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Morrell’s bill to reduce weed penalties dies in committee



  After heated debate, a bill by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Louisiana was snuffed out by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 22.

  Senate Bill 323 would have made possession of marijuana in any amount a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to six months. The committee attempted to add an amendment that would have made possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor for the first offense only. With that amendment, the bill would mirror current state law with the exception of a first offense, a move that may have improved the bill's chances of ultimate passage. The bill died in committee, however, after members voted 4-3 against that amendment.

  Ironically, throughout testimony, several speakers and legislators admitted to having smoked marijuana. State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge (who voted in favor of the amendment), said she has never smoked weed or consumed alcohol, while Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, admitted both to smoking and inhaling. Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier, who opposed the measure, said he was "downwind from several marijuana cigarettes from time to time."

  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. ... 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.

  Louisiana's marijuana laws are some of the nation's most stringent. A first-offense possession of even a small amount of pot can land the owner in jail for six months.

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