Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation June 15 to decriminalize cannabis, but don’t tell him that.
The legislation, House Bill 652, removes the threat of jail time and reduces the penalty for the possession of up to 14 grams, or roughly a half ounce, of cannabis to a $100 fine for first-time and subsequent offenses.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures—a non-partisan public officials association that fosters interstate cooperation and facilitates the exchange of information among state legislatures—decriminalization generally means small, personal consumption amounts of cannabis are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime, or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time.
In a statement following his signing of the bill, Edwards said not to call it decriminalization.
“I have signed H.B. 652, which contrary to the narrative developed in the press and elsewhere, does not decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, 14 grams or less,” he said. “Instead, anyone convicted of this crime will now be subject to a maximum penalty of $100 instead of being exposed to parish prison time.”
While Edwards is a Democratic governor, he often aligns with the state’s sheriffs and has long opposed legalizing cannabis, according to The Advocate, a daily newspaper based in Baton Rouge.
H.B. 652 will take effect Aug. 1, 2021.
“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Edwards said. “In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly. This measure passed Louisiana’s Legislature with bipartisan support following a robust discussion of the toll of overincarceration on our people and our state. Taking this action is another step forward for Louisiana’s criminal justice reform efforts.”
Two other bills involving cannabis await Edwards’ consideration.
Legislation that aims to repeal the ban on smoking medical cannabis flower, House Bill 391 would allow physicians to recommend up to 2 1/2 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period to patients for inhalation and in raw crude form.
In addition, a measure that requests the study of the effects of legalizing adult-use cannabis usage ahead of next year’s session also awaits on Edward’s desk.
Regarding the signed decriminalization bill, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said in a statement that it was a much-needed policy change for Louisiana.
“The passage 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,” she said.