Marijuana possession bill killed in Louisiana Senate committee

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After heated debate, a bill from state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to reduce penalties for marijuana possession was killed in a Louisiana Senate judiciary committee this afternoon.

Senate Bill 323 would make possession of marijuana a misdemeanor in any offense with a fine of up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to six months. The committee attempted to add an amendment, however, that essentially stripped all of Morrell's bill to make possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor for the first offense only, with other offenses remaining felonies. The bill would be exactly as current law with the exception of a first offense, a move that would have given the committee a better chance of passing the bill. But committee members voted 4-3 against that amendment.

Ironically, throughout testimony, several speakers and legislators admitted to smoking marijuana. Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (who voted in favor of the amendment) said she has never smoked nor drank alcohol, while Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, admitted to smoking and inhaling. John DeRosier, district attorney of Calcasieu parish, said he was "downwind from several marijuana cigarettes from time to time."

"What this bill seeks to do is have a more compassionate outlook on how we interact with people who get caught with less than an ounce of marijuana," Morrell said in his closing statements before the votes.

Adley, who co-authored the bill, said, "This committee had an opportunity to reduce what you wanted to do dramatically. We’re not even willing to do that. Clearly it’s not going to pass in the fashion it’s in. I want the world to understand what happened here. .... People aren’t even willing to reduce to an ounce or less to protect the civil rights violated every day because the punishment does not fit the crime."

The committee voted 4-3 to defer the bill.

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