The Louisiana House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, while a committee advanced separate legislation to impose taxes on cannabis sales if the state ends up enacting broader legalization.
Meanwhile, a measure to legalize marijuana sales is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday after being delayed from earlier consideration while the sponsor has worked to build support.
Tuesday’s action on the narrower decriminalization bill is the latest example of marijuana reform advancing in the traditionally conservative legislature this session.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Cedric Glover (D), has gone through several changes since its introduction.
Originally it would have made it so possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis punishable by a $50 fine and no jail time. And while it was gutted in committee last week to maintain a penalty of $300 and/or 15 days in jail, a floor amendment was approved on Tuesday that again removed the threat of incarceration and set the fine at $100.
Members approved the revised bill in a 67-25 vote.
“This bill is about common ground,” Glover said prior to the vote. “You know there are all different iterations of us in here today, black, white, male, female, big, small, conservative, progressive—and many of us who may not agree on as much as 90 plus percent of any given topic, especially when it comes to something as controversial as marijuana.”
“The possession of a small amount of marijuana should no longer result in two things,” he said. “One is setting out a result, and a path, that leads you to becoming a convicted felon. And neither should it set you on a path to go to prison.”
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In the House Ways and Means Committee, legislation to impose taxes on cannabis sales if Louisiana ends prohibition passed by a voice vote.
As amended by the committee, adults would pay a 15 percent sales tax on cannabis products, in addition to state and local taxes. The resulting revenues would be split between the state general fund and the local local jurisdictions where sales take place, with a chunk of the latter going to support law enforcement. The panel also advanced separate legislation to repeal a current law that requires illicit cannabis sellers to purchase tax stamps for their products. It would only take effect if legalization passes.
Meanwhile, the House approved a bill from Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) on Monday that is meant to align Louisiana’s hemp program with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for the crop that were finalized and took effect in March.
Additionally, a Senate committee advanced a bill on Monday that would impose taxes on raw marijuana flower if those smokeable products are legalized for medical use under another measure that cleared the House last week.
Advocates are closely monitoring each of these developments, but the adult-use legalization bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) is receiving the most attention.
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.
The measure has twice been rescheduled for House floor action at the request of Nelson, who has worked on amendments intended to increase support in what is expected to be a close vote. One proposal that has been posted would remove the home cultivation provisions to address concerns that have been raised by law enforcement.
A separate measure from Nelson that the chamber is set to consider this week would establish a $2,500 annual fee for cannabis business licenses and a $100 annual fee for a personal cultivation permit.
There is an additional decriminalization bill moving through the legislature as well.
That legislation, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell (D), would simply remove the existing criminal penalties for possession, distribution and dispensing of cannabis “if the legislature provides for a statutory regulatory system for the legal sale and distribution of marijuana and establishes a sales tax on those sales.”
When it comes to broader legalization, while advocates have generally expected resistance from the governor, who has repeatedly expressed opposition to the reform, he did say last month that he has “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.
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.
As state lawmakers have continued to advance these marijuana reform bills, two recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—show that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.