The South is the worst place in America to use cannabis, but at least things are getting less awful.
On Monday, the Louisiana legislature approved a bill to reduce the state’s draconian marijuana sentences. Personal possession of any amount of pot can earn you six months in jail and a $500 fine in Louisiana. Second and third-time pot possession convictions can equal five or 20 years in prison.
SB 241 from New Orleans democrat J.P. Morrell would reduce the max penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders.
The Louisiana senate voted 27-12 to advance SB 241 Monday, in part because the influential Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorney Association stopped opposing long-overdue reforms. The bill now heads to the House.
Louisiana is the world’s capital of prisons, with an incarceration rate five times higher than the brutal theocracy of Iran, 13 times higher than human rights abuser China, and 20 times higher than Germany.
Blacks are three times as likely as whites to be arrested for pot in Louisiana, even though blacks use pot at less or the same amount as whites, the ACLU finds. In Tangipahoa County, blacks are 11.8 times as likely to be arrested for pot as whites.
Blacks comprise 32 percent of Louisiana’s population, yet represent 60.8 percent of marijuana arrests and that rate is has significantly climbed from 2000 to 2010.
Such statistics have led critics to conclude that the war on marijuana is a modern form of Jim Crow. More blacks are currently held in prison than were held as slaves in 1820.
Personal possession accounts for 84.6 percent of all marijuana arrests in Louisiana, and 37 percent of all drug arrests in the state. The impoverished state spends an estimated $46.45 million dollars enforcing pot possession laws each year.