Editorial: Marijuana legalization favored by Louisianians

A recent survey indicates a slim majority of Louisiana voters support legalizing marijuana use.

The poll, conducted by the Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., found that 53 percent of 636 voters surveyed said they

favored taxing and regulating marijuana use for people 21 years or older. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they

opposed legalizing marijuana.

Though the survey’s small sampling makes it impossible to draw any concrete conclusions, it can at least serve as a conversation

starter.

An effort earlier this year by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, to reduce the length of sentences for possession of

marijuana, failed in Louisiana’s Senate.

Advocates say decriminalizing

simple marijuana possession would relieve an overcrowded judicial system

and prevent young offenders

from being mixed in with hard-core drug users.

State Rep. Dalton Honore, a former law enforcement officer, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge the time he spent making cases

and arrests for simple marijuana possession could have been better used to track down more serious crimes. He recommended

treatment, rather than jail time for most marijuana users.

Fifteenth Judicial District Public Defender G. Paul Marx seconds that notion. He said about 25 percent of the cases his office

defends involve marijuana use.

Studies show that marijuana can be a

gateway drug for young people who ultimately move on to more dangerous

illegal substances.

But advocates argue that arresting and incarcerating young people

for simple marijuana possession also exposes them to more

hardened, seasoned criminals.

“The more we can prevent young people from getting into the system, the better off we’re going to be,” said Cecile Guinn,

director of LSU’s Office of Social Service and Research and Development.

Guinn said time and resources should be devoted to violent criminals and those with more serious drug issues.

Honore said he doesn’t anticipate any of his colleagues pushing legislation to legalize marijuana. That view speaks volumes

about the finding of the Public Policy poll.

State Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, doesn’t believe legislation to legalize marijuana will find many allies in the state

Capitol but he believes fellow state lawmakers would approve reducing marijuana sentences.

This is likely an issue that won’t go away, and recommendations by the powerful Sheriff’s and District Attorney associations

will go a long way in determining its fate.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.