The governor of Louisiana signed a bill into law that will remove the possibility of jail time for low-level marijuana possession offenses in the state. Louisiana will now join 27 others states that have moved to decriminalize cannabis possession.

The legislation – HB 652 – amends state law to make possession of up to 14 grams for recreational purposes a misdemeanor subject to a maximum $100 fine, without the threat of arrest. Possession with intent to distribute will remain a criminal offense.

Following Gov. John Bel Edwards approval of the measure, the law change will take effect on August 1, 2021.

“This is not a decision I took lightly,” Edwards said in a press release. “The state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers.”

Edwards was, however, quick to say that marijuana possession isn’t technically decriminalized, but as the fine is lower than that given for some speeding tickets it fits the definition used by many marijuana reform advocates.

HB 652 was introduced to the House by Rep. Cedric Glover of Shreveport and is based on a local ordinance passed there. It cleared the House in a 67-25 vote. It faced a tougher test in the Senate where it only just scraped the 20 votes required for approval. For Glover, the measure’s success is further proof of a shift in lawmakers’ approach toward marijuana. Louisiana has some of the country’s harshest cannabis laws, but action on reform has gained greater prominence recently with lawmakers passing several bills last year to expand medical marijuana access.

“One thing I think we can find common ground on is the belief that the possession of small amounts of marijuana should not lead you to jail or to become a felon,” Glover said.

Earlier this session, a bill to legalize the use and sale of cannabis introduced by a Republican lawmaker was narrowly defeated in the Senate, but another measure allowing medical marijuana patients to smoke cannabis has cleared the legislature and now awaits Gov. Edwards’ signature. The governor has indicated he is willing to pass it into law, and is also open to listening to broader legalization proposals.

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