It’s not looking like 2021 is the year that Louisiana lawmakers will legalize.
The South is stepping toward cannabis reform, albeit slowly. With the exception of Virginia, which is about as far north as the South goes, no state in the region has embraced legalization for adult use. But with each year, the number of ballot initiatives and bills to fully legalize cannabis continues to climb, spurring, if nothing else, discussion, debates, and committee votes.
On Tuesday, that debate was center stage in Louisiana, as House lawmakers considered bills to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis in the state. Already this month, as Cannabis Wire reported, the House passed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program by allowing for the sale of smokable cannabis products.
After weeks of rescheduling, all three adult use-related bills introduced by Rep. Richard Nelson were up for a vote Tuesday. HB 699 “provides for the decriminalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational purposes,” HB 440 deals with licensing fees, and HB 434 deals with taxes and revenue allocation.
But the fate of this year’s cannabis push in Louisiana was clear on Tuesday when House lawmakers voted against HB 434, the first of the three bills up for consideration, in a 47-48 vote after a brief but heated debate over where the cannabis tax revenue would or wouldn’t go. Then, debate on the other two bills was pulled.
Just before the vote on HB 434, Nelson said, “The truth is, right now, all this money, we have zero. It’s nothing. It’s all going to the drug dealers.” He dismissed the idea of doing a study on legalization as “doing nothing and talking about it,” and pointed out that lawmakers cannot pass a tax bill next year, so if they do choose to legalize, it would mean “we’re just going to make it like lettuce.”
“I don’t think that’s responsible. This sets up a tax. This allows us to take that revenue that’s right now going to the drug dealers, that’s going to the drug cartels, and we can use it. And like I said, whether it goes to early childhood education, whether it goes to transportation, whether it goes to law enforcement, all those things are all things our constituents care about and they prefer over going to the drug dealers,” Nelson said.
While adult use legalization is still far off in many southern states, medical cannabis legalization has better luck. Still, it’s a mixed bag. This week, Alabama’s governor signed a medical cannabis legalization bill into law, while, in Mississippi, the state Supreme Court struck down a medical cannabis legalization measure passed by voters in November. It’s worth noting, though, that it was struck down on a technicality, not on substance.