Louisiana Senate Approves 'More Humane' Marijuana Possession Policy

By McCarton Ackerman 06/05/15

The legislation passed by an overwhelming margin and is on its way to the House.

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The number of states on the verge of significantly reducing their punishments for marijuana possession continues to climb. Less than a week after the Illinois Senate voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, the Louisiana Senate has approved a “more humane” possession policy.

The senate voted 27-12 on Monday to revamp the penalty system for anyone with less than 2.5 pounds of pot, and the measure will now go to the House for consideration. The current maximum penalties for possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds include a $500 fine and six months in jail for the first offense, a $2,500 fine and five years in prison for a second offense and a $5,000 fine and 20 years in prison for a third offense. Anything past the first offense is also classified as a felony.

Under the new measure, sponsored by J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans), the maximum penalty for possession would be reduced to eight years and would come at a fourth offense instead of a third. A second-chance provision for first-time offenders would also be added. This population could also apply to have their record expunged if they don’t receive another marijuana-related conviction within two years of the first offense.

However, a first offense is still punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine. The new measure also won’t change current penalties related to synthetic marijuana. Morrell also noted that even his toned-down policy is still harsh because most states don’t exceed one year of jail time in their maximum penalties for marijuana possession.

"There is a tremendous perception problem in Louisiana regarding the "'Cool Hand Luke' (approach) to incarceration," said Morrell.

Morrell proposed a similar bill last year, but it was rejected at a Senate committee hearing and dozens of sheriffs showed up to voice their opposition to his plans. However, they might be changing their tune since the new legislation could save the state $17 million over the next five years.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.