Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday signed two bills that in one year represent more progress on reforming marijuana laws than the state has made in the 24 years since legalizing medical marijuana in 1991.
In the case of one of the bills, which would set up a framework for dispensing marijuana for medical purposes (SB 143), it will make Louisiana the first state in the South to make marijuana available for a wide range of chronically ill patients. The state passed medical marijuana legislation in 1991, but never set up a framework for how the state would cultivate, prescribe or dispense the drug.
The other bill (HB 149) would reform criminal penalties for marijuana, making it a misdemeanor rather than a felony for a second offense of marijuana possession. It also allows first-time offenders to erase their first conviction for possessing marijuana if they don’t re-offend within two years.
Jindal has previously indicated his support for both pieces of legislation. But in a departure from other major bill signings, Jindal did not issue a press release explaining why he signed the bills or offer any commentary about the importance of the two bill signings.
One of the reason the two bills were seen as so important this year is that bill sponsors managed to convince key opponents in years past — including the Louisiana Association of Sheriffs — not to stand in the way of the legislation this year. The Sheriffs’ Association did not endorse the legislation, but also did not seek to block it.
You can read more about efforts to convince the Sheriffs’ Association not to block the bill here.
Various efforts to pass similar legislation failed in the past. Some organizations, including the Sheriffs’ Association and the District Attorney Association, had voiced opposition to the criminal penalties reform because they viewed it as a step closer to legalization.
But state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, consistently framed the bill as an attempt to bring Louisiana’s criminal penalties for possessing the drug more in line with other Southern states. Other lawmakers said they were persuaded by arguments that the drug’s felony implications had the potential to ruin the futures of young drug offenders.
Before session ended, there were still some questions about how the medical marijuana bill would be implemented. The drug would need to be cultivated in the state, and the bill was also modified to also only allow cannabis oil — which raised questions about who would set up that process.
Since then, according to The News Star of Monroe, LSU has indicated it would be willing to cultivate the drug on one of 19 AgCenter sites throughout the states. It’s still not clear who would process the marijuana plant once it is cultivated.
The medical marijuana bill was sponsored by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia; the two criminal penalties bills — which were later modified to essentially become the same bill — were sponsored by Morrell and state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, respectively.