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Convincing lawmakers to decriminalize marijuana won’t be easy

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 7:10 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The debate of a proposed bill aiming to decriminalize marijuana and pave the way for regulation of the drug for recreational use in Louisiana has been pushed back for a week.

HB 699 was supposed to be debated on the House floor of the Louisiana State Capitol on Monday, May 10. Instead, it will now be debated on Tuesday, May 18.

The bill proposed by state Rep. Richard Nelson (R - Mandeville) is expected to be met with a lot of opposition from law enforcement.

“I think it’s coming and it probably will be here but those people that agreed to it may not understand the full effect of it,” said Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi.

Controversy is doing its best to burn away any chances of recreational cannabis becoming legal.

“At this point, they’re just grasping at straws to try and come up with arguments against it,” said Nelson.

Nelson said he believes his bill has the support it needs with two-thirds of Louisiana voters saying this is what they want. And the pushback isn’t coming from lawmakers but rather law enforcement officials.

“There’s definitely a group of sheriffs that are calling all their legislators trying to pressure them into not voting for it,” Nelson added.

Stassi said before it is made legal, officials need to study the potential risk of increasing car accidents, as well as users turning to harder drugs.

“To go to recreational use, I think is a step too far at this time. Historically, this has been the gateway drug to other drugs,” Stassi explained.

A law professor at Southern University says the biggest legal issues in Louisiana would be protections for employers and employees.

“I think that those are going to be some issues that are going to be very readily foreseeable if we move fast towards this legalization,” said Marla Dickerson with the Cannabis Compliance Law and Policy at Southern University.

She explained that when someone tests positive for THC in their system, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are intoxicated at that time. There would likely need to be separate legislation to allow companies to create their own drug policies.

“Because, of course, there needs to be a balancing act between an employee who chooses to engage in cannabis as a medical patient or as a consumer in the adult-use market,” Dickerson continued.

Nelson said one compromise he’s willing to make is taking out the part that would allow people to grow their own marijuana since that was shown to lead to black market growth in other states that have legalized it.

“I mean, our option really is, ‘Hey, are we going to miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars a year and continue to fund the drug cartels and gangs? Or, do we take that money and use it to fix our roads, schools, and even pay our law enforcement?’” Nelson questioned.

The bill was supposed to be heard Monday but due to time purposes, it’s been pushed back to May 18.

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