Voters In Conservative Louisiana Districts Support Legalizing Marijuana, Poll Shows With House Vote Scheduled
As Louisiana lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill to legalize marijuana on Tuesday, a new poll shows that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support the policy change.
The survey asked people in nine conservative districts—areas where former President Donald Trump won handily in the 2020 election—to weigh in on the reform proposal.
The strong support across the board a sign of the growing bipartisan nature of marijuana reform, but it’s also a timely finding that advocates say is important for Louisiana legislators to keep in mind as the House takes up legalization legislation this week.
Support for legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis ranged from 64 to 84 percent in the targeted districts, with opposition never exceeding the single digits. Most voters also said that possession should not be criminalized and recreational consumption should be legal.
Not only is the issue itself popular, but majorities of respondents also said they’d be more likely to support politicians who push to end prohibition.
The poll, which was conducted by JMC Analytics and commissioned by the conservative Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, focused on constituents in House districts 28, 47, 49, 52, 53, 70, 78, 84 and 94.
Two other recent surveys—including one personally commissioned by the Republican House speaker pro tem—also found that a majority of Louisiana voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.
“The most important takeaway is that despite the varying degrees of Republican affinity in these districts, support for liberalization of marijuana laws is uniformly strong in all nine districts,” JMC said of the most recent results.
A House floor vote on the legalization bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) has faced several delays requested by the sponsor himself as he has worked to build support from colleagues. But it is now scheduled for Tuesday, along with several other related bills to set tax rates and licensing fees for an adult-use market.
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.
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Nelson has been working 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.
At this stage, the sponsor says he puts the odds of the proposal passing at 50-50.
“I think that’s fair,” Nelson told WDSU. “It’s one of those things that you think you’re going to have the votes one day and then somebody’s sheriff calls them and tells them that the world’s going to end if they legalize marijuana so you lose that vote—but you pick up one other one whose son calls them and tells them, ‘hey this is the craziest thing that you guys still have this illegal.'”
Other bills scheduled to be taken up by the House on Tuesday include two additional, complementary measures from Nelson.
One would levy a 15 percent sales tax on cannabis products, in addition to state and local taxes. It would also divide tax revenue between the state general fund and the local local jurisdictions where sales take place. Another would impose a $2,500 annual fee for cannabis business licenses and a $100 annual fee for a personal cultivation permit.
But while advocates are closely following Nelson’s legalization bill, the legislature has been taking up a wide range of cannabis reform bills this session. Here’s a breakdown of where they stand:
HB 652: Decriminalize possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana, making it punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time. Status: The legislation cleared the House last week and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB 391: Allow medical marijuana patients to access smokable, whole-flower cannabis products. Status: The bill passed the House and one Senate committee this month, and is now awaiting a final vote on the Senate floor.
HB 514: Impose taxes on flower medical marijuana products if they are legalized. Status: The measure was approved in the House last month and also advanced through the Senate committee process. It is scheduled for a third reading for final passage in the chamber on Monday.
HB 243: Remove criminal penalties for marijuana if it is legalized. Status: This proposal cleared the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee last month and is awaiting scheduling for a House floor vote.
HB 709: Establish certain regulations for a marijuana market if legalized, including provisions meant to promote social equity in the industry. Status: The bill was approved on second reading in the House on Monday as a substitute for a prior measure that advanced out of committee.
HB 640: Align Louisiana’s hemp regulations with federal rules that were finalized and took effect in March. Status: The House approved the measure last week and its now been referred to the Senate Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee.
HB 567: Repeal a current law that requires illicit cannabis sellers to purchase tax stamps for their products. Status: The bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee last week and is scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday.
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.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.