BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - A proposal to reduce the jail time for people arrested with marijuana passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
One hurdle cleared, another to go. State Rep. Austin Badon's bill would allow for shorter prison sentences for people convicted of simple marijuana possession.
"In Louisiana for your second conviction you could get five years in jail," Badon said. "My bill would decrease it to two years."
A third conviction would typically result in a 20-year prison sentence. With Badon's bill, that would drop to just five years.
"Nobody should go to jail for that. It should be a ticket, if anything," New Orleans resident John Barkowski said.
Public support is widespread for the bill and for the legalization of marijuana in general. Yet one person who staunchly opposes both ideas is Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.
"We're gonna legalize and decriminalize possession? But guess what? The transaction and the sale is still illegal. The profit motive is still there. The havoc it will wreak on our streets will be insurmountable," Normand said.
Badon said he doesn't condone marijuana use, he's simply trying to save taxpayers money. "Louisiana is the highest incarceration state in the United States, so this would help us to save over $12 million," Badon said.
"That's where all our taxes are going, and they have more people paying for the prisons than education," New Orleans resident Tequila Richard said.
Badon agrees, saying money used to incarcerate people for simple marijuana offenses could be better used for healthcare, education and infrastructure. "It's not being soft on crime, it's about being smarter fiscally," Badon explained.
The bill now heads to the Senate. Badon admits similar bills have failed before, but he thinks the climate is just right this year for it to pass.
Badon's bill also proposes lowering the fines associated with a conviction, and would give a judge and district attorney discretion to be flexible with the suggested sentencing guidelines.