On August 1st, Louisiana became the 32nd US state to decriminalize or legalize minor cannabis possession.
The Pelican State's new decriminalization law reduces the penalty for possession of up to 14 grams of weed to a simple $100 fine, with no threat of jail time. And unlike other states that impose additional penalties for repeat offenders, the new law applies no matter how many times a person is busted. Under the previous law, anyone caught with a small amount of weed could be fined up to $300 and jailed for up to 15 days.
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards when he signed the bill into law this June. “In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly.”
Although Louisianians can no longer be locked behind bars for a single joint, anyone caught selling weed or possessing over 14 grams can still face extreme fines and prison time. To help clarify the new rules, state Rep. Cedric Glover (D) has partnered with advocacy group Louisiana Progress to create an awareness program educating the public about the new law.
“Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” said Peter Robins-Brown, policy & advocacy director of Louisiana Progress, in a statement. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”
The group has created a FAQ page explaining the intricacies of the new law. The document cautions that cops can still arrest someone for distribution if they discover weed that is individually packaged for resale – even if the total amount of pot is less than 14 grams. To avoid getting arrested, Louisianans should ensure that all of their personal-use weed is in one container, not spread out across several baggies.
“When I saw two city council members in my hometown of Shreveport—one conservative and one progressive—come together to decriminalize personal-use marijuana possession there, I knew it was time to take this reform to the state level,” said Glover in a press release. “Criminalizing marijuana possession is harmful to the people of Louisiana in so many ways, but it’s been particularly harmful for Black and Brown communities, lower-income folks, and young people. My fervent hope is that this new law will finally bring some relief and a feeling of freedom to those communities.”
Full adult-use legalization doesn't seem to be in the cards for the immediate future, but strong bipartisan support suggests that the Pelican State will eventually put an end to prohibition. Earlier this year, a Republican lawmaker advanced an adult-use legalization bill, but it was voted down by the state House.
Back in May, Gov. Edwards said he believes that Louisiana will “eventually” legalize weed, but added that he “would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor,” Marijuana Moment reports. In addition to the decriminalization bill, Edwards also signed a bill that makes it legal for medical marijuana patients to legally smoke whole-plant flower.