When Governor Bobby Jindal signs HB 149 into law sometime this week (perhaps today), Louisiana will officially become America’s 19th state with decriminalized marijuana possession.
Just two weeks after the state’s Senate gave the bill its overwhelming blessing, Louisiana’s House too agreed that weed and those that inhale the stuff should be unchained, voting 74-19 in favor of the new legislation.
And here’s exactly what the bill will do:
The bill proposes the following changes:
• It carves out a new penalty section for possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana, making it punishable by maximum sentence of 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.
• It does not change penalties for first-offense possession of marijuana involving amounts between 14 grams and 2.5 pounds, keeping the penalty for the misdemeanor charge at six months in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense.
• Second offenses are a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
• Third offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and two years in prison.
• Fourth and subsequent offenses are a felony punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and eight years in prison.
• The proposal also allows offenders one chance to apply to have their record expunged if they aren’t convicted of a marijuana violation within two years of the first offense. [NOLA.com]
Critics of the bill will point out that Louisiana still has pretty harsh penalties (six months for 14 grams?), but progress is progress and this is clearly a progressive step. Plus, don’t expect a half ounce to land anyone in jail for more than six seconds–oftentimes, parameters like these are more semantics than written in stone.
More importantly, the bill will shed $17 million from Louisiana’s state budget simply by freeing up the jails and police officers’ time. And that’s a major victory.
As for Louisiana, the state also has a somewhat real (dicey at best though) chance at becoming the South’s first state with medical marijuana shops.
With arguably the best tourist destination in the country (New Orleans and Vegas are close) and the bustling Bourbon Street shrouded with in munchies, casinos, head shops, and people looking to get twisted, the state just makes sense for sensimilla.
VIA The Smokers Club
Wednesday: Councilmembers to Vote on Decriminalization Bill that Would Reduce Racial Disparities and Re-Prioritize Law Enforcement Resources
With Support of Mayor and Supermajority of Councilmembers, Marijuana Decriminalization Appears Imminent
D.C. lawmakers will vote Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties under District law for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use during a meeting of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The panel of five Councilmembers is expected to approve the measure. The bill would next go before all thirteen Councilmembers for final consideration.
The “Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate criminal penalties and instead subject a person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine. The legislation was introduced in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with the support of ten out of thirteen Councilmembers.
WHAT: Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to Mark-up Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana
WHEN: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:30AM
WHERE: John A. Wilson Building; Room 412; 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of those arrested are African American. Every year, thousands of people are arrested in the District of Columbia for the possession of marijuana. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
“Marijuana possession arrests have disproportionately criminalized African American residents and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “This legislation represents a critical first step toward bringing D.C. law into step with public opinion and common sense.”
A poll conducted in April 2013 by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. National surveys conducted last year by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that, for the first time in 40 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans support making marijuana legal. The Gallup poll in October found 58 percent support and the Pew Research Center poll in April found 52 percent support. Last week, a CNN/ORC poll found 55 percent support nationwide for making marijuana legal.
During public hearings chaired last October by Councilmember Wells, witnesses criticized the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws on African Americans in the District and supported eliminating criminal penalties for possession. However, the Drug Policy Alliance and other witnesses urged Councilmembers to eliminate or significantly reduce the proposed $100 civil fine. The Drug Policy Alliance urged that a $100 fine would be too burdensome for poor residents and that African Americans would continue to be disproportionately punished for marijuana possession. Councilmember Wells is expected to lower the fine for possession to $25 when Councilmembers consider the legislation tomorrow.
In a letter delivered to Councilmember Wells in September, the Drug Policy Alliance and other community groups urged the elimination of the fines for possession and the decriminalization of home cultivation of a small quantity of marijuana. The letter also urged the Council to destroy all marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government in order to prevent such a record from serving as a barrier to employment and other opportunities for thousands of D.C. residents who currently have a criminal history for marijuana law violations. In December, Councilmember Wells held a public hearing on legislation introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) that would remove from the public domain many marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government. Advocates have praised Councilmember Wells’ leadership on addressing the harms of failed D.C. marijuana laws.
“All it takes is a single arrest for a small amount of marijuana to set in motion years of denied jobs, housing applications and other basic components to leading a self-sufficient life,” said Smith. “This legislation would help end harmful marijuana arrests and reverse decades of lives derailed by enforcement of marijuana prohibition.”
- Who's Next?
by Phillip Smith
The government of Belize is studying the possible decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana in a bid to unclog its courts and jails. In a Monday press release, the government said it had appointed a committee headed by a former national police chief to review the issue.
The English-speaking Central American nation becomes the latest in the region attempting to find new, more effective ways of dealing with drug use and drug trafficking. Earlier this year, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina spearheaded legalization discussions at the Summit of the America, a process that will continue next month.
More recently, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica floated a proposal for a state monopoly on marijuana sales there. And Mexico’s presumptive president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, has said he is open too legalization discussions.
So far the US has held firm to its prohibitionist line, but the trickle of dissent over drug policy is threatening to turn into a torrent.
Under current Belize law, possession of up to 60 grams of marijuana is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $26,000. The committee will study whether to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams. It’s not clear whether it will consider reducing penalties for up to 60 grams.
The initiative “is driven by increasing evidence that the current legislation clutters the courts and the prisons with primarily a marginalized segment of our population. The added impact of a permanent criminal record further disadvantages this already marginalized group as it establishes a barrier against meaningful employment (…) This is further supported by international trends toward decriminalization,” said the press release from Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Given its increasing problems with violence and criminality generated by drug trafficking networks that use Belize as a springboard for cocaine exports to the US and Canada, the country’s police and criminal justice system could benefit from not having to use its scarce resources dealing with small-time marijuana smokers in a place where the habit is common.
“It is encouraging to see Belize’s government join the growing number of countries calling for alternatives to the criminalization of people who use drugs,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is a modest proposal, consistent with decriminalization legislation in many US states, as well as in Latin American and European countries. In a country beleaguered by drug-related crime, decriminalizing marijuana users will free up law enforcement and court resources to tackle the gang violence instead of focusing on imprisoning low-level drug offenders.
“This proposal is also notable because Belizean law enforcement officials and agencies are the ones pushing it forward,” Nadelmann noted. “It is good to see a government acknowledging the harms of marijuana criminalization, which most negatively affects society’s marginalized communities. Hopefully, this initiative will represent a first step in the Belizean government playing a more active role in regional and international discussions on drug policy reform.
“Decriminalizing drug possession appears to have little impact on levels of illicit drug use,” Nadelmann pointed out. “Its principal impacts are reducing arrests of drug users, especially those who are young and/or members of minority groups; reducing opportunities for low level police corruption; allowing police to focus on more serious crimes; reducing criminal justice system costs; and better enabling individuals, families, communities and local governments to deal with addiction as a health rather than criminal issue.
The study committee called for public comment on the proposal to take place this week. Friday was the last day to provide comment to the committee.
Hey, today is the hearing for the RHODE ISLAND DECRIMINALIZATION bill at the State House, the senate judiciary committee is expected to hear testimony at around 4:00!