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Louisiana Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Let Him Pardon Past Marijuana Convictions



The governor of Louisiana has vetoed a bill that would have allowed him and future governors to issue pardons for people with past marijuana convictions.

Gov. Jeff Landry (R) rejected the legislation on Wednesday, about a month after it was approved by the legislature.

The governor said the bill “appears to be an attempt to have Louisiana accept President Biden’s invitation to the states to join his soft-on-crime, no-consequences-for-criminals agenda.”

“On behalf of Louisiana and her great people, I decline such an invitation and will continue to fight to strengthen our criminal justice system and the rule of law in Louisiana,” Landry wrote in his veto message.

President Joe Biden has issued two rounds of mass pardons for federal marijuana possession offenses and called on governors to grant cannabis clemency at the state level. Earlier this week, for example, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) issued more than 175,000 pardons for marijuana and paraphernalia convictions.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen what the Louisiana governor will do with separate proposals to decriminalize cannabis paraphernalia and regulate hemp products that have also been sent to his desk.

The pardon bill from Rep. Delisha Boyd (D) would have made people convicted of cannabis possession eligible for a gubernatorial pardon after paying all court costs associated with the offense, without the need for a recommendation from the Board of Pardons.

Individuals could have only received a pardon for their first possession offense, and anyone “who received such pardon shall not be entitled to receive another pardon by the governor pursuant to this Section,” the legislation says.

Boyd told Marijuana Moment that the governor’s veto “represents a missed opportunity to give citizens a second chance by allowing the governor to provide pardons or parole for certain marijuana convictions.”

“This legislation could have offered a pathway for individuals to overcome the consequences of past convictions, promoting fairness and equity in the criminal justice system,” she said. “The decision underscores the complexities of the ongoing need for more compassionate and progressive approaches to addressing past offenses. It was not intended to take a soft on crime approach but a second chance for those that have served their time.”

The governor also argued in his veto message that the legislation “explicitly violates” a Louisiana Constitution provision saying that a Board of Pardons recommendation is required before a governor can consider granting clemency.

“Moreover, House Bill 391 is simply unnecessary as the Louisiana Constitution already provides for an automatic pardon for a first-time nonviolent offense,” he said.

Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said his organization is “saddened” by the governor’s veto of the bill.

“This legislation would have granted him the authority to pardon tens of thousands Louisianans who have a cannabis conviction on their records,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email. “This is a missed opportunity to help everyday citizens better their lives and economic opportunities.”

“This legislation was always about improving opportunities,” Caldwell added. “The strong bipartisan support this legislation achieved is a testament to the level of support sensible cannabis policy has in Louisiana.”

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano also criticized Landry’s move to block the measure from taking effect.

“Governors and lawmakers around the country are taking steps to right the past wrongs of cannabis criminalization,” he said. “This includes efforts to end the stigma associated with past marijuana convictions and to provide millions of Americans with a fresh start. It’s a shame to see Louisiana’s governor taking the state in a different direction.”

Meanwhile, the governor still has several other cannabis bills pending action.

One of the proposals, also sponsored by Boyd, would limit the penalty for the possession, sale and use of marijuana paraphernalia to a $100 fine. Under existing law, cannabis paraphernalia carries a penalty of up to $300 and 15 days behind bars on the first offense, which increases on later offenses.

A second conviction carries up to a $1,000 fine and imprisonment of not more than six months, while third and subsequent convictions carry fines of up to $2,500 and imprisonment “with or without hard labor” for up to two years.

Also, the governor will decide on legislation that would enact regulations for hemp products. As introduced, it would have imposed an outright ban, but it was amended to tighten regulations, including by lowering the amount of THC that can be in consumable hemp products and prevent them from being sold at gas stations.

Last month, the governor signed a separate bill to transfer medical marijuana cultivation duties in the state from Louisiana State University and Southern University to private contractors.

The latest developments follow a decision by House lawmakers last month to scuttle legislation that would have laid out a regulatory framework for legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state, with members voting 57–37 against the proposal from Rep. Candace Newell (D).

That measure, HB 978, would not have legalized cannabis itself but instead would have begun establishing a regulatory system that would take effect if either the state or the federal government later legalized marijuana for adults.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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As it stands in Louisiana, possession of up to 14 grams (or half an ounce) of marijuana is decriminalized, punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time.

Last year, former Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) also signed into law a measure that was designed to streamline expungements for people with first-time marijuana possession convictions.

Seven in 10 Louisianans support legalizing recreational marijuana possession for adults—and nine in 10 back medical cannabis legalization—according to a survey released last year.

While marijuana legalization has stalled in the Louisiana legislature, there have been efforts to end prohibition and tax cannabis sales that have moved without being enacted.

For example, a comprehensive legalization measure and complementary cannabis tax bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) advanced through committee before the tax proposal was rejected on the House floor in 2021, torpedoing the broader measure’s chances.

Lawmakers have also taken several steps to reform other cannabis laws and build on the state’s medical marijuana program in recent sessions.

In 2022, for example, the former governor signed a slew of marijuana reform bills, including one key measure that would expand the number of medical dispensaries that can operate in the state and another to prevent police from searching people’s homes over the smell of cannabis.

Read the governor’s veto message below:

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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