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How does Biden's marijuana pardon announcement impact Louisiana?

How is the state affected by the President's recent announcement?

LOUISIANA, USA — On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced he will pardon thousands of Americans convicted of "simple possession" of marijuana under federal law. 

Biden also called on governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offenses. 

At an event Friday morning, Governor John Bel Edwards said that Biden's move was the right thing to do. 

However, the Governor didn't say he would issue similar pardons for those convicted of state offenses. 

"I do not have plenary authority to grant a pardon," Edwards said. "So if someone wants a pardon in Louisiana, and this was a matter of the constitution, they have to apply to the pardon board for the clemency."

Executive Director of the Louisiana Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole, Francis Abbott, told WWL-TV that individuals seeking a pardon must submit an application to the board. 

"This application is administratively reviewed for eligibility and then a hearing is granted. Next the applicant must advertise his request in the local journal of record," Abbott said. "We then open an investigation and seek out public comments. We are also required by law to notify district attorneys and all law enforcement agencies involved in the conviction. Once the invest is complete we schedule a hearing at which time the Board may deny or make a recommendation to the Governor for relief."

According to Abbott, a blanket pardon like Biden's would need to first become legal under Louisiana law, and that would take a move from the legislature. 

Before going to Congress, U.S. Representative Troy Carter served in the legislature. He thinks the law needs to change on both the state and federal levels. 

"As you know in Louisiana we have medical cannabis that's available. We have flower that's available. I suspect that recreational will be not too far behind," Carter said. 

Some local attorneys told WWL-TV there could be a workaround way the pardon board could give a mass recommendation to the Governor, allowing Edwards to follow Biden's lead. 

In the meantime, the New Orleans City Council adopted an ordinance last year that allowed people to smoke cannabis in public spaces, receiving a ticket for violating the "Smoke-Free Air Act" rather than a drug summons. 

Catherine Rieder, Orleans Public Defenders municipal and magistrate court supervising attorney, said they've noticed a difference since it was implemented. 

"We have seen a decrease in municipal marijuana charges coming through municipal court," Reider said. 

The ordinance also aimed to pardon thousands already convicted or facing minor cannabis possession charges. 

"We still have thousands of citizens that are being impacted by possession of marijuana charges," Reider said, "This is an impediment to work, to housing, to jobs. This is not something that needs to be following people around."

With the overwhelming majority of marijuana convictions being state and municipal offenses, the Orleans Public Defenders Office wants to see more done on the local level. 

"If we're really going to tackle the problem of those racial disparities and the inequities of the war on drugs, we need to go beyond the work on the federal level but also tackle that work on the state and local level," Daniel Engelberg, Deputy Chief Defender said. 

WWL-TV reached out to the Louisiana Sheriff's Association, who has been against the decriminalization of marijuana in the past, on Friday but was told they were unavailable for comment until next week. 

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