A key Louisiana Senate committee has approved a House-passed bill to streamline expungements for people with first-time marijuana possession convictions.
About a week after the House passed the legislation from Rep. Delisha Boyd (D), the Senate Judiciary C Committee advanced it with a favorable report in a voice vote on Wednesday, sending it to the floor before potentially being sent to the governor’s desk.
The measure makes it so people who are convicted of possessing up to 14 grams of cannabis as a first offense can petition the courts to wipe their record after 90 days from the time of the conviction.
That would significantly speed up the timeline for relief, as current law maintains that people must wait at least five years before petitioning for expungement of certain records.
Boyd told senators at the committee meeting that her legislation is focused on “reducing the fees as well as streamlining the process” for people seeking cannabis expungements and that she has worked with stakeholders such as district attorneys and sheriffs on crafting the bill’s language.
Watch the Senate committee discuss the cannabis expungements proposal, starting at 2:00:23 into the video below:
The bill was previously amended in a House committee to specify that eligible misdemeanor marijuana possession cases cannot involve more than 14 grams. An original provision was also removed that would have waived court processing fees for first-time cannabis expungements.
Now the measure sets a $300 cap on fees for the record clearing.
“The clerk shall immediately direct the collected processing fees provided…to the sheriff and the district attorney, and the processing fee amount shall be remitted immediately upon receipt in equal proportions to the office of the district attorney and the sheriff’s general fund,” the bill text says.
Further, the legislation includes a template for a motion to expunge that people can fill out and submit to the court of jurisdiction.
“Expungements are a critical part of rectifying the harms of cannabis prohibition,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “The inequitable enforcement of prohibition has unfairly targeted people of color and the poor. This is a huge step forward for cannabis policy reform in Louisiana.”
“Without an expungement, a person arrested for cannabis possession can lose the ability to get student loans, housing and employment opportunities and professional licenses,” he added. “This legislation will give first-time offenders an opportunity for a better life. We are glad to see such strong bipartisan support for this legislation, even from organizations that have traditionally been opposed to cannabis policy reform. We certainly hope that the support continues to the Senate floor and makes it to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards.”
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While marijuana legalization has stalled in the Louisiana legislature, lawmakers have taken several steps to reform cannabis laws and build on the state’s medical marijuana program in recent sessions.
For example, a bill recently cleared a House committee that would ensure that people remain eligible for unemployment benefits if they’re registered medical cannabis patients.
Legislators separately defeated a measure in committee that would have repealed a rarely used tax on illegal marijuana sales.
A Louisiana legislative task force approved rules late last year providing worker protections for medical cannabis patients.
Also, regulators last year decided to temporarily continue to allow doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations via telemedicine.
Last session, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) 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.
Nearly six in ten Louisiana voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a poll from the University of New Orleans that was released last year.
While legalization has yet to be enacted in the Pelican State, Edwards did sign a bill in 2021 to decriminalize possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis by making it punishable by a $100 fine without jail time.
Edwards also signed a bill in 2021 to allow patients in the state’s medical cannabis program legally to smoke whole-plant marijuana flower.
The governor also previously said that he does think that Louisiana will inevitably legalize cannabis for adult use at some point, but he doesn’t believe it will happen before his term expires in 2024.