Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Hear the latest from the WRKF/WWNO Newsroom.

Louisiana Legislature To Consider Easing Marijuana Penalties

Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service
File photo: Representative Ted James (D-Baton Rouge)

The Legislature has already shown a willingness to expand medical marijuana use in Louisiana.

But other bills up for consideration this session will show exactly what kind of threshold the Legislature has for loosening marijuana restrictions in the state.

"What we’re trying to do is stop allowing the jails to be filled with first-time marijuana offenders — even second time, especially for small, recreational use of marijuana," said Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge).

A bill by James would make possessing less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense — not criminal, punishable by a fine, but not jail time.

"I think it will help us save costs in our criminal justice system. I think it will help us raise significant revenues, and it will cure a problem of crime that has plagued too many of our communities," said James.

Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) is willing to take it even further. Right now, he has a bill that would decriminalize possession and distribution of marijuana. But he plans to introduce an amendment that would let voters in Louisiana decide whether or not marijuana should be legalized.

“If you had under a certain amount, it would be legal," Jordan said. "There would be no criminal penalty, there would be no civil fine.”

But first, these bills would have to get through the Legislature, where James says they’re likely to face a significant uphill battle. "We know that the tide is changing, especially with medical," he said. "You know, it may be a little bit much for some of my colleagues to deal with medical and recreational all in the same session."

One reason James says lawmakers should support decriminalizing — it would save the state money. According to the Louisiana Public Defender’s Board, state and local money was used to defend over 10,000 cases for marijuana possession or distribution last year.