BATON ROUGE, LA — In a state with a reputation for having some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country, an attempt to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for repeat marijuana possession offenses died on the Louisiana Senate floor Thursday.
The bill, House Bill 103, needed a two-thirds vote of state senators to even be brought up for debate this late in the 2013 legislative session, and failed three times to gather the necessary votes to debate the bill.
An amended version of House Bill 103, which was passed by the Louisiana House on May 29, would have reduced jail time to not more than two years for the second marijuana possession offense, five years for third-time offenders and eight years for those convicted four or more times. The maximum fine for possession would have also been lessened from $5,000 to $2,500.
The original proposal sought to lower the maximum penalty for a second marijuana possession offense from five years imprisonment to no more than one-year. It would have lowered the maximum penalty for a subsequent marijuana conviction from 20-years imprisonment to no more than two-years. That version of the bill failed in the Louisiana House in May.
After the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Austin J. Badon, Jr. (D-New Orleans), amended the bill to increase the possible jail time for repeat offenders, the bill was very narrowly approved in the House by a vote of 54-38, just one more vote than necessary for passage.
In April, the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice voted 14-0 to approve the bill, but not before the committee tweaked the habitual offender language to mandate that all of the felonies would have to involve marijuana possession to qualify for the reduced sentences.
Under present law, Louisiana’s penalties for marijuana offenses are among the toughest in the nation. For first offenders, possession of less than 60 pounds of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months of imprisonment. Second offenses are punishable by a fine of $250-$2500 and/or up to 5 years of imprisonment.
Both first and second offenders may be eligible for probation, which will include 32 hours of community service and a substance abuse program, the cost of probation will be paid by the defendant.
Third and subsequent offenses are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Distribution or cultivation of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and 5-30 years of imprisonment. Subsequent offenses are punishable by 10-60 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
Prior offenses include any drug crime convictions, no matter where they occurred.
Bill to Reduce Mandatory Minimums for Marijuana Dies in Louisiana Senate without Debate was written by Thomas H. Clarke and appears in full on The Daily Chronic.
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