State lawmaker pushes to have recreational marijuana legalized; bill to be considered soon

Bill to legalize marijuana

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A bill that aims to legalize marijuana for recreational uses in Louisiana will get a hearing next week at the state capitol, according to the bill’s author.

Rep. Richard James Nelson, a Republican from Mandeville, is sponsoring the legislation. It is expected to go before a legislative panel on Tuesday.

“House bill 524 would basically decriminalize the possession of marijuana as well as legalize the sale of it to people with licenses, to adults, people over 21,” said Nelson.

Nelson says it is time Louisiana decriminalizes pot and uses funds that are going toward prosecutions to target serious crimes.

“So, I think from the decriminalization standpoint we spend somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000 per person that we charge with simple possession of marijuana, that’s resources that we really don’t have to punish people for just basically possessing marijuana, right?” said Nelson. “We could use that for much better things like catching guys who are robbers and burglars and murders.”

He says his legislation is not about allowing people to smoke pot in public.

“It’s actually prohibited in a public place, they could get like basically a civil fine, you know, if you’re littering or something like that; you wouldn’t be criminally charged but you could get fined for doing it in public, but if you did it in your home or a private place then there’s no criminal penalty,” said Nelson.

And marijuana sales would be taxed according to the legislation.

“The recreational sale would be taxed with the regular, you know, your regular sales tax like you pay on when you go and you buy anything from Home Depot,” said Nelson. “Plus there will be an extra 10 % excise tax on it as well, so it basically, almost doubles that tax and then there’s a 5% wholesale tax.”

He said he wants another state agency to oversee regulation.

“So, we’re looking at doing an amendment to the bill and putting it under Alcohol, Tobacco Control, basically the same agency that regulates, you know, tobacco and alcohol and so we’re going to put it under there to establish the rules about, you know, labeling and making sure that everything is just safe and that it has to go to a laboratory to be tested before it ever gets to a consumer so you know exactly what’s in it,” Nelson stated.

But some scientists who took part in a recent panel discussion hosted by Sciline on more states moving to legalize marijuana said marijuana use is not without consequences.

Dr. Ziva Cooper is the Director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.

“What we found with the National Academies of Science and Engineering (ph) report. And what we concluded – again, this was based specifically on smoking cannabis, not vaporizing, what we found was that, again, there was substantial evidence supporting the fact that smoking cannabis is associated with bronchitis and some other respiratory health risks,” said Cooper.

And the panel also talked about studies showing cognitive impairment from marijuana use.

Nelson said he would urge users to weigh the risks.

“I don’t recommend anybody take it, I mean I know there are actually thousands of doctors that recommend their patients take marijuana, but I personally have never smoked, have never tried it and I never will. I think that it is a choice they can make, the individual can make,” he said.

And he plans to take language out of the bill referring to a statewide referendum on the issue after discussing legislative staffers.

“That was my intention to just let people vote on it,” said Nelson. “There’s actually a case from 1933 that says, where the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature can’t delegate its authority to the electorate in order to enact a law, so because of that I actually have to take out that piece about voting and letting the people vote on it and replace with the straight legalization,” said Nelson.

He said he will replace that language with wording to give local communities a say.

“I am going to replace it with a kind of a local opt-out so that local cities or local parishes can opt-out by just passing an ordinance,” Nelson stated.

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