BATON ROUGE, LA — In a state with a reputation for having some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country, a bill that would reduce mandatory minimum penalties for some marijuana possession offenses has been approved by a unanimous committee vote.
House Bill 103, sponsored by Rep. Austin J. Badon, Jr. (D-New Orleans), would reduce penalties and incarceration time for those convicted more than once of possessing marijuana, and removes cannabis possession as an offense that qualifies for mandatory minimum sentences under the state’s habitual offender (‘three strikes’) law.
Current law requires a third or subsequent conviction of marijuana possession to be punished by up to 20 years in prison. This felony conviction is often used to enhance the prison sentence when the offender has at least two other felony convictions.
The bill’s sponsor says he hopes to stop prosecutors from using a marijuana possession charge to send offenders to prison for long sentences, including life inprisonment, under the state’s habitual offender law.
The proposal seeks to lower the maximum penalty for a second marijuana possession offense from five years imprisonment to no more than one-year. It lowers the maximum penalty for a subsequent marijuana conviction from 20-years imprisonment to no more than two-years.
Last Wednesday, the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice voted 14-0 to advance the bill. However, the committee tweaked the habitual offender language, mandating that all of the felonies would have to involve marijuana possession to qualify for the reduced sentences.
The bill now awaits a vote on the floor of the House. If the House approves, the bill would cross into the Senate for consideration.
Under present law, Louisiana’s penalties for marijuana offenses are among the toughest in the nation. For first offenders, possession of less than 60 pounds of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months of imprisonment. Second offenses are punishable by a fine of $250-$2500 and/or up to 5 years of imprisonment.
Both first and second offenders may be eligible for probation, which will include 32 hours of community service and a substance abuse program, the cost of probation will be paid by the defendant.
Third and subsequent offenses are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Distribution or cultivation of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and 5-30 years of imprisonment. Subsequent offenses are punishable by 10-60 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
Prior offenses include any drug crime convictions, no matter where they occurred.