Will Louisiana Legalize Marijuana? The State Is More Open To Weed Than Before, But Recreational Use Is Still Far Away
Whether or not to legalize weed has become a real debate across the country. Marijuana use is now fully legal in four states — Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon— as well as Washington, D.C., and the question of pot or not has reached the streets of Baton Rouge. Will Louisiana legalize marijuana? Louisiana residents have dramatically become more lax toward marijuana in recent years, much like the rest of the country, but there are still some major obstacles standing in the way of legal pot in the Big Easy and the rest of Louisiana.
Democratic state Rep. Dalton Honore in March filed House Bill 117, which would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years and older. The bill would also set up a tax system for the distribution and sale of marijuana but keep synthetic weed illegal. Lawmakers have until June 8 to to approve the measure in order to send it to voters' ballots in 2016, and if the bill passes, Louisiana will become the first state in the South to legalize marijuana.
A study conducted by Louisiana State University found 79 percent of residents approved legalizing medical marijuana, but when it came to recreational use, the support significantly dropped. The study found only 44 percent of folks said they'd endorse personal weed use. Louisiana significantly lags behind the national rate of 54 percent of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization, according to a February 2014 Pew Research Center report.
Even with growing support for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in Louisiana, the state isn't fully ready to jump on the green train. Right now, Louisiana is one of 23 states where any form of marijuana is illegal, according to Pew Research, and the state is known to have one of the strictest weed laws in the country. In Louisiana, first-time offenders caught with weed, no matter what amount, could receive up to six months in jail. The website Salon even went so far as to list Louisiana as one of the last states where marijuana will be legalized.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been hesitant when it comes to the legal weed debate. He has repeatedly stated he could support the legalization of medicinal marijuana, but opposed any law that would allow for recreational use. During February's Conservative Political Action Conference, Jindal told ABC News:
I don't think anyone should be legalizing marijuana, I think that's a mistake. When it comes to the issue of medical marijuana, I've said as long as it done under tight restrictions, I can be okay with that.
Instead of full legalization, what's more likely to happen in Louisiana in the coming years is the gradual decriminalization of the drug as well as the opening of medicinal use. Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be prescribed. This bill stands a chance of being approved on the ballot next year, and Jindal has indicated he could sign it so long as the process was tightly regulated. Full legalization is a tough jump, especially when it comes to more conservative states, but allowing medical marijuana is a major step toward going fully green.
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