Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana possession would be eradicated in new bill

By Lauren McGaughy,

Legalizing marijuana.jpgPossessing marijuana in Louisiana would not be subject to mandatory minimum sentences under the state's "three strikes" law if a bill filed in Baton Rouge on Tuesday passes during the legislative session that begins April 8. The bill would also lessen penalties for repeat offenders.

House Bill 103, sponsored by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, would significantly reduce penalties and incarceration time for those convicted more than once of possessing natural or synthetic cannabis products, and remove possession of these products from mandatory minimum sentences under the state's habitual offender, or "three strikes" law.

Under that law, a state resident arrested on a charge of marijuana possession who had been charged with three previous felonies would receive a mandatory sentence of 20 or more years in jail. Such was the case for Covington's Patrick Carney, who was sentenced
to 30 years in 2011 for selling $25 worth of marijuana.

Badon's bill would bring current state law more in line with a provision passed by the New Orleans City Council in 2010 that makes marijuana possession, as well as other minor crimes, a municipal offense. Under this provision, police have the option to issue a fine rather than make an arrest.
Proponents of the change, which went into effect in January 2011, said it could reduce the caseload of the judges and prosecutors who handle serious felonies, and could spare the city the expense of housing and feeding these offenders in city jails.
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However, the New Orleans lawmaker could encounter problems with the bill because it would allow for reduced penalties for the possession of marijuana as well as synthetic cannabinoids.
Often called "K2" or "Spice," synthetic cannabinoids are natural herbs sprayed with a chemical composition that mimics the effects of tetrahydrocannibol, or THC, the active constituent in marijuana.

In 2010, a state law was passed adding synthetic cannabis, which has been recently linked to acute psychosis in some users, to the list of Schedule I drugs. Badon co-sponsored this bill.

Badon's bill piggybacks on a law passed last year, which allows non-sexual, non-violent offenders to seek reduced sentences if they complete certified treatment and rehabilitation programs. Calls to Badon's office on Tuesday were not immediately returned.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has also expressed his intent to support legislation allowing for the conditional early release of non-violent first-time and second-time drug offenders who complete a 90-day detox program.

House Bill 103  
  View full size Marijuana possession penalties and incarceration time would be reduced significantly under a new bill proposed Tuesday by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.

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