State legislators cautious on marijuana reform

State legislators cautious on marijuana reform

State legislators cautious on marijuana reform

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 20, 2014 at 12:17 PM

John Harper / Houma Courier

BATON ROUGE, La. -- While public support for marijuana legalization has swelled — a poll released last September by the American Civil Liberties Union found over half of Louisiana voters in support of legalizing and taxing the drug — legislators remain cautious.

While legalization appears off the table, many lawmakers have expressed an openness to reconsidering some of the penalties associated with the drug.

Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, said he’s gotten more correspondence this legislative session than he has in his six years as a representative.

“I’ve got a whole bunch of marijuana emails,” Gisclair said. “Probably 95 percent of the letters I have received have been for marijuana.”

Despite the outpouring, Gisclair said he remains cautious about the long-term effects the drug may have.

“My position right now would just be against it until I see more scientific proof,” Gisclair said. “My concerns are the long-term effects on the brain, on the person. I’ve known some guys who have probably smoked it all their lives. ... I’m not going to say they’re normal, in their mannerisms and behavioral habits.”

Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said he would not vote to legalize the drug until federal law is changed.

“I still don’t understand how Colorado can be going against something that the federal government said is illegal,” Harrison said. “The feds are supposed to be the lead on this. Once the FDA approves marijuana for medical use, then I will take a look at it.”

Harrison and Gisclair did say they were open to considering changes in the law.

“I would be in favor of backing off some of the jail terms that we have, sentencing guidelines that we have as far as simple possession,” Gisclair said. “I do have a problem with people who get caught for distribution.”

Readers flocked to deliver a variety of viewpoints about the legislation on The Courier and Daily Comet’s Facebook pages.

“We have enough drug problems in Terrebonne Parish,” wrote Marion Rayne Meador of Houma. “Does anyone realize sooner than later, these will want harder drugs?”

Some touted the idea that the state misses out on revenue that could be generated by heavily taxing the drug.

“If your underage children can manage to find someone to get them a bottle of vodka, they can already manage to find someone to get them weed illegally just as easy,” wrote Scott Martin of Thibodaux. “The money just goes to drug cartels instead of state taxes where we could use the money to improve our schools.”

Louisiana maintains some of the strictest marijuana laws in the nation, with prison sentences for simple possession extending up to 20 years.

Louisiana already has a law that allows physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from glaucoma or spastic quadriplegia, but there are no protections for these doctors or patients from prosecution.

Two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized the possession and use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. While marijuana remains a top-tier controlled substance under federal law, the Obama administration has loosened federal enforcement through the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, allowing states to enforce their own laws.

The nation has been watching the impact of states that have already legalized marijuana sale and distribution. Results have been mixed, with Colorado still debating how to spend its marijuana tax revenue and law enforcement officials monitoring closely to determine how their expenses might be affected.

Marijuana is expected to generate $154 million in Colorado tax revenue in 2015, according to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office. Early revenue figures for this year, however, have come in far below the rates necessary to meet the governor’s $54 million estimate for the current year.

Gisclair said he thinks there are more responsible ways to raise money.

“Why don’t we tax foreign oil that is coming into this state untaxed whatsoever?” Gisclair said. “Far too long we have been the stepchild for the nation for processing foreign oil, bringing it into the state and obviously feeding it to the rest of the nation, and we are not taxing that oil.”

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre also opposes marijuana legalization, though he supports reviewing some of the state’s penalties. Webre said his department is concerned about the community’s exposure to the drug in the form of intoxicated drivers and increased prevalence of marijuana in proximity to children.

“When you are impaired, it creates a public safety threat to the people around you,” Webre said. “To the extent that we open that door, a whole multitude of problems could lead to public safety threats. We’ve spent 50 years trying to discourage the smoking of legal tobacco. Smoking another type of substance creates its own health risk.”

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre also opposes marijuana legalization, although he supports reviewing some of the state's penalties. Webre said his department is concerned about the community's exposure to the drug in the form of intoxicated drivers and increased prevalence of marijuana in proximity to children.

“When you are impaired, it creates a public safety threat to the people around you,” Webre said. “To the extent that we open that door, a whole multitude of problems could lead to public safety threats. We've spent 50 years trying to discourage the smoking of legal tobacco. Smoking another type of substance creates its own health risk.”

The Denver Police Department has reported that violent crime in the city has fallen slightly in the first three months of this year compared to last year when marijuana possession was still illegal for the majority of Colorado adults.

Louisiana, meanwhile, maintains some of the strictest marijuana laws in the nation, with prison sentences for simple possession extending up to 20 years.

Louisiana has a law that actually allows physicians to prescribe marijuana for patients suffering from glaucoma or spastic quadriplegia, but there are no protections for these doctors or patients from prosecution.

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