannabis—even if he disagrees with that characterization.
The bill would make possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time, which fits advocates’ definition of decriminalization. Even so, he pushed back on that definition in his signing statement and during Wednesday’s interview.
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“I think the headline is a little misleading—and that’s the way the press has treated this bill throughout,” he said. “It remains illegal to be in possession of even small amounts of marijuana.”
“It remains illegal—but not to arrest, but you’ll be issued a summons much like the traffic citation,” he said. “That’s the way this is going to work. And that really is the way this is developing across the country.”
“If you’ll notice, it was supported by bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate,” he continued. “I think it just indicates that there’s a change in thinking, and I think it’s an extension of criminal justice reform as well. I don’t believe we need people with small amounts of marijuana being held in jails and prisons at great cost to the taxpayer.”
Louisiana lawmakers also sent Edwards a separate bill this month to let patients in the state’s medical cannabis program legally smoke whole-plant marijuana flower. He hasn’t weighed in on that proposal yet, but he’s previously cited it as an example of the type of incremental reform he expected to advance.
In April, Edwards, who has historically expressed his opposition to ending prohibition, also said that he had “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.
Last year, the Louisiana 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.
The developments on various cannabis-related legislation come after recent polling showed that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.
Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.