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Big Changes to Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Laws

Louisiana is not known to be a particularly permissive state, but even Louisiana has softened its stance on possession of marijuana intended for personal use. Louisiana House Bill 149, which was signed into law this summer, reduces penalties for possession of marijuana and introduces harsher penalties for possession of synthetic marijuana.

The main changes are as follows:

1) There is now a smaller penalty for possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana (if this is a first offense).

2) Offenders can be considered a “first offender” even if they have had one prior marijuana possession charge, providing that they have not been in jail or on probation for the charge for at least two years. This can only be done one time.

3) Penalties overall are lessened. For example, a third charge of possession of marijuana for personal use used to have a penalty of up to 20 years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines, but now carries up to 2 years in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

4) Synthetic marijuana now is treated separately than regular marijuana and carries harsher penalties.

5) Possession of between 2 1/2 lbs and 60 lbs of marijuana has a separate penalty

Reducing Punishment for Small Amounts of Marijuana and for First Offenders

The goal of the changes to the law is clear, and I feel commendable – to keep first offenders with small personal amounts of marijuana out of the judicial system. By reducing the penalties, and particularly possible jail time, an offender is able to get their life back on track and courts can focus on more serious crimes. The provision to allow people with an older (more than two years old) second offense to be considered “first offenders” effectively gives people a second chance.

First Offenders:
14 grams or less – 15 days parish jail or $300 fine or both
14 grams up to 2 1/2 pounds – 6 months parish jail or $500 fine or both

Reduced Penalties for Second, Third and Fourth Offenses of Possession up to Two and Half Pounds

Previously, penalties for repeat offenses could be fairly harsh. Potential jail time could be quite long, up to 20 years, but has been reduced significantly and tops out at 8 years for fourth or subsequent offenses. Fines have also decreased. These penalties listed here are for possession of up to 2 1/2 pounds – larger amounts are not considered to be for “personal use” and are treated separately (see below).

Second Offenders: up to 6 months parish jail or up to $1000 fine or both
Third Offenders: up to 2 years with or without hard labor or up to $2500 fine or both
Fourth or More Offenders: up to 8 years with or without hard labor or up to $5000 fine or both

Harsher Penalties for Possession of Synthetic Marijuana

Under the previous version of the law, synthetic marijuana carried the same penalty as possession of regular marijuana. It is now considered separately and carries the following possible punishment:

Synthetic Marijuana:
First Offenders: 6 months parish jail or $500 fine
Second Offenders: 5 years with or without hard labor or $250-2,000
Third Offenders: 20 years with or without hard labor AND MAY be fined $5,000

Separate Penalty for Possession of 2 1/2 – 60 Pounds of Marijuana

Possession of over two and half pounds of marijuana is considered to be trafficking and carries larger penalties than possession for personal use. The penalty for possession between two and a half and sixty pounds is not less than two years in jail but not more than 10 years, and not less than a fine of $10,000 but not more than $30,000. This means that if you are convicted, you would be required to spend at least two years in jail and pay at least $10,000. Penalties for possession of over 60 pounds are unchanged from the previous version of the law and are as follows:

60 lbs – 1,999.9 lbs: 5-30 years at hard labor AND $50,000-100,000 fine
2,000 lbs – 9,999.9 lbs: 10-40 years at hard labor AND $100,000-400,000 fine
10,000 lbs or more: 25-40 years at hard labor AND $400,000-1,000,000 fine

These changes put Louisiana more in line with other states that are working to reduce penalties for small amounts of marijuana and keep otherwise law abiding citizens out of the court system. Particularly for my juvenile clients, one small mistake can jeopardize their future. Recognizing the need to separate first time offenders from repeat offenders and dealers is certainly a step in the right direction.  And reducing jail time for people in possession of smaller amounts, even its a second, third or fourth offense, keeps non-violent offenders out of jail and allows them to lead productive lives. If you are facing a drug possession charge in Louisiana and would like to meet with me, please call my law office at 337 704-2615 and we will schedule a meeting.  We can also make house and jail visits.

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