As of August 1, 2021, Louisiana officially decriminalized marijuana possession in a move that highlights the racial disparities frequently seen in the southern state’s arrest numbers. House Bill 652, originally signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards (D) in June, revises Louisiana law to remove the possibility of arrests or jail time for marijuana possession of up to 14 grams, or half an ounce. A fine of up to $100 may still be applicable from case to case, however, and possession of more than 14 grams may still be punishable with jail time.
While this addendum to the state law is positive and exciting news for many, it’s particularly prevalent for Louisiana’s Black residents. For far, far too long, Black individuals in LA have been unfairly and disproportionately targeted and arrested for a range of marijuana-related violations. In 2016, for example, Black people were nearly 3 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This clear and unfortunate racial profiling and scapegoating remains prevalent across the nation (take a look at Colorado, for instance), but has been of particular concern in southern states known for draconian anti-cannabis laws among other things.
Decriminalization pertaining to marijuana possession arrests is a long overdue and much-needed update to Louisiana law that should (at least we can all hope) begin to chip away at those disproportionate numbers. Of course, if you’re found with airtight glass jars packed to the brim with heady nugs, you’re still liable to be fined in the state. But the hope is that this move toward true marijuana reform in LA will one day be a drop in the bucket of nationwide cannabis decriminalization and eventual legalization.
As a historically very anti-cannabis state, LA’s House Bill 652 is incredibly promising and lights the path toward a brighter future that includes equality, equity, acceptance, reform, and so much more.