The Louisiana House gave final legislative passage Monday to a bill decreasing the penalties for marijuana possession.
The House voted 74-19 for the measure. Earlier, the Senate approved the bill 27-12.
House Bill 149 now heads to the governor’s desk.
“This is a compassionate, smart and just approach to justice reform,” said Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.
“It’s a very good bill, a very well-thought-out bill,” said Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie. Lopinto, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, noted the bill was the product of several years of negotiations.
The state’s sheriffs and district attorneys as well as the ACLU and the Catholic Bishops supported the measure.
The House had earlier barely approved legislation by Badon aimed at reducing penalties associated with possession of small quantities of marijuana.
On the Senate side, Badon altered his bill to mirror one the Senate already had approved that gave more of a break to an offender. It was that version the House voted on.
Under HB149, someone caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana would face up to 15 days in jail and up to six months if caught with less than 2.5 pounds but more than 14 grams. A second-offense conviction would drop from a felony to a misdemeanor with a sentence of no more than six months. Currently, an offender would face up to eight years in prison.
If someone gets caught on a second offense — and it’s been more than two years since the first conviction — the violation would be treated as a first offense.
Badon called it “a cleansing period available” for someone who makes “a dumb mistake.”
On a third offense, a felony charge would kick in, carrying a reduced penalty — up to two years in prison — from the current law’s up to 20 years. The maximum prison time on subsequent offenses would drop from 20 years to eight years.