Marijuana decriminalization took effect in Louisiana on Sunday—and advocates and lawmakers are working to ensure that residents know what they can and cannot do without going to jail under the new law.
Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) signed the legislation in June, and he emphasized that it was “not a decision I took lightly,” but he recognized that criminalization has had significant consequences for families and taxpayers.
Under the law, possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis is now punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of jail time. The governor has pushed back against the definition of the policy as “decriminalization,” but that’s exactly how advocates define policies that remove the threat of incarceration for low-level possession.
Now, the sponsor of the decriminalization bill, Rep. Cedric Glover (D), is partnering with the advocacy group Louisiana Progress on an awareness campaign to educate people about the new reform.
They’ve already put out a FAQ on the law and will be using social media and other informational materials to inform the public while also engaging in outreach to law enforcement and legislators.
“When I saw two city council members in my hometown of Shreveport—one conservative and one progressive—come together to decriminalize personal-use marijuana possession there, I knew it was time to take this reform to the state level,” Glover said. “Criminalizing marijuana possession is harmful to the people of Louisiana in so many ways, but it’s been particularly harmful for Black and Brown communities, lower-income folks, and young people. My fervent hope is that this new law will finally bring some relief and a feeling of freedom to those communities.”
Louisiana Progress says lawmakers shouldn’t stop at simple decriminalization and should enact broader cannabis legalization in an upcoming session.
“Marijuana decriminalization is an important victory for criminal justice reform in Louisiana, especially for the traditionally marginalized communities that have been disproportionately criminalized under prohibition,” the group’s new FAQ says. “But we need to keep fighting to end marijuana prohibition altogether. Doing so could be hugely beneficial, including bringing dozens of new small businesses and hundreds or even thousands of new jobs to Louisiana.”
Meanwhile, national advocates are cheering the new law’s taking effect.
“This is a much-needed policy change for Louisiana,” NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said in a press release. “The enactment of this legislation is great progress toward ending the racially discriminatory policy of branding otherwise law-abiding Louisianans as criminals for minor marijuana possession offenses when law enforcement should instead be focusing on fighting legitimate crime.”
Separately, the governor also signed a bill in June to let patients in the state’s medical cannabis program legally smoke whole-plant marijuana flower.
The legislation marks a notable expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program. As it stands, patients are able to vaporize cannabis preparations via a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot access whole-plant flower and smoking is not allowed.
While the governor has made clear his willingness to approve more modest reforms, he predicted that he would not be the one to sign adult-use legalization into law before he leaves office in early 2024—even though he does expect the policy change to happen in his state at some point.
An effort in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize recreational cannabis stalled in the House this session after the chamber failed to pass a complementary measure on taxing adult-use marijuana. Edwards also said in May that he believes the reform “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”
“It’s on the march, and that certainly might happen here in Louisiana,” he said last week. However “I would be surprised if there’s a consensus in the legislature to do that while I’m governor.” (Edwards is term-limited and cannot run again in 2023’s upcoming gubernatorial election.)
In April, the governor also said that he had “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.
Last year, the Louisiana legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.
The developments on various cannabis-related legislation come after recent polling showed that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.
Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.