As more states across the country legalize marijuana, some students at LSU have asked when marijuana will be legalized recreationally in Louisiana.
A bill drafted by Rep. Candace Newell to decriminalize marijuana possesion and distribution was presented to state legislators on April 12, resulting in the bill being referred to the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.
There is good news for interested parties, and that is the legalization process could potentially start soon. The bad news is that there’s still some hurdles to overcome before the state gets there.
Digital advertising junior Joshua Garibaldi said that if the legalization of marijuana could bring benefits to the state, then he would support it.
"If it were to be legalized, it would need a lot of restrictions," Garibaldi said. "I personally don't use marijuana so I don't see a benefit for it being legalized, but if it could help Louisiana's economy then possibly."
Although Garibaldi said there could be benefits to legalizing it, he also said there could be negative aspects as well.
"A possible concern however is the crime rate involved with marijuana," Garibaldi said. "Would legalizing it lower the crime rate or heighten it?"
Matthew DuCote, president of the Louisiana Cannabis Law Society at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, said that attitudes are generally shifting across the U.S. when it comes to the debate whether marijuana should be legal for recreational use or not.
“We are seeing a national shift in attitudes toward the plant as more states legalize and miraculously don’t burn to the ground, as skeptics and critics in the past might have thought they would,” DuCote said.
In terms of a specific date when Louisiana residents could see marijuana legalized, DuCote said he’s unsure but he thinks it will be sooner than later.
“Honestly, when we are ready, and perhaps only when our neighboring states are too,” DuCote said. “However, I would be surprised if it would be more than a few years. There’s too much at stake and the public at large is demanding it.”
There’s two main issues which are likely delaying the legalization process, according to DuCote.
One of the issues doesn't solely relate to Louisiana, but the entire country.
“Based on what I’ve seen, there are two major issues,” DuCote said. “First, Louisianans will have to mutually agree on what regulations will be in place to keep people safe in a statewide recreational industry, and there’s a lot of moving parts to that.”
The second issue is a bit trickier for legislators attempting to find a suitable solution.
“The second is a problem across the country, that there is no accessible ‘breathalyzer’ equivalent to keep high drivers off the road like we do drunk drivers,” DuCote said. “From people I’ve had conversations with, that has been the greatest public safety concern, and there appears to be no practical way to get around that obstacle currently.”
While the legalization process is currently in motion, it’s taking noticeably longer than most states. This is likely due to multiple contributing factors, according to DuCote.
“There are three main reasons that I’ve seen through my own research,” DuCote said. “Possible fears by our neighboring states that our legalization might increase their crime rate and the voting power of evangelicals and strong conservatives in our state still believing decades-old stereotypes that cannabis is immoral.”
The third reason has to do with lobbyists across the state attempting to save their respective industries.
“The efforts of lobbyists by the private prison and pharmaceutical industries to protect themselves from what they see as an existential threat to their bottom lines,” DuCote said.
While these are big factors contributing to the delayment of legalization, DuCote said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think that all three reasons, however, can be successfully combated with enough education, time and public participation, but in order to do that, we must continue to treat this controversial subject with both responsibility and maturity going forward,” DuCote said.
When it comes to the financial repercussions of legalization, some people believe that legalizing marijuana could help the state recover from its losses due to the pandemic. The sale of recreational marijuana would be unlikely to fully assist the state in recovering from the economic loss caused by the pandemic, according to DuCote.
“If you look at numbers available online based on how much of a prospective revenue hit we’ve taken this past year, and what our potential revenue would be from legalized cannabis, the numbers just don’t add up,” DuCote said. “This past year was financially devastating for our state, there is no other way to say it.”
Although the revenue from recreational marijuana might not help the state recover from COVID-19 related issues, it could help in other aspects of the economy, according to DuCote. State legislators will definitely gauge how much money the sale of recreational marijuana will likely bring into the state when considering whether to legalize it or not.
“There is never a good reason to leave money on the table so I could see that fallout from the pandemic might make the conversation of legalization pick up more steam than ever before,” DuCote said.