Recreational marijuana bill not dead in Louisiana Legislature

Updated: May. 16, 2019 at 6:18 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The House’s judiciary committee did not approve or kill a bill that would allow for recreational marijuana use in Louisiana. Instead, lawmakers essentially sent it to the House’s criminal justice committee, where the concept faces opposition.

Baton Rouge Democrat Rep. Edmond Jordan’s bill would allow the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) to distribute 15 industrial marijuana growing permits. Those growing companies would have to pay a $100,000 annual permit fee, meet strict facility guidelines, and pass extensive background checks. The permitted companies would send their final product to LDAF for testing. If approved, the growers would sell their product to dispensaries in parishes where voters agreed to allow marijuana sales.

The dispensaries could not sell to anyone under 21 or online. Transactions would be limited to one ounce per calendar day.

“We want to be ahead of the curve,” Jordan said. “We don’t want to be lagging in this, we want to be leading.”

Jordan spoke of marijuana decriminalization as an eventual inevitability, referencing President Donald Trump’s occasional support for the idea. Trump already signed a farm bill that loosened restrictions on CBD, which comes from the cannabis plant.

Jordan amended his bill in committee to decriminalize marijuana, though that amendment will have to be re-attached in the Criminal Justice Committee. It would not retroactively eliminate marijuana charges or wipe criminal records, he said.

“A well regulated program by this state is the best step forward," Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said. “Right now, if we do nothing, there’s still going to be young people who are going to, unfortunately, get their hands on product that does not go through a well-regulated program.”

Lawmakers on the committee noted the usual concerns over decriminalization, including impaired driving and underage use.

“It comes with a set of downsides, in addition to the economic surplus,” Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said.

Lawmakers estimate Jordan’s program would generate more than $200 million in revenue for the state, if approved.

“I just think we’re going a little far with this bill,” Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, said.

Because of the process by which one committee refers a bill to another committee, a number of elements essential to the plan could be subject to change. The amendments attached to the bill that reworked its intent currently hang in limbo because the bill was reported without action.

The process essentially starts anew in criminal justice. Watch this space.

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