For supporters of marijuana law reform, it's a positive sign that reform bills were filed in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature this year. If proposals were confined to just the House or Senate, it would send a signal that the possibilities for success were dim in one chamber or the other. Add in a sympathetic ear from Gov. Bobby Jindal and public support that appears to be growing, and the 2014 session is shaping up as a potential venue for change.
So far there are 10 bills worth watching on the marijuana front. More likely will be introduced.
The pre-filing deadline for legislation has come and gone, producing measures addressing medicinal use, softer penalties and more. The only thing missing from the list is legislation that would decriminalize marijuana use outright. Lawmakers still can introduce up to five additional bills each until April 1.
SB 541 by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, allows for the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. Mills, a pharmacist, crafted his legislation so that only certified neurologists, oncologists and ophthalmologists would be allowed to prescribe marijuana. Patients would have to be 21 years or older, not be felons; and they would have to be in good standing with their taxes.
HB 720 by Rep. Dalton Honore, D-Baton Rouge, would pave the way for medical marijuana in much the same fashion as Mills' proposal.
HB 839 by Honore would change the designation of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled dangerous substance. Schedule II drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse, but they have accepted medical uses as well.
SB 22 by Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, would dedicate 5 percent of all of the money generated by taxes, fees and assessments related to the legalization of marijuana to the four state retirement systems. Each system would be able to use 80 percent of the money to pay down debt and 20 percent to increase pensions.
HB 14 by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would soften penalties for simple marijuana possession in the Bayou State for second and subsequent offenses. In almost all cases, it would also prohibit marijuana possession from being used as part of the habitual offender law.
HB 130 by Honore would remove convictions for offenses involving marijuana from the habitual offen- der law.
HB 681 by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Bastrop, would make misdemeanor possession of marijuana only a "technical violation" of probation.
HB 906 by Rep. Ebony Woodruff, D-Harvey, would reduce criminal penalties for possession of marijuana when the amount involved is less than 28 grams, or roughly an ounce. It largely takes prison off the table and removes the habitual offender law from being applied.
SB 323 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, reduces criminal penalties for marijuana possession and prohibits the application of enhanced sentencing laws to second and subsequent offenses.
SB 223 by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, would create the Louisiana Risk Review Panel to make recommendations on a number of different types of cases, including those in which a person is convicted of distribution or possession with the intent to distribute less than 1 pound of marijuana. The panel's suggestions would then be taken into consideration by the state Board of Pardons.