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Louisiana House passes a marijuana decriminalization bill



LOUISIANA – Louisiana State Representatives have passed a measure that would make possessing 14 grams of marijuana or less a misdemeanor. Taking away the possibility of jail time and reducing the maximum penalty to a $100 fine.

A 67-25 vote Tuesday in the Louisiana House marks a momentous step in the state’s effort to loosen restrictions on marijuana use. If approved by the Senate and Governor, jail time could be eliminated for people caught with 14 grams or less of the drug.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Stephen Dwight, a former Republican State Representative, says he once strongly opposed legislation aimed at easing marijuana penalties. But now, he says times are changing.

“Our office is already kind of doing this,” says Dwight. “We’re not asking the courts to put anyone in jail for first offense marijuana charges anyway. So, we’re taking the lesser of the penalties already, asking for time served or just fine and court costs and not jail time on first offense marijuana.”

Those who enforce the law believe the proposal is a slippery slope.

“As part of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, I as well as most other Sheriff’s in the state if not all – we’re totally against the legalization of marijuana. And I think decriminalization is kind of a first step to that,” says Beauregard Parish Sheriff Mark Herford.

Sheriff Herford says he wouldn’t be opposed to more education in the matter.

“I am in favor of doing a study on it. To see if we can learn from some of the mistakes of other states who have put it into place,” says Sheriff Herford.

Some local defense attorneys say studies may be a delay tactic.

“This can still be punishable, it’s just hitting somebody in the pocketbook rather than putting them behind bars,” says Michael Antoon, defense attorney. “This is not wide-open legalization. It is still punishable but more reasonably.”

Polls have found an overwhelming 2/3 of Louisiana voters want the bill passed. Some push back is still coming from voters who say the state needs more time before lawmakers hastily pass legislation.

“Well, I don’t know about going to jail, but I just think it’s a bad idea all the way around,” says resident Dwayne Breaux.

Some voters say it’s a great way to sift out minor offenders from the more serious ones.

“A lot of people who are in jail right now are probably in there for small, petty crimes like marijuana,” says Tammy Davis, resident.

Others are in support but don’t believe the Senate will be.

“Honestly, I don’t think so. I think Louisiana would be the last state, just because we are in the South; and politics in the South, they tend to think differently,” says resident Cody Quinn.

The next step for the bill is to head to the Senate Committee for debate.