Let’s call these marijuana laws a rare moment of reason for Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana’s state legislature, which is one of the most conservative governing bodies in the entire country. It is so conservative that even many of the outnumbered Democrats would be easily confused for moderate to conservative Republicans by anyone from outside of the state.
It’s also worth pointing out that Louisiana also has a unique legal system which is based on French and Spanish laws, rather than the British common law system used in the rest of the United States. Needless to say, it’s quite bewildering to people who didn’t grow up here, myself included.
Throughout Louisiana, much of the infrastructure looks like that of a third world country, and the laws on alcohol are extremely lax. Just last summer, I was nearly killed in a nasty collision with a drunk driver who already had four previous DUI/OWI offenses, and while I spent the next 3 months laid up, she got off with little more than a slap on the wrist from the judge. Now if she’d been in possession of a bag of marijuana, her third offense would have likely gotten her more prison time than if I had been killed in that accident and she was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. That’s how bizarre Louisiana’s laws are when you compare the penalties for marijuana and alcohol, and it desperately needs to be changed.
Fortunately, Louisiana is finally fixing their outdated and draconian laws when it comes to marijuana – sort of.
There are three bills moving through the state legislature affecting Louisiana’s marijuana laws. Two of them (SB 241) and (HB 149), which are nearly identical, would reduce the tough sentences judges are allowed to hand down for repeat marijuana offenses; reduce a second marijuana offense from felony to misdemeanor; and allow first-time convictions for simple possession to be erased after two years.
The bills also set up a simple possession charge for smaller amounts of marijuana and more serious charges that can be brought for larger amounts of marijuana that drug dealers and distributors typically possess.
The third bill sets up a framework for patients in need of medical marijuana treatment to be able to get the drug if a doctor prescribes it.
Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1971, but there’s never been rules written to regulate growing, prescribing or dispensing it.
Louisiana already imprisons too many non-violent drug offenders while allowing drunk drivers with multiple prior convictions to travel our pothole-riddled roads. Now, I’m not one of those people who believes that marijuana cures everything from cancer to toe fungus, but it is certainly less harmful than alcohol, and less addictive than many of the pain medications that are being prescribed and abused on a regular basis.
What’s particularly interesting is that the sponsor of the medical marijuana bill, Sen. Fred Mills, is not only the president of a local bank, but he’s also the owner of Cashway Pharmacy in the tiny town of Parks, LA. He’s also the only Republican who voted to expand Medicaid in a recent Senate committee hearing.
It would be a reasonable assumption to suggest that as the owner of a pharmacy, his votes on medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion were in his financial interests. However, despite being very conservative on other social issues, Sen. Mills is a decent person who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and doing business with. It’s not often that you will find me praising a Louisiana lawmaker, especially a Republican, but Sen. Fred Mills is an exception in these cases.
You can go to his Senate page and leave him a note of thanks for his leadership on medical marijuana in Louisiana.
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