The House Criminal Justice Committee meets today to discuss the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana in Louisiana. Chairman Joe Lopinto says the purpose of the meeting is to get more time for the panel to hear testimonies from parties interested in the topic.They will also receive feedback from the states that recently legalized marijuana, Washington and Colorado, to see the positives and negatives of the new law.
"Instead of jamming 25 bills in a four hour meeting during session, this allows us to have one topic for that longer period of time in order to really give into the details to study this issue," Lopinto says.
Lopinto says there will be discussions about decreasing the penalties for marijuana possession in the meeting. But he doesn't see a strong push to legalize marijuana.
"We have 105 representatives and 39 senators and every year bills are filled and for the six years I've been in the legislature not one person has filed to legalize marijuana," Lopinto says.
Executive Director of the Louisiana ACLU Marjorie Esman says Louisiana is out of sync with other southern states because of our penalties for marijuana possession. She says results of a poll last summer say more than half of Louisiana would favor the legalization of marijuana and around 60 percent would favor a penalty of only a 100 dollar fine and no jail time.
"The fact that it's now possible in Louisiana to get up to 20 years hard labor for a third offense marijuana possession doesn't make any sense," Esman says.
Esman says the legislation is having this serious discussion because they are realizing the laws do not match reality. She believes this meeting could go along way towards reforming marijuana sentencing laws.
"Virtually everybody knows someone who been in possession of marijuana more than once and when we realize that our laws say that on our third time we're supposed to be doing 20 years means everyone knows somebody that is supposed to be doing 20 years," Esman says.