ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — Support for the legalization of marijuana is growing in Louisiana and next year, Louisiana voters may decide if it should be legal.
A bill would decriminalize marijuana across the state and allow the legal sale of marijuana in some parishes. The bill's author is a Northshore republican.
"I brought it because when I was knocking on doors for my election in 2019, it surprised me how many people just in my very conservative district supported legalization," said State Representative Richard Nelson (R) of Mandeville.
Nelson is proposing House Bill 524. If approved, possession of marijuana would be decriminalized across the state.
"I'm not really the stereotypical person to author these bills. I'm a conservative in a conservative district, but I'm also an engineer so I can look at the data and look at the numbers," Nelson said.
HB 524 would allow marijuana to only be grown and sold in parishes that vote in favor of the bill.
"So it's similar to the dry county concept for alcohol," Nelson explained.
If it makes it to the ballot, data shows voters are in favor. Nearly 1,200 Louisiana voters participated in a recent survey by JMC Analytics. More than two thirds of responders favored legalizing both medicinal and recreational marijuana. That's up from about half last year.
"If it gets on the ballot, I think it will pass state wide," said Political Analyst Clancy DuBos.
With growing support, DuBos believes the biggest hurdle isn't votes, it's pushing the bill through the statehouse. He expects opposition from law enforcement.
"The voters are with him, but it's a question if the sheriffs and district attorneys want to get on board," DuBos said.
Nelson estimates tax from legal marijuana would bring in a billion dollars to the state over the first five years. He filed another bill that would split that tax money between local municipalities and the state with 20 percent to law enforcement
"Fix your roads if you want to fix your roads, fix your schools," Nelson said.
If Nelson's bill makes it to the ballot, he said voters would decide at the next statewide election which is currently scheduled for November 2022.
Another bill to decriminalize marijuana was filed by State Representative Candace Newell (D) of New Orleans. Tuesday, New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno filed a resolution backing that bill.