Most people in Louisiana support looser marijuana laws

Despite support for decriminalization, immediate reforms appear unlikely

A recent article in the Shreveport Times has brought attention to Louisiana's tough marijuana laws. Although other states, most notably Colorado and Washington, have taken steps in recent years to legalize or decriminalize minor marijuana possession, in Louisiana marijuana possession can still lead to lengthy jail sentences and steep fines. The tough laws are in spite of recent polls that show a large majority of Louisianians support decriminalizing minor marijuana possession.

Louisianians want softer laws

The poll from late last year found that only 18 percent of people in the state support Louisiana's current marijuana laws, with over 60 percent supporting replacing current punishments, which can include significant jail time, with fines, according to the Daily Chronic. Furthermore, a significant majority, 68 percent, believe that seriously ill patients should have access to medical marijuana.

Under current state law, possessing of any amount of marijuana can lead to a six-month jail sentence for a first offense. A second offense can result in a five-year jail sentence and $2,500 fine, while a third conviction can lead to a 20-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. If a person has two previous felonies, however, then a third marijuana conviction could result in a life sentence without parole. The poll also found that 71 percent of Louisianians are against life sentences for marijuana possession.

Significant change unlikely

Despite the popular support for looser marijuana laws, however, significant change seems to be unlikely in the foreseeable future. A bill in 2013 that would have softened penalties for repeat offenders failed to pass and there has been little discussion among lawmakers about actually legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.

However, supporters of reform say there is a growing movement to reform the sentencing guidelines for marijuana offenses in the state. Advocates of lighter sentences say that imposing shorter jail terms on offenders would help ease high incarceration rates in Louisiana and save taxpayers millions of dollars. They also note that the key to reducing drug use and addiction is not to throw nonviolent offenders in jail, but rather to treat drug addiction as a public health problem.

Drug offenses

Louisiana's drug laws, as the above article shows, are some of the toughest in the nation. People caught in possession of even a tiny amount of marijuana face the prospect of serious jail time, not to mention the long-term damage a criminal record can do to their reputation and ability to earn a livelihood.

Anybody facing a drug charge needs to talk to a criminal defense attorney immediately. A dedicated advocate can help fight for their clients' rights and interests when going up against a drug or other serious criminal charge.