Penalties in Louisiana for marijuana possession could decrease if bill clears final stage _lowres

Louisiana senator J.P. Morrell

A bill decreasing the penalties for marijuana possession is headed to the Louisiana House for potential final legislative passage.

The Louisiana Senate voted 24-13 for a heavily revamped version of a measure that cleared the House earlier in the session.

The question is whether the House is willing to go along with the rewrite.

House Bill 149’s sponsor state Rep. Austin Badon is on board. He had asked a Senate committee to change his bill to mirror one by state Sen. JP Morrell that had already cleared the Senate.

“It’s a better bill than mine,” Badon, D-New Orleans, told senators.

The aim of both bills is to reduce penalties associated with possession of small quantities of marijuana. Morrell’s bill provides more of a prison-time break to offenders, including a second chance before advance penalties kick in. Neither the sheriffs nor the district attorneys association representatives testified against the measure in the Senate committee.

Badon’s bill originally would have retained current sentencing guidelines for a first offense, which call for a maximum of six months, and reduced prison time for second and subsequent offenses.

The altered version provides more breaks for those in possession of small quantities of marijuana. 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.

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 8 years.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.