In Louisiana, a bill that would allow putting minors in jail for being in possession of even small amounts of weed is being contemplated by lawmakers, not even a year after the state passed a law that says minimal cannabis possession offenses should no longer result in jail time.
House Bill 652 was passed by the Louisiana legislature last year. It is a bill that moves to legalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The bill went into effect in August, although it was passed in June, thus putting an end to the probability that you will be jailed for having less than fourteen grams of cannabis. The law was praised by Peter Robins-Brown, the policy and advocacy director at Louisiana Progress, which is a partnership between the Coalition for Louisiana Progress and the Louisiana Progress Action Fund, and by other cannabis reform supporters.
Peter Robins-Brown claimed that cannabis decriminalization would make an actual difference in the lives of the people of the state of Louisiana. He also added that it is a crucial first step in getting the cannabis policy in Louisiana up to date. It is also another significant event in the continuous effort to address the incarceration crisis in the state. This crisis has imprisoned a lot of people in a cycle of jail and poverty. And now is the time to make certain that everybody is aware of their rights under this new legislation and that law enforcement officers have adequate knowledge of how to implement it.
However, as it stands, part of that progress is in danger from Bagley's bill, which would see jail time put on the table again, this time for minors with small amounts of marijuana. The law would tweak Louisiana's decriminalization bill to bring back jail time as a sentencing option for cannabis possession by young people. At the same time, it will not affect the penalties imposed on adults sentenced for the same offense.
SEVERE PENALTY FOR HALF A LID
Under the House Bill, people under the age of eighteen caught in possession of fewer than fourteen grams of marijuana can be put on probation or imprisoned for no longer than fifteen days on their first conviction, in accordance with the text of the law. A first-time conviction in cases involving the possession of more than fourteen grams of cannabis can result in a child being imprisoned for up to six months.
The punishments get more severe after future convictions. The second conviction of a minor for having up to fourteen grams of cannabis can lead to a six-month jail sentence. The following third and fourth convictions lead to the children's getting sentences of two and four years in prison, respectively, for owning less than a half-ounce of marijuana, with or without hard labor.
According to the Louisiana Illuminator, Bagley has stated that House Bill 700 is necessary because schools in Louisiana are having a hard time keeping weed away from school grounds. He also said that prosecutors have no method of forcing children into drug treatment programs without threatening them with jail time and that judges are not likely to sentence a minor for possessing small amounts of weed.
Bagley also stated that the bill was presented as if it was all about trying to imprison people, but it's not.
However, Robins-Brown, who is now the executive director of Louisiana Progress, believes that school disciplinary action, such as suspension, expulsion, or removal from athletics and other activities, is a better method to deal with the issue.
Robins-Brown also stated that he doesn't believe young people should be criminalized more severely than adults.
Megan Garvey, along with the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, noted that there are other options that can be used to persuade minors into drug treatment. One of which is that, under state law, family court judges can obligate parents or wards to put their children in treatment programs.
But the bill is being supported by lawmakers from both parties. Nicholas Muscarello, State Representative of Louisiana, voted in favor of House Bill 700 in committee regardless of the fact that he supports laws relaxing marijuana prohibition.
Nicholas Muscarello went on to say that the aim of the bill is to rehabilitate children. It allows the courts to sort of keep the children in check and place them in drug courts. He added that no judge was going to sentence a kid to jail for six months for cannabis.
Republican state Representative Danny McCormick expressed his concerns about House Bill 700's bringing back of prison time for children caught with cannabis. However, he voted for the bill in committee as well. He queried why the punishments were more severe than regulations forbidding young people from possessing alcohol or tobacco.
Minors under the age of 21 can be fined up to 100 dollars and lose their driver's license for up to six months if they have alcohol in their possession, while minors who have cigarettes can be fined 50 dollars.
The bill's sole purpose is to try to regulate the availability of cannabis and its distribution. And so, the part of the bill that threatened to prosecute and sentence young people to jail time will have to be tweaked as it is not keeping with the progressive nature of the bill and the previously passed cannabis legitimization law.
By suggesting adjustments to this law, Peter Robins-Brown and Danny McCormick are not advocating for young people to use cannabis. They do, however, feel that young people should not be the focal point of such laws or be punished as severely.
Danny McCormick stated that, in his opinion, alcohol would be a lot more harmful than cannabis.
The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice approved House Bill 700 last week after adjusting the measure to add exceptions for young people who are accredited cannabis patients and have regulated cannabis products.The bill was set for a floor debate on April 5 by the whole Louisiana House of Representatives, announced on Monday.