The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council updated the city-parish’s marijuana penalties on Wednesday to allow the prosecution of synthetic marijuana cases in City Court and put the city ordinance in line with state law.
The vote came just a week after the New Orleans City Council loosened marijuana penalties in its city by outlining fines as punishments for marijuana users rather than jail time. But in Baton Rouge, smoking regular or synthetic marijuana carries harsher consequences with higher fines and possible jail time.
People being convicted in Baton Rouge for the first time with 14 grams of marijuana or fewer will be fined $300 and face 15 days in jail. Those convicted with more than 14 grams of marijuana will be fined $500 and face jail time for up to six months.
Synthetic marijuana users will be fined $500 and face six months in jail, as well.
The Metro Council unanimously agreed to make the city-parish’s marijuana penalties consistent with state law.
Tedrick Knightshead, the first assistant to the parish attorney, said synthetic marijuana posed legal problems because the chemicals going into the drugs kept changing to skirt around the law. The updated version of the law is all-encompassing for marijuana, its derivatives and synthetic cannabinoids.
While Baton Rouge’s laws are now consistent with the state, the laws in New Orleans come into conflict. No policies were in place when the New Orleans marijuana ordinance passed last week that instructed law enforcement on how to determine if they should follow the city or state law for punishments.
The New Orleans ordinance will give users there a $40 fine on their first offense, a $60 fine on their second offense, an $80 fine on their third offense and a $100 fine on subsequent offenses.
In other news, the Metro Council voted to appropriate $1.2 million for improvements to the Baton Rouge River Center. The city-parish is planning more than $12 million in upgrades to the River Center’s theater and ballroom.
The theater lacks an elevator, which creates problems for people with disabilities, and it also needs improvements on its roof, fire safety systems and in other areas. The renovations to the ballroom are expected to transform it from the exhibition hall that it currently is into a true ballroom.