NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign into law, a number of aggressive new bills coming out of this year's legislative session. One political analyst explains why two of them, clearly show the cultural norms in the state, are changing.
New Orleans based State Rep. Austin Badon spent years trying to push marijuana reform legislation through Baton Rouge. "Over the last few years, legislators, they didn't even want to talk about marijuana reform, they would not even give the bill a fair hearing in committee or even schedule it for a committee," Badon explained.
Now, Badon says, the tide has turned. Two bills concerning marijuana were approved by lawmakers during the legislative session, and are expected to be signed into law by Governor Jindal. The first, sponsored by Badon, softens the jail time and fines levied on a person arrested multiple times, for simple marijuana possession.
FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman explains, "It's a small step toward de-criminalization not yet legalization, but that's the direction our legislature is heading in, to keep our prisons from being full of low level drug offenders."
Badon says the measure will save the state $16 to $17 million over the next five years, by reducing jail costs. For years, the idea was opposed by sheriffs and district attorneys across the state. "This year we worked together and we came up with a win-win compromise," Badon said.
Lawmakers also passed a bill, allowing pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana to patients. Sherman says, "This medical marijuana measure is one that would've been unthinkable a few years ago."
Sherman says Louisiana is slowly taking cues from others states around the U.S. in easing regulations. "This is a significant step, changing our laws, to show our cultural values in Louisiana are changing," Sherman commented.
But Sherman cautions, don't expect the state to fully legalize recreational marijuana anytime soon. That he thinks, may be years away.
Medical marijuana has been actually legal in Louisiana since 1971 but there were never rules written to regulate growing, prescribing or dispensing it.