The state of Louisiana has more for-profit prisons than any other state, which unsurprisingly brings one out of every 86 adults behind bars. Yes, medical marijuana policy is inciting positive change, but this change must move more quickly. People’s lives are at stake, specifically those in marginalized groups who already face oppression!
Louisiana incarceration laws historically tended to be (and are to this day) at the extremely strict end of the national spectrum. In the year 2016 first offenders could have gotten minimal jail time for possessing under 14 grams of marijuana. At 60 grams, offenders could have gotten up to 30 years (NORML Foundation). In 2016, throughout the state of Louisiana, 16,618 arrests were made as a result of marijuana-related offenses, a number that had climbed up from the previous two years by thousands (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program). Seventy-five percent of these arrests in the New Orleans area were of African Americans (NORML Foundation), a percentage which suggests racist profiling in policing.
Orleans Parish is ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the state in Marijuana reform. As of March 2017, low-level marijuana offenders (holding 14 grams of marijuana or less) in Orleans Parish could be called to pay fines as opposed to time in jail. This only applied to those who were lucky enough to encounter an NOPD officer rather than a Louisiana State Trooper within Orleans Parish. This change in the law still brought about a positive outcome. As a result, when dealing with police encounters and marijuana possession in New Orleans, the percentage of marijuana-related arrests fell down to one percent from a previous seventy percent (NORML Foundation). First offenders could be called upon to pay a $40 fine, while repeat offenders pay up to $100. There is future talk and hope in that legislation will be enacted to decriminalize marijuana possession of one ounce or less.
Progress is in the air. And still, in much of Louisiana, African Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses than others; to prove matters worse, specifically in Baton Rouge, that number triples to six times as likely (SPLC). If your brain is going here, let me stop you before your thoughts become too solidly absurd; national surveys prove that African Americans are not using marijuana more abundantly than any other race. Again, the issue likely stems from racial profiling and racist policing.
Progress must stop floating in the air like a stagnant summer morning. Instead, progress must start flooding our streets like a terrifying Louisiana hurricane. Progress is exciting, but a more speedy progress is necessary now more than ever.