House Debates Bill on Marijuana Laws

Posted on Apr 19, 2013 in Drugs

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Photo courtesy of the Denver Post

The Louisiana House of Representatives is set to vote on a new bill that is trying to scale back on the penalties for possessing marijuana. House Bill 103, which is sponsored by Democratic representative Austin Badon, seeks to lessen penalties for second- and third-offense users as well. If the bill is passed, New Orleans criminal lawyers say that drug users may have a better chance of rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

Under the state’s current “three strikes” law, also known as the habitual offender law, if a Louisiana resident has a previous record of three felony charges, and is caught with marijuana in his or her possession, a mandatory sentence of 20 or more years in prison is imposed. This law was brought into the public spotlight with the 2011 conviction of Patrick Carney, who was sentenced to 30 years of jail time after he was caught selling $25 of marijuana.

Bill 103 intends to make the possession of natural or synthetic cannabis a municipal offense, much like a provision passed in 2010 by the New Orleans City Council. With this provision in place, police can issue a fine for possession instead of placing the individual under arrest. According to New Orleans criminal lawyers, this change at the City Council level has the potential to reduce the number of marijuana possession cases in courts, as well as the number of inmates who need to be housed in county jails, over time. The change was put into effect in January of 2011.

The House bill reflects the Council’s possession, and seeks to bring down the mandatory minimums for possession sentencing. Under current law, a first conviction for possession includes a $500 maximum fine, a six-month sentence, or both. A second conviction carries a fine of $250 to $2,000, a five year sentence, and enrollment in a substance abuse program. A third conviction increases the fine to $5,000, and the jail time to a maximum of 20 years. Any convictions for possession following the third fall under the Habitual Offender Law, and the state mandates that these convicts spend more than twenty years in prison.

If passed, Bill 103 would reduce the sentence maximums for a second and third conviction—for the second offense, Louisiana residents who possess the drug would face fines up to $500, and a one year jail sentence, or both. New Orleans criminal lawyers report that the bill repeals the requirement that offenders complete a substance abuse program as part of their sentence. The third conviction would carry fines of $2,000 or two years in prison. Notably, fourth-time offenders would be sentenced to a five-year jail term, or fined up to $2,000, or both. The bill eliminates the state maximum of twenty years for multiple offenses.

Bill 103 has received some pushback from those who disagree with the inclusion of synthetic cannabinoids, because they are a labeled as Schedule 1 drugs in Louisiana. But criminal attorneys in New Orleans say that if the bill is passed, former convicts who are in possession of marijuana could have a better chance at starting over, without the threat of spending two decades behind bars for what is known in the City Council as a municipal offense.

At Bloom Legal, New Orleans criminal attorney Seth Bloom represents anyone charged with a crime, including repeat drug offenders.

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