Tomorrow, the Louisiana House of Representatives will consider HB 149, a bill that would reduce the penalties for second and subsequent marijuana possession charges. Although penalties would still be staggering for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol, HB 149 is an important step forward — it could shave years off of marijuana consumers’ sentences.
While first offense marijuana possession would remain a misdemeanor and subsequent possession charges would remain felonies, HB 149 would significantly reduce the amount of time a marijuana consumer could spend in prison for a second or subsequent marijuana possession conviction. For instance, HB 149 would reduce the maximum sentence for a second conviction from five years to two years. It would also reduce the possible fine.
Louisiana has some of the most draconian marijuana laws in the country, and HB 149 would be a positive step toward sensible reform.
The Legislative Council of the NCAA approved a measure that would reduce the penalty for a positive marijuana drug test. Currently, college athletes face a full year suspension if caught using marijuana, but, after August 1st of this year, the suspension will be reduced to half of a year.
NCAA reasoned that marijuana is not “performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation." The change in policy distances marijuana from being seen equally to steroid use and treats the issue “the same as academic fraud." This change clearly reflects the national shift on attitudes about marijuana towards decriminalization rather than strict punishment.
However, individual schools and conferences can still set whatever harsher penalties they like for their players. Since the NCAA only tests for marijuana during championships, it's fairly easy for an athlete to stop smoking marijuana a month before the NCAA Tournament to test negative.
“But if the NCAA would get out of the morality business when it comes to things like substances, and stay in the business of making sure competition is fair and not tainted by PEDs, I think it would be better for everyone,” Glenn Logan said in an article for SB Nation. “After all, we don't test regular scholarship students for marijuana, so why should student-athletes be singled out?”
Today, the City Council of Chicago voted 43-3 to amend the city’s code to direct police officers to cite, rather than arrest, individuals in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. Under the proposal, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police could still arrest those who cannot produce identification or present a threat to public safety. Those cited would face fines of $200 to $500 dollars and up to 10 hours of community service; however, there would be no risk of jail time.
Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to obtain employment, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like the city’s soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38% over the last year.
Chicago now joins over 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states across the nation in removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Since enacting laws replacing arrest and jail with fines for such violations, there has been no appreciable increase in marijuana use in those areas, either among adults or young people. The move follows a recent trend in marijuana reforms, including a similar penalty reform in Rhode Island and medical marijuana legislation in Connecticut this May and June. Legislative chambers in New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey also approved marijuana policy reforms in recent weeks. This trend reflects growing public consensus that harsh marijuana laws are ineffective, and scarce law enforcement resources should not be used to arrest adults for using a substance safer than alcohol.
If only President Obama's former colleagues, like his good friend the Mayor of Chicago, could convince him that people are ready for real marijuana policy change, and that we need it more than ever.