As of today, 23 states and our nation’s Capital have recognized the medical value of marijuana and have legalized it for patients to use in one form or another. In two states, Washington and Colorado, voters have decided that its citizens are smart enough to use cannabis however they see fit so they have legalized it out-right, with strong initiatives to continue this trend in Oregon, California, Alaska and Washington D.C. To say that marijuana has gone mainstream in most of the country is an understatement. But not in Louisiana.
In Louisiana, a state that has actually legalized (but never allowed) medical marijuana, a marijuana conviction will probably ruin your life. A first-offense conviction for any amount of marijuana up to SIXTY POUNDS is a misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. The second conviction isn’t as pretty and will net you a $2,500 fine, five years in prison and a felony conviction that will follow you for the rest of your life. And if you’re unlucky enough to get caught a third time you won’t need to worry about the felony conviction keeping you from getting a job because you could be spending the next 20 years in a correctional facility.
Louisiana: Prison Capital of Planet Earth
According to Louisianans for Responsible Reform, Louisiana leads not just the United States but the world in the percentage of its population that is either serving time or awaiting sentencing, and has created a reality where one out of every 87 adults is behind bars. In a state where the average sentence for marijuana possession is eight years, and the cost for housing an inmate is $18,000 per year, it’s easy to see why spending $144,000 to put someone behind bars for possession of a plant that the majority of the country has embraced doesn’t make fiscal sense, let alone the human toll such a brutal campaign leaves in its wake.
All this despite the results of a 2014 LSU survey, which found that 79% of Louisiana voters were in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use. Louisiana voters are not alone in the stark contrast of public opinion versus the response of their politicians. Voters in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and most other Southern states have made themselves loud and clear in public opinion polls yet still face strong opposition from their lawmakers. But Louisiana takes the politics of pot to a whole new level, as they recently showed the world by soundly defeating a very modest bill that would have removed the threat of receiving a felony conviction for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But why?
Follow the money
And you don’t have to go far. As this 2012 Times-Picayune article highlighted, “The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.”
Taking away the freedom of citizens for profit sounds oddly familiar. It sounds a lot like slavery, and since this slave-driven system is being run by the government it makes it even more sinister. There is no doubt that any government that allows its citizens to be enslaved by someone else for profit shares culpability with the “slave owner”, but states that do so for the primary purpose of keeping beds full, leading to greater and greater profit, become the captor, owner and master of those slaves and should be considered the primary target in the counter-war on drugs.
If Louisiana voters are truly serious about marijuana law reform (and keeping their mothers and fathers out of Louisiana’s seemingly endless supply of private prisons) then now is the time for them to stand up to the lawmakers and tell them enough is enough. Louisiana politicians like Attorney General Buddy Caldwell are lying through their teeth about marijuana. In April, Caldwell told a Senate committee considering a medical marijuana bill that marijuana is linked to “85 percent” of cases he’s seen that also involved “some of the most vicious, brutal murders (and) rapes.”
The harsh treatment of non-violent drug offenders in Louisiana has to stop, and the only way that’s going to happen is if Louisiana’s citizens TELL them to stop. If this is an issue that affects you or your family then please consider joining and volunteering for one of Louisiana’s marijuana reform organizations.
If I missed any worthy organizations please send me a tweet and I’ll add them.