State lawmakers advanced four bills Tuesday that are aimed at curbing penalties for marijuana possession, the latest effort to soften Louisiana’s historically harsh stance on the drug.
The proposals, referred Tuesday to the full Senate by the Senate’s Judiciary C committee, are aimed at those who use marijuana at their doctor’s recommendation and those who use it recreationally. The latter use is still illegal in the state.
One, House Bill 775, would allow medical cannabis patients to carry pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia. Another, House Bill 1028, would decriminalize the possession of paraphernalia for non-patients, making it a maximum $50 fine, similar to a law passed by legislators last year eliminating the possibility of jail time for pot possession.
House Bill 629 would bar police from searching residents’ homes simply because those homes smell of marijuana, which lawmakers described as solidifying current law. And House Bill 774 would allow people convicted for small-time weed possession to expunge their records six months after conviction, instead of the current five years.
State Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, who sponsored most of the measures, said the legislation is “appropriate” considering lawmakers passed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and allowed medical marijuana patients to use smokable flower, last year.
House lawmakers, generally less skeptical of looser pot policies than Senate lawmakers, have already approved the proposals. The full Senate is expected to consider them before the legislative session ends June 6; if approved, they must be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to become law.
The moves are in keeping with a broad shift in public attitudes around cannabis use in Louisiana, and they come nearly a year after lawmakers agreed to stop arresting those caught with small amounts of the drug.
People caught with 14 grams of weed or less may now be fined or receive a court summons. The state also drastically expanded its medical marijuana program in recent years, broadening the list of medical conditions that make people eligible to participate and legalizing the smokable flower for those patients.
The changes put Louisiana more in line with a majority of states in the country, though they fell short of legalizing the drug for all forms of adult use.
The Senate is also expected to consider other cannabis-related bills in the next few weeks, including proposals to let tourists access the state’s medical marijuana program and to exempt those visitors from prosecution for certain weed offenses.
Another bill by Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, would add some pharmacies to the medical marijuana industry, which only has two growers and nine pharmacies. Legislators have been negotiating a set of amendments to the bill that could involve expanding the number of pharmacies beyond the few originally spelled out in the bill.
Edwards has said he’s against a dramatic expansion of medical marijuana pharmacies, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder has said he’s opposed to opening up the exclusive growing licenses.
Edwards and many state lawmakers also oppose legalizing the drug for recreational use, as 18 other states and Washington, D.C., have done.
Some of that disdain was on display Tuesday. Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, the chair of the powerful Senate finance committee, told a marijuana advocate that on a recent trip to Colorado, he was walking with his grandchildren when they discovered “20 people” who were “smoking dope” outside a restaurant. Colorado led the nation’s legalization effort several years ago but still bans public consumption of the drug.
“If THC was so good, (the federal government) would have legalized it,” White said.
But marijuana advocates praised the judiciary committee’s move Tuesday.
“The Legislature as a whole is evolving in their understanding of marijuana,” said Peter Robins-Brown of Louisiana Progress, a group that has pushed to relax weed laws. “These should be a few small steps toward a more just approach to marijuana prohibition.”