Shreveport is the Third City in Louisiana to Decriminalize Marijuana Following NOLA and Baton Rouge

American Pot – 2015” by Jurassic Blueberries is marked with CC0 1.0

On Tuesday, the Shreveport City Council held its final vote on a proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession within the city. The proposal passed, with only 2 councilmembers voting against it. 

This was no surprise considering the widespread support the legislation received from constituents and other politicians. Shreveport District A Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor, a proponent of the proposal, said she sent Caddo District Attorney James Stewart “this particular legislation to see if there were any objections as to what we were doing, and I received none.” The ordinance was also supported by Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond and Mayor Adrian Perkins who drafted it. 

Perkins said it was something he had been working on for a while, explaining “Our government has (seen) fit to allow the pharmaceutical industry to sell marijuana and make millions and millions of dollars and yet we’re still losing far too many of our youth on marijuana charges.”

Echoing this sentiment, District C Councilman John Nickelson who also was a proponent of the proposal explained that he felt motivated to support it because “I don’t believe people should be threatened with arrest or incarceration for possessing small quantities of marijuana.” 

Old laws disproportionality affected veterans, people suffering from mental health issues, poor communities, and in particular, minority communities. Black people in Louisiana are 3.4 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite the fact that black and white people use cannabis at the same rate. Lives have been ruined by marijuana laws that are not equitably applied to everyone. 

Prior to this ordinance, individuals who had 14 grams or less of marijuana would receive a fine of $300 and 15 days in jail for a first offense; a fine of $500 and imprisonment for six months for a second offense; a fine of $2,500 dollars and imprisonment at hard labor for two years for a third offense; and a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment at hard labor for eight years for a fourth and all subsequent offenses.

The proposal changes these ludicrous penalties so that adults who have less than 14 grams of marijuana will now only be penalized with a $50 fine or community service. This penalty remains the same for the first and all subsequent offenses. 

“We’re able to pass this law because we have authority under state law to criminalize any misdemeanor offense,” Nickelson explained. “We cannot make a felony under state law a misdemeanor. But because marijuana is a misdemeanor offense, we can make it an offense under the city code and pose penalties that we think are appropriate.” However, city councilmembers are limited from shortening the sentences of people already serving jail time as a result of possessing marijuana. 

If you’re already planning a trip to Shreveport: Don’t. Taylor noted that this legislation was not about encouraging people to use marijuana, but rather ending the harmful incarceration-related effects of the disastrous war on drugs. Taylor explained, “In laymen’s terms, this is not a free-for-all.” 

“I think we all know the impact of what a criminal conviction can do and the things it can hinder from education to your job, just to your overall quality of life,” Taylor said. “So, when Councilman Nickelson discussed this with me, I thought it was a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this legislation will lead to changes at the state level.”

Shreveport will be the third city in Louisiana to adopt this kind of legislation, following New Orleans and Baton Rouge’s lead. In 2016, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. Similarly, Baton Rouge councilmembers passed a city ordinance in 2018 that cut out jail time as a penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana. 

Even more revolutionary was the recent legalization of medical marijuana in Louisiana. Medical marijuana sales began in August 2019, but the medicine was only available to a limited group of patients with specific conditions. 

Louisiana expanded medical marijuana eligibility in August 2020, allowing doctors to recommend it for any medical condition they “consider debilitating to an individual patient” that they think cannabis could help treat. 

These incredible changes set the groundwork for a reefer revolution in Louisiana that could not only help reduce the state’s astoundingly high incarceration rate, but also provide monetary, medicinal, and recreational benefits.

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