Bill to decriminalize and legalize weed advances in legislature

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BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD)- A bill that would decriminalize marijuana and regulate it for recreational use in Louisiana saw movement at the capitol Tuesday by making its way out of committee. Now it is facing the next rounds of debate.

The bill presented by Republican Representative Richard Nelson of Mandeville looks to decriminalize marijuana to cut back on arrests in the state and make it available for recreational use. He also lays out in another bill how the taxes from the sale of the drug can be useful. He said those tax dollars can be beneficial for many state programs. But many fear the potential consequences of legalizing the drug.

Representative Nelson’s reasoning for bringing the bill is to reduce arrests for possession to free up jails and to bring in millions in tax dollars from the sale of the drug. He estimates roughly $200 million will be brought in annually from the taxes. In his other bill laying out the taxation he would give 20% of those funds to law enforcement. Some would also go towards schools and roads.

“What a vote for this bill does is to acknowledge is that the benefit to society is greater to have it legal and have it taxed, and have it regulated than it is to just have it be illegal and throw people in jail, and fund cartels, and fund the drug dealers,” Rep. Nelson said.

Despite Rep. Nelson citing polls showing 67% of the population is in favor of legalization, his bill is being met with fierce opposition. Members of the committee and speakers brought up studies from states where it is legal where they saw increases in teen suicide among other issues such as car accidents. The Director of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association said law enforcement sees more issues than what the public does on the matter.

“It’s part of schedule 1, it’s a problem that the United States government, the Food and Drug Administration has put us all in and it puts you squarely in the middle of this debate where you as legislators have to take on the responsibility,” Director Michael Ranatza said.

He stated in his closing argument that the tax dollars aren’t worth the potential loss of life. Others pointed out marijauna is already in wide use regardless of legality and Rep. Nelson wants to see the drug more regulated. Even as the bill passed with a 7-5 vote, there are changes to the bill expected to be made.

“Is it 100% there? I don’t know yet but that’s why we have a longer process for this to go through if it were to make it out of this committee and I do think it deserves a longer conversation to move forward,” said Representative Scott Mcknight, a Baton Rouge Republican.

The bill now heads to the House floor for debate.  Another bill that aims to decriminalize marijuana but not be used for recreational use was also presented and was tacked on to Rep. Nelson’s bill.

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