Louisiana lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state as well as a separate decriminalization proposal in committee votes, with additional cannabis reform proposals slated for consideration on Thursday.
Following debate, the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee advanced the legalization legislation in a 7-5 vote and the decriminalization bill with a 6-5 tally. They now head to the full chamber.
The broader proposal 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.
Watch the committee discuss and vote on marijuana legalization, about 1:11:00 into the video below:
As originally introduced, the bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) would have placed the question of legalization before voters in November 2022 and then decriminalized possession if it was approved. The sponsor introduced a substitute version that excluded the referendum component, and members of the panel adopted the amended measure before voting to pass it.
The latest iteration also includes a new provision that gives local jurisdictions the ability to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses in their area.
“There’s a proverb that says ‘no matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, turn back,'” Nelson said in his opening remarks. “That, I think, sums up our marijuana policy in a nutshell. We’ve basically relied on prohibition for the last 70 years, and I think that now it’s time that we reevaluate where we are.”
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There was significant discussion in committee 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.
The bill does not lay out a tax structure for the regulated cannabis market, but complementary legislation that’s also sponsored by Nelson would fill in that gap. It’s been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it will receive a hearing on Thursday.
One member of the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee introduced an amendment at Tuesday’s hearing that would’ve made it so the legalization bill would only be implemented if the separate tax legislation passed, but that was defeated in a tie vote.
The separate bill to decriminalize cannabis possession and distribution that advanced would be contingent on the legislature approving a proposal to regulate sales in order to take effect.
The House Agriculture Committee will consider an additional marijuana legalization proposal on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a bill to allow medical marijuana patients in Louisiana to access raw cannabis flower cleared a key House committee on 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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.