Should The Law Regulating Possession for Small Amounts of Marijuana in Louisiana be changed?
Today, Friday April 18, 2014 , Nola. Com published an Editorial which we applaud. The Editorial offers a very timely view on the excessive laws that regulate possession of small amounts of Marijuana in the State of Louisiana.
As defense attorneys, we see so many lives ruined by current laws, that we cannot help but think that if the state passes Senate Bill 323, our young people might have the opportunity to avoid long prison terms, and instead build productive lives for themselves and their families.
Will see what the state does with this law. We will certainly be watching …
If you or a loved are facing possession charges, regardless of how small the amount was ,you need experienced counsel, call us. We are here to help you navigate the complicated legal process.
Read the Editorial in Nola Today:
Marijuana possession shouldn’t carry a 20-year prison term:
April 18, 2014 at 7:11 AM
Someone caught in Louisiana for the second time with a small amount of marijuana faces up to five years in jail and the possibility of hard labor. On a third or subsequent offense, the sentence can be 20 years with hard labor. These sorts of harsh penalties for marijuana possession and other non-violent crimes are one reason the state has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
There’s a simple change that could make a significant difference.
Senate Bill 323, by Sens. J.P. Morrell and Robert Adley would make the penalty for possession of marijuana a fine of up to $100 and six months in jail on all offenses. The legislation would eliminate the enhanced penalties in current law for second and subsequent pot possession convictions.
That is a sensible reform the coalition behind the Smart on Crime legislative agenda says would save the state “millions of dollars in supervision and incarceration costs.” It also would bring tremendous relief to thousands of families across Louisiana.
A Smart on Crime briefing paper notes that the legislation “would not affect possession of larger quantities, possession with intent, cultivation, or distribution.”
The Senate’s Judiciary C Committee is expected to consider the bill next week, and it ought to be an easy call for legislators.
The groups pushing the Smart on Crime reforms are a mix of business, religious and civic leaders, including Blueprint Louisiana, the Pelican Institute and Right on Crime, a project of the Texas Policy Foundation. They emphasize the cost to families and to the state’s economy by the absence of so many people from Louisiana’s work force.
Mainly because of mandatory minimum sentences, the state’s prison population doubled over the past 20 years to 40,000, according to Blueprint Louisiana a statewide citizen group focused on reforms in criminal justice, education, health care and other issues. “Only 37 percent of offenders in Louisiana have been convicted of violent crimes … and the average sentence for a drug-related crime is almost 10 years,” according to the group.
The Pelican Institute point out that Louisiana is out of step, even with conservative states like Texas and Georgia, which have moved away from prison terms for nonviolent offenders to emphasize rehabilitation.
Texas was paying $3 billion a year on prisons and facing the prospect of spending $2 billion more to build new ones when officials decided to invest $241 million in treatment and diversion programs. The state reduced sanctions for people who violated probation or parole, who had accounted for two-thirds of prison admissions, and gave judges more discretion. Incarceration rates, recidivism and the crime rate are down.
Louisiana’s Legislature has approved modest sentencing reforms in the past couple of years, including a change in law to allow prosecutors and some defendants to enter into plea agreements for sentences below mandatory minimums. Another change allowed second-time offenders who are model prisoners to be eligible for parole after serving a third of their sentences instead of 50 percent.
But state laws on nonviolent offenses are still draconian.
Louisiana consistently ranks No. 1 for the percentage of residents who are locked up. One in every 86 adults in the state is serving time, which is more than twice the national average. And our nation incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.
Having that many people in prison devours state resources that could be used for education or health care or other vital services in Louisiana. And it unnecessarily breaks apart families and, in many cases, leaves them vulnerable financially.
Violent offenders ought to be in prison. But some offenders who are serving life sentences in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime. That makes no sense. It would be better for the state and for thousands of families if nonviolent offenders get a chance to be rehabilitated and can avoid jail.
Senate Bill 323 is an important step toward that goal and lawmakers ought to approve it. The Judiciary Committee can start that process next week.