The current law in Louisiana allows first time offenders to be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison with a maximum fine of $500. A second offense can lead to a sentence of up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A person arrested for a third marijuana possession charge can be sentenced to 20 years in prison with a fine of up $5,000.
The max penalty for marijuana possession is under one year of jail time in most of the United States. This bill, SB 241, would lower Louisiana’s maximum prison sentence from 20 years to 8 years — reducing it from 20 times the normal sentence to just 8 times.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. J.P. Morrell (photo below), D-New Orleans, says that this bill will bring Louisiana state marijuana laws closer to other states “in a way that is more humane.” It has been estimate that if this legislation passes, it could save the sate $17 million in just 5 years.
The bill will not impact the current punishment for first-time marijuana offenders caught in possession of amounts between 14 grams and 2.5 pounds.
If made into law, this legislation will make possession of 14 grams or less punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine. A second offense will lead to a misdemeanor charge with punishments of up to $1,000 in fines and 6 months in prison. Third time offenders will face a felony charge with up to $2,500 in fines and two years in prison. A fourth or subsequent marijuana possession charges will result in felony charges, a $5,000 fine and 8 years of incarceration.
Sen. Morrell believes the support of this bill has increased significantly compared to past years, largely because the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorney Association are not opposing the legislation. Morrell has worked with these groups to design the bill to be a compromise on which all sides can agree. The negotiations must have been successful because this year’s bill has advanced without any opposition from the panel of lawmakers.
SB 241 will now be presented to the House for consideration.