We rarely look into the deep south when having conversations about recreational cannabis, but the dialog is heating up in Louisiana. Several bills are in the works ranging from reducing puritanical possession sentences to full legalization and money is the motivation behind it.
Den’A Tiberius is the proprietor behind the Herb Import Company based in New Orleans. Tiberius has kept a keen eye on the enormous things cannabis has done for Colorado since legalization. “They are literally making millions and millions of dollars in tax revenue,” Tiberius told KLFY. “They are creating industry. People are moving there.”
Louisiana is crippled with an $850 million dollar deficit. Colorado’s reported $900 million in revenue in 2015 would fit snugly into Louisiana’s enormous debt.
Louisiana spends $46.4 million per year enforcing cannabis laws when you add up police, judicial, and correctional fees, but is debt an ethical reason for passing recreational legislation?
“I think they’re looking at it strictly as a profit-driven, tax-based incentive,” explained Kevin Caldwell, executive director of Commonsense NOLA. Caldwell’s nonpartisan organization has been fighting for cannabis in Louisiana. “I think it is more likely next session, once the politicians get the real blowback from the budget cuts. Once the state sees cuts to things like social services and universities… I think that will reawaken some of the populism from our past, which, in this case, is a good thing.”
Louisiana could use a smoke break. The state enforces some of the harshest cannabis laws in the nation. If you get caught growing, there’s a minimum sentence of five years in prison for the first offense.
According to the ACLU, data indicates that Blacks in Louisiana are three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis despite using it at similar rates. More troubling, is the fact that 91 percent of prisoners serving lifetime sentences are African American. Caldwell dubbed Louisiana “America’s last plantation.” The state of Louisiana slightly decriminalized cannabis possession with the passage of HB 149 on June 29 last year. Before then, getting caught with possession for cannabis for a third time warranted a 20-year sentence. HB 149 drops the maximum penalty for possession of cannabis from 20 years to eight years. The bill is already helping Louisiana recover from an estimated $17 million in savings.
A survey at Louisiana State University indicated that 67 percent of Louisiana residents say they believe those convicted for small amounts of cannabis should not serve jail time. Representative Dalton Honore has now authored a bill, HB 117, that would legalize cannabis across the board.
Law enforcement is outraged. “Have we lost any sense of altruism of what’s going on in the streets? Come on!” Sheriff Newell Normand petitioned. “Where is the moral compass? I don’t see it… We’re going to legalize and decriminalize possession, but guess what? The transaction and the sale is still illegal. The profit motive is still there. The havoc that it will wreak on our streets will be insurmountable.”
Law enforcement and several other organizations don’t want to send the wrong message to kids.
Louisiana could become the next state to legalize, however, do we want a cannabis policy that resembles anything like ResponsibleOhio‘s failed Issue 3 that was focused on making money? Fixing debt is just one of the innumerable ways cannabis can help the state of Louisiana and the conversation is far from over.
Does cannabis legalization stand a chance in Louisiana? Tell us what you think.