Jindal agrees to medical marijuana, lessened pot penalties

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BATON ROUGE— Louisiana’s penalties for having small amounts of marijuana have been lowered.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the measure into law Monday, along with a bill that will eventually get medical marijuana to people suffering from cancer, glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy through a limited number of distributors.

Someone caught with less than 14 grams of marijuana now faces up to 15 days in jail and up to six months if caught with less than 2.5 pounds but more than 14 grams. A second offense has dropped from a felony charge to a misdemeanor crime, carrying a sentence of no more than six months, under the bill by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.

If someone gets caught on a second offense — and it’s been more than two years since the first conviction — that again will be treated like a first offense. But a repeat offender can only tap into that “cleansing period” once.

By conviction on a third offense of marijuana possession, a felony charge kicks in, carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty on later offenses has dropped from 20 years in prison to eight years.

While those penalty changes were immediate, state officials expect it to take two years or more for medical-grade pot to make it into the hands of anyone with a prescription. That’s because of the extensive regulatory process to choose and oversee a state-sanctioned grower and 10 licensed distributors.

LSU and Southern University get first right of refusal to grow the medicinal crop, under the bill by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks. If both schools decline, a public bidding process is opened.

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