Marijuana penalty reform goes up in smoke
BATON ROUGE - A move to ease penalties for marijuana possession died at the state Capitol today after it ran into some heavy opposition and failed in a close vote in a Senate committee.
"We are not decriminalizing marijuana," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. "let me say that again, we are not decriminalizing marijuana, because that's been lost in translation here."
Morrell pleaded with Senate Judiciary Committee members to hear him out on marijuana penalty reform. Bipartisan support favored the bill that would make it a misdemeanor for possession of anything less than one ounce of marijuana, no matter how many times a person is caught.
"The punishment needs to fit the crime," said Kevin Kane, with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. "I don't think that rational sentencing reform should be perceived as being soft on crime or pro-marijuana."
Not everyone was so easily convinced, as others had a hard time buying the arguments presented.
"We're talking about criminal law, reducing the thing that would make marijuana more available, more acceptable," said Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe.
A steady stream of district attorney's and sheriff's from across the state testified against the bill, saying it would have many negative affects for law enforcement.
"I don't care who does it everywhere else, this is home for us," said Calcalsieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier. "We need to keep the bar where it is and make people behave themselves."
Under current law, a second or more conviction could mean several years in prison for marijuana possession.