A Louisiana Lawmaker Wants to Put Kids in Jail for Cannabis, But Not Adults
Louisiana offers an expansive medical marijuana program, offering cannabis to patients with many different qualifying conditions and symptoms, and the State even allows physicians to recommend medical marijuana for any symptom that might benefit from using cannabis.
Louisiana has even relaxed some of its laws on recreational cannabis, favoring fines as opposed to jail time or incarceration.
One proposed piece of legislation suggests that Louisiana should keep its lighter marijuana laws for adults but not for children, offering harsher penalties for minors who possess small amounts of marijuana, such as jail time.
In this article, we’ll talk about HB700, why lawmakers want to put harsher penalties on minors than adults, and how some lawmakers see harsher penalties for children as a good thing.
House Bill 700 Proposes Harsher Marijuana Penalties for Children in Louisiana
HB700 Makes Jail Time a Possibility for Minors, Not Adults
HB700 is an interesting piece of legislation, proposing harsher penalties for small marijuana possession like possible jail time, but only for minors.
The idea might sound absurd at first, as if subjecting children to incarceration was somehow safe for young people, though Rep. Larry Bagley R-Stonewall suggests that the penalties under HB700 are meant to deter marijuana use by young people, not criminalize.
Unfortunately, the language of the bill doesn’t offer just scare tactics like Rep. Bagley prefers you see it, it genuinely enforces incarceration as a possible outcome of children found guilty of possession of cannabis.
There are provisions for minors who are medical marijuana patients, but HB700 offers probation, imprisonment, or “dispositional alternatives” as possible outcomes for minors possessing cannabis without a medical marijuana card.
HB700 makes imprisonment a very real outcome for minors convicted of possessing cannabis, and the penalties can get significant with multiple offenses.
What are the Penalties for Minor Possession of Marijuana Under HB700?
Under HB700, a first-time offense could land a minor probation or imprisonment for up to 15 days if they possess up to 14 grams of marijuana as a minor.
If a minor possesses more than 14 grams of cannabis, they could be subjected to up to six months imprisonment.
A second offense could lead to six months imprisonment, but third and fourth offenses carry the strictest penalties.
A third offense by a minor could land them up to two years imprisonment with or without hard labor.
A fourth offense could land a minor up to four years of imprisonment with or without hard labor.
These are significant penalties for anyone, but especially for minors. Children could be subject to up to four years of imprisonment with hard labor with repeat marijuana offenses, which goes above and beyond similar penalties for repeat alcohol possession offenses.
Why Do Lawmakers Want Kids in Jail for Cannabis?
Lawmakers Say Jail Isn’t the Goal, Text of Bill Argues Otherwise
The crux of HB700 is that adults are treated very differently for simple cannabis possession, usually incurring only a small fine.
Legislators are focused on children due to the claimed inability to keep marijuana out of schools, and the proposed answer to this problem is strict penalties that could affect the outcome of a person’s entire life.
While legislators suggest these penalties exist as an advertised warning rather than realistic convictions, the language of the bill doesn’t suggest that at all. These are not scare tactics, they are laws that offer judges the ability to sentence real imprisonment for minors who possess small amounts of cannabis.
There are provisions in every section of the bill that allow for probation, imprisonment, or “any other dispositional alternative” as possible outcomes, which supporters of the bill like Rep. Bagley say judges would likely choose as opposed to imprisonment.
This fanciful approach suggests that the future of children is safe in the hands of courts that will prefer not to imprison minors over cannabis, though it’s probably safer that the option of imprisonment remain off the table to begin with.
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Louisiana has a higher rate of juvenile incarceration than the National average, so lawmakers certainly aren’t opposed to putting children behind bars.
And while this might be an appropriate response to something like violent crimes, HB700 suggests that this should be a possible outcome for minors in possession of small amounts of cannabis.
It is true that children shouldn’t use marijuana for many health-related reasons, though the outcome of imprisonment hasn’t traditionally worked for adults, and it’s probably less likely to work for children.
For Republicans, it begs the question of whether it is the government’s responsibility to impose penalties for cannabis possession, and for Democrats it demands that imprisonment is an appropriate alternative for rehabilitation.
HB700 directly challenges many important points about cannabis possession and youth, and lawmakers and residents both probably feel that children shouldn’t be consuming cannabis.
Lawmakers and citizens will likely disagree, however, when it comes to imprisonment for people under the age of 18, and it does seem irrational that in 2022 legislators are still arguing over how a small mistake like holding a joint could drastically change the entire outcome of a person’s life.
This time, though, they’re not just trying to figure out how to criminalize the possession of cannabis, they’re debating the future of Louisiana children.
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Louisiana has a comprehensive medical marijuana program, offering medical marijuana certifications to anyone with symptoms or conditions that medical marijuana may benefit. Getting your medical marijuana card in Louisiana is simple and easy, and you can even receive your Louisiana medical marijuana card online!
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