Candace Newell’s Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Could Impact Louisiana Incarceration & Industry

Representative Candace Newell filed legislation HB 243 to decriminalize marijuana possession and distribution in Louisiana. Newell felt motivated to write this bill, “Because I have seen the disparities in how people are treated in this state. Black and brown communities are treated far more harshly than others.” 

Newell emphasized that the legislation would have a huge impact on the African American community, which is currently inequitably targeted by marijuana laws. “African Americans and brown people are disproportionately targeted for possession and they end up doing more time than their white counterparts.” 

Not to mention, with 13 states having legalized or decriminalized marijuana, it’s ridiculous that “a guy in Colorado is treated as a businessman or an entrepreneur while a person in Louisiana would be considered a criminal while they are doing the exact same thing.” 

She hopes the bill will help address Louisiana’s mass incarceration problem, reducing the number of nonviolent crime offenders in the state’s justice system. “Philadelphia County, in 2014 their city council voted to decriminalize up to 30 grams of possession and noticed that the arrest rate dropped 50 percent,” said Newell. Her decriminalization bill will eliminate any fines or punishments for when individuals are caught distributing and possessing marijuana so they’ll have no offenses added to their record. 

Although marijuana legalization is supported by the majority of Louisianians, Newell said that decriminalization bills have traditionally been a non-starter in Congress due to pressure from local governments. “The localities make too much money. They make money off of the arrest and the repossession of cars and property,” said Newell who was discouraged from filing the legislation by groups that favored the revenue benefits of current strict drug policies in Louisiana. Of course, these revenue benefits neglect to take into account the cost of human lives ruined by strict drug policies. 

Newell explained that “If the wonderful citizens from across this state who have been sending me letters telling me they support it, if they would contact their Sheriff’s Association, their city council, their state representatives, their state senators, and express their support for it that will be a big help. The challenges are going to come from the Sheriff’s Department where they make some of their money from the arrests.”

She emphasized that this decriminalization policy will actually result in more revenue going towards the Sheriff’s Department and other local groups. “If it’s decriminalized, there’s no money to be made from the court processes, however, once it’s taxed, the tax money could benefit local policing.” Newell is currently working on filing a bill that will detail how cannabis will be taxed if her decriminalization bill is passed. 

Newell believes that the influx of money Louisiana receives from marijuana sales could be a game changer for the state, whose oil and tourism industries were hit so hard by the pandemic. “I looked at the fact of how fragile the gas and tourism industry have been and are, especially during this pandemic, but the states that have legalized marijuana, those industries weren’t as affected. They kind of stayed steady.”

She thinks that the marijuana industry could benefit everyone in Louisiana. “My view is to see the entire state benefiting from some part of the industry of marijuana. I’m appreciating the diversity of our state. And I know that in some parishes the sale of it might not be palatable, and they might grasp onto and embrace the growth of marijuana, other places, sales might not be welcomed but they might have processing plants, to get it to the point of sale, and you know, Orleans Parish, Jefferson, Acadiana, we could benefit from the retail because of the tourism activity.”

She wanted to stress that all activities in regard to the sale of marijuana will require a license “Because this is not going to be where your neighbor William has 10-foot marijuana plants growing in his backyard, it’s not people just freely standing on a corner smoking a joint, it’s not people standing on a corner selling it, it’s licensed, it’s going to be a licensed industry. Licensed to grow, to produce, and to sell.” 

Her priority is fostering the growth of a new industry in Louisiana that will directly impact Louisianans. “I’m calling it the Louisiana First Bill because you have to have been a citizen in this state for at least 5 years prior to the enactment of this bill in order to apply to get a license.” This stipulation will ensure that the economic benefits of opening up the marijuana industry in Louisiana will be for Louisianans, not big industries who come over from other states. 

In creating a new, booming industry in Louisiana, and addressing Louisiana’s mass incarceration problem, HB 243 has the potential to reshape industry and incarceration in the state, providing a plethora of social justice and economic benefits.

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