Poll Focuses on Louisiana’s Marijuana Laws

A new statewide poll shows Louisiana voters are coming around on softer penalties for marijuana possession.

A new statewide poll shows Louisiana voters are coming around on softer penalties for marijuana possession.

A new poll obtained by LaPolitics suggests voters in Louisiana overwhelmingly support medicinal applications for marijuana and are increasingly coming around on the decriminalization issue. But while states like Colorado and Washington recently changed their laws to allow marijuana to be regulated and taxed, the political will in Louisiana still appears weak for any substantive reforms in this area.

Efforts to discuss the topic in the Legislature over the past few years have been met more frequently with jokes than debate, but the new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina shows 49 percent of those polled would be more likely to support a candidate for office in Louisiana if he or she voted to reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana. Another 53 percent said they would support mirroring the laws put into place in Colorado and Washington.

Dr. Edward Chervenak, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Orleans, said the poll numbers may not amount to much unless there’s a large organized effort statewide to explain the benefits. He added that’s what has usually preceded reforms in other states.

“That’s what would get the Legislature moving, although we’re unlikely to see it any time soon,” said Chervenak. “Something else that might convince them is whether Colorado starts to see big bucks rolling in from tax revenue.”

One localized effort, called SaferNOLA, is underway in New Orleans and its organizers say support is mounting for sentencing reforms. Spokesperson Brian Welsh said the poll, commissioned by the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, shows as much and that various judicial interests are coming together to do something about in the 2014 regular session.

In the PPP poll, 56 percent of participants said they would support a $100 fine without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana. Another 59 percent said they currently oppose, in general, longer prison terms for simple possession.

“The Legislature came close earlier this year to reducing penalties and there’s a lot of interest from folks in the legal and judicial communities to revisit that next year,” Welsh said. “That could be the big takeaway from this poll.”

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