Marijuana (copy)

State lawmakers will consider several marijuana-related bills in the current legislative session, including two that would open the door to limited recreational pot use. While such bills face long odds of passing, they are worthy of serious consideration.

House Bill 462, by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, would give voters the chance to amend the state constitution to allow cities to call their own elections “to authorize the sale, possession, distribution and use of marijuana.”

House Bill 509, by Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, would legalize the use and possession of small amounts of pot by people over 21, subject to oversight by the state Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Revenue from taxes on pot would go to education at many levels (K-12 and TOPS), as well as infrastructure and the general fund.

Both bills face major opposition, starting at the top: Gov. John Bel Edwards, who supported the 2015 bill to allow medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, opposes the use of recreational marijuana in any form.

Lawmakers appear similarly skeptical. Four years after legislators approved it, medicinal cannabidiol, or CBD, has yet to be distributed to Louisiana patients because of regulatory hurdles. The state’s 2015 medical cannabis law specifically outlaws smokable pot and restricts CBD to oils, pills and topical applications. It will be available only via a doctor’s “recommendation” rather than a prescription (a fig leaf designed to protect medical licenses, since marijuana still is illegal at the federal level). Lastly, CBD “recommendations” must be filled by one of only nine state-licensed pharmacy/dispensaries.

There are other hurdles. No recreational pot law will get very far without support from the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys — and legislators are wary of being seen as pro-drugs this election year.

In that last regard, lawmakers are out of step with their constituents. A recent statewide survey by LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication showed 55 percent of respondents support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The numbers go up among younger respondents, with 80 percent of adults under 30 in agreement. More than two-thirds of adults 30 to 49 years old agree. Only people over 65 strongly oppose it.

Legalizing the possession of small amounts of pot for personal use by adults is a smart move on many levels, including fiscally. In 2017, Colorado netted $247 million in marijuana taxes, much of which goes to education. Legalizing small amounts of pot also would free police to concentrate on more serious crimes and eliminate the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. The 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data show that blacks in Louisiana are almost 3 times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges.

On the topic of both medicinal and recreational marijuana use, Louisiana trails many other states. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia all reap the benefits of state-regulated recreational marijuana sales. Michigan legalized pot in November 2018 and is expected to start selling it in June.

Louisiana appears unlikely to join them any time soon, which is a shame — for many reasons.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.