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Louisiana rally calls for legal reform, pardon of drug offender

Louisiana marijuana legislation is in a confused state of transition. The Times-Picayune reported last month some legislators are drafting proposals to try to fix a toothless law that permits marijuana use for medical reasons but forbids all distribution of the drug. No wonder it's hard to interpret how serious some drug charges are!

Sentences involving personal possession of illegal drugs aren't as harsh as sentences for possession with intent to distribute charges. However, defendants who've been convicted more than once of drug possession may be considered habitual offenders. A repeat drug possession conviction can have life-changing consequences as they did for a New Orleans bicyclist, who had two marijuana cigarettes when he was stopped by police in 2010.

The New Orleans man was sentenced initially to a five-year term, but prosecutors appealed. Eventually, the state Supreme Court determined the 49-year-old man – a long-employed father of seven, including two children with major health problems -- deserved no special consideration. The defendant had been convicted twice earlier for possession of marijuana and cocaine.

The man was ordered to spend more than 13 years in a Jonesboro correctional facility. Four years after the man's incarceration, drug law reform advocates, including members of the Drug Policy Alliance and a member of the New Orleans City Council, gathered at a rally in support of the jailed father. Organizers want the governor to pardon the defendant and state legislators to deregulate marijuana possession laws.

The Times-Picayune report included results of a Louisiana State University survey of state residents conducted last year. Seventy-nine percent of respondents favored a relaxation of marijuana laws.

Punishments for cannabis-related offenses in Louisiana can be extremely severe. Criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors work within the provisions of drug laws as they stand, not as society would like laws to be. Defendants should take every arrest involving illegal possession very seriously, including charges involving small quantities.

Source: The Times-Picayune, "13 years in prison for two marijuana joints? Bernard Noble supporters cry foul" Jessica Williams, Mar. 07, 2015

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