BATON ROUGE, La. — A bill reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in Louisiana was signed into law Tuesday, removing the possibility of jail time for minor possession charges.
House Bill 652, put forward by Rep. Cedric Glover (D-Shreveport), limits fines to $100 and a misdemeanor summons for possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana, regardless of how many times the person has been cited.
Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed back in a statement on the bill's signing against the idea that he was decriminalizing marijuana, which he has said he does not support legalizing.
Instead, he focused on the bill's effect on the criminal justice system. Under previous Louisiana law, marijuana-related arrests could lead to a $300 fine and 15 days in jail for first-time offenders.
Advocates say this bill will ease that burden on the criminal justice system.
"This is not a decision I took lightly," Edwards said. "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."
After years where similar ideas stalled, this session's debate shows just how much opposition to marijuana has eased — particularly among younger, newer legislators. This year's proposal passed with bipartisan support.
It comes only six years after lawmakers created a framework for dispensing medical marijuana, a program the majority-Republican Legislature has expanded nearly every year since then. This session, lawmakers agreed to broaden the therapeutic cannabis program to allow patients to use raw, smokable marijuana, an idea considered unthinkable when the medical program was created.
Baton Rouge and New Orleans have already passed ordinances decriminalizing small-amount possession in those cities. In New Orleans, officials are looking at the possibility of pardoning people convicted of some marijuana-based offenses.
Law enforcement groups, who have in the past led efforts to kill bills lowering marijuana restrictions, remained neutral about the decriminalization bill.