SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A Louisiana state representative filed two proposed bills for legislative consideration to decriminalize and regulate cannabis throughout the state.

Louisiana State Representative Candace Newell submitted HB17, providing definitions for marijuana cultivation, processing, manufacturing, and licensing cannabis products. All regulations of HB17, if passed, would be under the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The department would control background checks for industry employees, civil penalties for violations, cannabis licensing, and license revocation. HB 17 also would require the department to put administrative rules in place.

Newell’s other marijuana-related proposal is HB24 which calls for decriminalizing marijuana.

HB24 is not Newell’s first go at marijuana reform; the south Louisiana representative believes decriminalizing cannabis is essential for communities of color.

“The spark to decriminalize marijuana was because of the fact that Black and brown people are charged and sentenced drastically different than white people when it comes to possession and distribution,” Newell said.

There is legislation that changed the penalties for small amounts of marijuana. However, the allowable amount varies depending on the parish and municipality. It leaves much to an officer’s discretion regarding whether or not a person possessing marijuana receives a citation or is arrested.

The state representative points to marijuana reform nationwide as a reason Louisiana should adopt reforms. She also points out how regulating the cannabis industry could grow the state’s economy.

I believe it is essential to decriminalize marijuana because I do not believe a person in Louisiana should face criminal charges for a substance which is legal in 23 U.S. States and properties, including our nation’s capital,” Newell said. “A person in Louisiana could be charged with possession of marijuana, but if they traveled two states west to New Mexico or two states north to Missouri, they could start a business in legal recreational marijuana and create economic opportunity and generational wealth.”

Language in the bill expresses that HB24 would “remove criminal penalties associated with the possession, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana and other matters related to the law’s effective date and additional applicable guidance if passed.

The bill would strike marijuana from the state’s list of Schedule I narcotics, but synthetic cannabinoids would remain on the schedule.

Driving under the influence would remain illegal. Additionally, the bill would not affect school drug policies and workplace adoption, or enforcement of zero-tolerance drug policies providing those policies are enacted in a non-discriminatory way.

Would a mostly conservative Louisiana Legislature vote to regulate and decriminalize marijuana, or would they ignore two-thirds of voters in the state who support decriminalization regardless of political affiliation? Newell certainly hopes she gets enough support from her colleagues in Baton Rouge to pass the bills.

“I pray I do. This is an election year, and many of my colleagues feel if they take a vote to legalize, they might get the support needed for reelection.”

In nearby states like Arkansas and Oklahoma, states with profitable medical marijuana industries, proponents for recreational use were struck down when recreational cannabis was put before voters. Newell said if marijuana for recreational use were put on the ballot in Louisiana, timing and potential voter turnout would be essential.

“If a constitutional amendment on this matter were proposed and passed by the legislature, it could go to the people for a vote. However, the timing of this issue being placed on the ballot and voter turnout would definitely dictate its success,” Newell said. “If it’s on the ballot when there are issues and candidates voters in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport find important and support, the matter may pass. However, if it’s on the ballot when there may be more conservative issues and candidates, passage is unlikely.”

During the 2022 legislative session, several new marijuana laws were adopted that changed some law enforcement procedures relative to marijuana possession and probable cause searches.

The 2023 Louisiana Legislative session starts on Monday, April 10 through June 8.