Louisiana liberalization of marijuana laws has accelerated since the state dispensed its first legal medical cannabis to patients in 2019 with ongoing expansions to the medicinal program and reforms to the state’s criminal laws.
Including decriminalizing weed in 2021 by reducing possession to a misdemeanor with no jail time.
Now Democratic New Orleans state Rep. Candace Newell wants to take the final step to mainstream marijuana, filing bills that would both legalize weed (House Bill 24) and regulate it (House Bill 17).
“We know it’s going to happen some day,” Newell told USA Today Network. “Why not now when we can regulate it for safety and maximize the economic opportunities for people who grow and sell it and generate taxes for revenue to fund critical programs and services?”
The Legislature has rejected previous attempts to legalize marijuana, including 2021 bills by Newell and Republican Mandeville Rep. Richard Nelson, who’s running for governor in 2023.
“We’ve relied on prohibition for the last 70 years,” Nelson said then. “It just hasn’t worked. Is it better to fund drug dealers and cartels than it is to have a safe and regulated product?”
Newell’s latest effort would legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 and older.
House Bill 17 would limit the number of growers to 10 and the number of retail outlets to 40 (no more than five per region).
“When we regulate it there is less danger to consumers who know what products they are getting and what to expect from those products,” Newell said. “It’s just like regulating alcohol and cigarettes.”
Newell said it’s also important to her that Louisianans benefit from the new industry, which is why her bill includes language requiring that Louisiana residents have at least a 51% ownership stake in any growing enterprise.
“For me, it’s imperative that Louisiana citizens get the first crack at the economic opportunities that this industry will yield,” she said.
But despite the rapid acceleration of Louisiana’s marijuana evolution, legalization remains a long shot in the upcoming Regular Session that begins April 10, where the Republican-controlled Legislature is unlikely to risk making such a bold move during an election year.
“Most people agree that legalization someday is inevitable, but we’re not there now,” said Republican Speaker Pro-tem Tanner Magee of Houma, who ushered in legislation to expand the medical program last year. “There’s too much pushback.”
Newell acknowledges the resistance, but said it’s important to move forward.
“Do I want the bills to pass? Of course,” she said. “But if they don’t pass let’s continue to have meaningful conversation about how to move forward.”