Legislation advancing to reduce marijuana possession penalties

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - New legislation about marijuana has cleared its first hurdle at the Capitol Wednesday.

Patricia Trahan from Lafayette Parish will wait eight more years before she'll see her son walk as a free man.

Trahan says he's in the middle of a 15 year prison sentence in Angola for simple possession of marijuana.

"I really want y'all to consider the penalties that you're imposing on marijuana convictions because 15 years is too long," said Trahan.

"As you can see, the penalties are still very, very substantial," said Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.

Rep. Badon says his bill cuts the maximum sentence for repeat marijuana possession from 20 years to eight.

It's a move to help lower the state's incarceration rate and, according to Badon, save $12 million over five years.

It now has the support of a number of local sheriffs and the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office.

"All the money we have on the coast, I'd like to take the people out of prison and give them a job," said DA Hillar Moore.

Moore also defends the system as it is now, saying most people convicted for simple marijuana use are really locked up long term for another crime.

"When you look at that person's record, you'll see multiple drug arrests or convictions, and often times you'll find automatic weapons with the drugs," said Moore.

"I don't believe that you're in the business just to put them in jail and throw away the key," said Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, when speaking with Moore.

However, the ACLU says the bill won't cut the number of people locked up. The group supports the idea of reforming sentences, but the executive director says the proposed changes are still stiff.

"The bill doesn't do enough. It will save some of the corrections costs, but everybody who could be arrested now could still be arrested," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Dir. of ACLU of LA.

Regardless, the bill easily passed in a House committee.

Moments later, another marijuana bill was up for discussion.

Rep. Dalton Honore presented his proposal to put a vote on the ballot next year for legalizing all marijuana use.

"I've noticed one thing from last year. All you sitting on this committee didn't even want to discuss marijuana. It was just a no, but the attitude this session has changed. At least, we're talking about it," said Rep. Honore, D-Baton Rouge.

Rep. Honore then voluntarily deferred his bill, saying it would not have a chance of passing.

Rep. Badon's bill now heads to the house floor.

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