Louisiana Bill, HB 434, To Tax Potential Recreational Cannabis Fails In Congress

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Louisianans will likely have to wait at least another year before the state legalizes marijuana, after HB 434 was rejected on Tuesday in the legislature.

Per local television station and news source WDSU, the proposed legislation “would have taxed recreational marijuana if the state ever legalized it,” but the bill was voted down in the state House by a margin of 48-47. WDSU said that the outcome “likely dooms the prospect of legalized marijuana in the state this year,” and “also likely dooms the approval of legalized weed next year, since tax bills cannot be brought up in 2022, as it is not a fiscal session then.”

Under the proposed legislation, HB 434, according to WDSU, the state “would have taxed the sale of marijuana at 50 percent, with half of that going to the state’s general fund and the other half to local governments,” with another 20 percent of the local revenue going to law enforcement. 

Supporters of HB 434 asserted that legalizing recreational marijuana could be a massive windfall for the state, with some projecting as much as $100 million generated in tax revenue annually. 

There is also reason to believe that Louisiana voters are eager to embrace legalization. A poll released earlier this year found that 67 percent of voters in the state support legalizing pot—a 13 point uptick from the previous year. 

Beyond HB 434

Louisiana officially greenlit a medical marijuana program back in 2015, but it didn’t get off the ground until 2019. Last year, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill that significantly expanded the state’s medical cannabis program. 

Under the expansion, any patient suffering from a debilitating condition examined by a doctor could be eligible for treatment with medical cannabis. Previously, eligibility was limited to a strict set of debilitating conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, cancer, PTSD, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other seizure disorders.

But advocates are quick to point out that the state’s medical cannabis program is still beset by a number of restrictions.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, Louisiana “restricts the forms of cannabis allowed — prohibiting whole-plant (flower) and smoking,” and the state has only two state-licensed cultivators and only nine authorized medical marijuana dispensaries. 

In an interview this week, Edwards, a Democrat, said his views on legalization have changed over time, and that he believes ending prohibition in the state is a matter of “when,” not “if.”

“I have come to believe (legalization) is going to happen in Louisiana eventually,” Edwards said. “We need to study it and learn all lessons learned from other states that have legalized it.

He added: “”I’m not quite comfortable yet … I want to make sure we get it right.” That is a notable shift for Edwards, who has previously said flatly that he opposes legalizing marijuana.

Should Louisiana take that step, it would follow the lead of Virginia, which earlier this year became the first state in the south to end prohibition on recreational pot use.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, hailed the new law as a step toward “building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.”

“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said after signing the legislation. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”

Earlier this month, Louisiana lawmakers approved a bill that decriminalizes marijuana in the state. Under the new law, possession of up to 14 grams of weed would be subject to fine of up to $100 on the first and second offense, while minor possession offenses would be characterized as only misdemeanors and would not lead to any time behind bars.

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