Cannabis Legalization to be Debated in Louisiana House

Getty Images

Another Bible Belt state may be headed toward legalizing recreational marijuana, with support from legislators on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Louisiana House will debate whether to decriminalize recreational marijuana use by adults, as state opinions about cannabis appear to be shifting and the idea is gaining bipartisan backing.

Lawmakers on the House criminal justice committee voted 7-5 Tuesday to send the proposal by Republican Richard Nelson of Mandeville to the House floor for debate. Two other Republicans joined Nelson and Democrats to support the measure, helping it get out of committee.

The bill would allow people 21 years and older in Louisiana to buy and have marijuana for personal use and would set up the legal framework for growing and selling cannabis products outside of the state’s current medical marijuana program.

Supporters of the measure pointed to statewide polls that increasingly show support for legalization of recreational marijuana in Louisiana.

“I think that now it’s time to reevaluate where we are,” Nelson said.

Opponents included organizations representing sheriffs and district attorneys. They argued legalization would increase organized crime and teen suicide, even as they acknowledged that opinions on marijuana are changing.

“I would ask that you tap your brakes and study this matter,” said Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly said he opposes legalizing recreational marijuana in Louisiana. But he hedged Tuesday when asked about Nelson’s proposal. The Democratic governor said he has “great interest in that bill” and would make a decision if it reaches his desk.

Sixteen U.S. states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and one in three Americans live in a state where marijuana is legal. However, Virginia is thus far the only state in the Southeast to do so. This would make Louisiana the second state in the Bible Belt to legalize adult-use.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.