As of August 1st, Louisiana cops will no longer be allowed to throw people in jail for possessing small quantities of weed.
This Tuesday, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill to decriminalize the possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis. Under the state's existing prohibition law, anyone caught with this amount of pot can be jailed for up to 15 days and fined up to $300. When the new law takes effect this August, this penalty will be reduced to a maximum fine of $100, with no possibility of jail time.
“This is a much needed policy change for Louisiana,” said NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf in a statement. “The passage of this legislation is great progress toward ending the racially discriminatory policy of branding otherwise law-abiding Louisianans as criminals for minor marijuana possession offenses when law enforcement should instead be focusing on fighting legitimate crime.”
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Gov. Edwards said in a press release. “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.”
The governor also wrote that the new law does not actually “decriminalize” cannabis, as offenders will still be forced to pay fines if they are caught with weed. This law does fall under most reform advocates' definition of legalization, though, because police can no longer put people in prison for these minor offenses.
“This measure passed Louisiana’s Legislature with bipartisan support following a robust discussion of the toll of over incarceration on our people and our state,” Edwards said. “Taking this action is another step forward for Louisiana’s criminal justice reform efforts.”
The state legislature also just passed another bill that would allow any registered medical marijuana patient to legally smoke whole-plant flower. Edwards has not yet indicated if he will sign the bill, but he did approve a major expansion to the state's medical marijuana program last year, so he might just be down with this one as well.
Earlier this year, a Republican state lawmaker actually proposed a full adult-use legalization bill, but it was quickly shot down in the state House. Governor Edwards has long said that he would oppose any legislative effort to fully legalize weed, but in recent months, his opinion has started to shift. In a recent radio interview, the governor said that he thinks that the Pelican State will eventually legalize cannabis, but not before his term limit runs out in 2023.
“There’s a growing recognition that this is going to happen in Louisiana one day,” the governor said in a recent radio appearance, Marijuana Moment reports. “It’s on the march, and that certainly might happen here in Louisiana.” But even so, Edwards said, “he would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor.”