Capitol Views: Marijuana legalization gets little support

    The House Criminal Justice Committee moved this morning to reject legislation that could have been the first step in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Louisiana. House Bill 509 by Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, would have placed a referendum on the fall ballot, asking voters to consider decriminalizing the forbidden uses of the substance under existing laws.

    Bagneris argued that if the state did not move forward with the legislation, they possibly could fall behind other states such as Colorado, which have started collecting revenue from recreational marijuana sales.

    “We’re always the last ones,” he told the panel. “We’re not here to invent the wheel, the wheel is already there. Other states are doing it, making millions and billions of dollars.”

    The measure was not simply a legalization instrument, as the author included proposed guidelines for the manufacturing, sale and taxation of recreational marijuana. For instance, the bill included a provision to have the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry handle licensing for facilities that wanted to grow and sell the crop to non-medical customers.

    Bagneris’ measure also stipulated that the state’s share of revenue collected off of the sale of marijuana would be directed to elementary and secondary education, colleges and universities and infrastructure projects. “It’s a money bill for funding, not just the legalization of marijuana,” Bagneris said.

    Activist Kevin Caldwell, who leads the Crescent City-based CommonSense NOLA group, implored lawmakers to advance the bill. He said that the state’s previous “attempts to legislate morality as it comes to this plant has been an utter failure.” Caldwell added that supporters of marijuana legalization such as himself would continue to pressure the Legislature in coming sessions. “This is not going away,” he said in his testimony.

    Despite the attempts of the New Orleans Democrat, the committee rejected the measure on a 4-8 vote. Committee Chairman Sherman Mack, R-Albany, was one of the panel’s members who moved against the bill. “I think it’s a gateway drug,” Mack said, referring to marijuana use. “I think it’s a mechanism for people to avoid adversity and issues that they have to deal with, and I think it’s one of those things that destroys people instead of helps them.”

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at  

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