The governor of Louisiana on Tuesday signed a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) said in a statement. “In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly.”
Gov. Edwards released the following statement today, upon signing House Bill 652 by Representative Cedric Glover, which reduces the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. #lagov #lalege pic.twitter.com/HqjoBa0WZv
— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) June 15, 2021
That said, he challenged the “narrative” that the legislation actually decriminalizes low-level cannabis possession, emphasizing that possessing up to 14 grams of marijuana does carry a $100 fine under the bill.
But replacing the threat of incarceration with a modest fine does fit the definition of decriminalization used by reform advocates.
“This measure passed Louisiana’s Legislature with bipartisan support following a robust discussion of the toll of over incarceration on our people and our state,” Edwards said. “Taking this action is another step forward for Louisiana’s criminal justice reform efforts.”
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.
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There was an effort in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis this session, but it stalled in the House after the chamber failed to pass a complementary measure on taxing recreational marijuana. Edwards did say last month that he believes the reform “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”
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.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.