This is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. Today we turn to number 35. Louisiana. Our previous rankings are as follows: 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
We are now reaching the point in our series where the states we are listing are not laughably (or should we say screamingly) bad, nor are they good. They are generally okay in some areas and bad (without being horrible) in others. That’s Louisiana. We’ve seen better, but we’ve also certainly seen worse.
Criminal Penalties. In June 2015, Louisiana reduced penalties for possession of less than 2.5 pounds of marijuana. The Times-Picayune reported that the reform is expected to save the State $17 million over 5 years.
First-time offenders caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana can earn a $300 fine and up to 15 days in jail. If the amount of marijuana exceeds 14 grams but is under 2.5 pounds, then the fine rises to $500 and the jail time to 6 months. Louisiana offers to clear any first offense for marijuana one time if the person is not charged with another offense for two years. Second convictions for possession of under 2.5 pounds earns a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail.
Second convictions for possession of under 2.5 pounds earns a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Third convictions for possession earn a fine of $2,500 and up to 2 years in prison and fourth convictions earn a $5,000 fine and up to 8 years in prison.
Possession of larger amounts are punished more harshly regardless of prior convictions:
- 2.5 – 60 pounds earns a sentence between 2 and 10 yeas and a fine up to $30,000.
- 60 – 2,000 earns a sentence between 5 and 30 years and a fine of $50,00 – $100,000.
- 2,000 – 10,000 pounds earns a sentence between 10 and 40 years and a fine of $100,000 – $400,000.
- Over 10,000 pounds earns a 25-40 sentence.
Punishment for distributing marijuana is not contingent on the amount. The first offense can result in a fine of up to $50,000 and 5-30 years of in prison. Subsequent offenses are punished with a sentence of 10-60 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. If the person selling marijuana is over 18 and is selling to a minor who is at least 3 years younger, the seller faces up to 45 years in prison for a first offense and up to 90 years for a subsequent offense.
Medical Marijuana. Louisiana has a long history of medical marijuana bills (for a great overview, see this slideshow by the Times-Picayune). In 1978, Governor Edwin Edwards signed Act 725 which allowed patients suffering from glaucoma and those undergoing chemotherapy to use medical marijuana. The Act required the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) set up a regime to give patients access to marijuana. However, the DHH never actually undertook this task. In 1991, the Act was amended to include spastic quadriplegia as a qualifying condition, but again the DOH did not act and so there was no legal method for patients to obtain marijuana. A 2014 bill to allow for dispensing of medical marijuana failed to make it through the state legislature.
However, in June 2015, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law Senate Bill 143 which amends the previous legislation to allow for dispensing medical marijuana. The bill provides that the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will create rules on dispensing marijuana and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry will oversee the licensing of production facilities. The bill allows doctors to recommend marijuana consumption in any form other than smoking. Qualifying conditions include glaucoma, cancer, and spastic quadriplegia. The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is tasked with providing reports on medical marijuana and may recommend additional qualifying conditions.
Bottomline. Louisiana is on a cannabis upswing, but it still has a ways to go in reforming its marijuana laws, especially considering some of the harsh penalties for possessing large amounts of or distributing marijuana. However, it deserves credit for its recent legislation aimed at decriminalizing marijuana and implementing medical marijuana. If Louisiana continues its reform trend, we could see New Orleans eventually becoming a Southern marijuana destination. For now though, if you are planning on visiting for Mardi Gras, you should most definitely leave your marijuana back home and be wary once there, because though bourbon flows freely and legally, cannabis does not.