Louisiana House votes to decriminalize marijuana statewide

People found with 14 grams of marijuana would face $100 fine under the bill

By: - May 11, 2021 11:40 pm
Legislature names 4 to Louisiana Ethics Board

The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 68-25 to decriminalize the possession of modest amounts of marijuana across the state, removing the possibility of facing jail or prison time for people caught with 14 grams or fewer of the drug. 

The Louisiana Senate and Gov. John Bel Edwards would have to approve the legislation before it can become law, but getting the proposal out of the House is a significant landmark in the effort to destigmatize cannabis in Louisiana. 

Rep. Cedric Glover, a Black Democrat from Shreveport, sponsored House Bill 652, which received the backing of many conservative Republican lawmakers. Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, who once worked for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, voted for the proposal.

If approved, the bill would impose a fine of up to $100 on a person caught with 14 grams or fewer of marijuana, but eliminate the possibility of an arrest or incarceration — even for repeat offenses. Fourteen grams, Glover said, is the equivalent of 14 to 25 marijuana joints. 

The current penalties are significantly more severe. A person caught with 14 grams of marijuana can face a $300 fine and imprisonment for 15 days for the first offense. Penalties escalate significantly for repeat offenders — up to a maximum eight years of prison time for people arrested four times.

The legislation faced no significant opposition from law enforcement groups, like the powerful Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association or Louisiana District Attorneys Association. Proponents of the bill are hoping it leads to fewer drug arrests and smaller jail and prison populations across the state.

“We don’t need to be filling up our jails with misdemeanor offenses of marijuana,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, a Democrat from Baton Rouge. 

New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport have already voted to decriminalize marijuana within their borders, but this would expand the decriminalization policy to the bulk of Louisiana, where jail time is still on the table for people caught with small amounts of the drug.

Twenty-seven states and Washington D.C. have already voted to decriminalize marijuana possession, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Louisiana House is also expected to take a vote on whether to legalize marijuana — taxing and regulating the sale of the drug — later this week. That legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Richard Nelson, faces much more significant opposition. The sheriffs’ association, district attorneys group and Louisiana Republican Party have formally come out against the bill — and may be looking to Glover’s decriminalization bill as a compromise measure.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.