Despite recent efforts at reform, Louisiana’s drug sentencing laws remain harsh, subjecting even the lowest-level, first-time drug offenders to potential prison time. While simple possession of small amounts of marijuana is treated as a misdemeanor, even relatively small amounts of other substances can still trigger a felony charge. The state’s enhancement zones are large, subjecting thousands of Louisianans to enhanced sentences just by virtue of where they might happen to live.
Recently, Louisiana decriminalized possession of 14g or less of marijuana. These offenses are now pensioned with a $100 fine or community services. The state also has a medical marijuana program and prevents searches of private property based solely on the odor of marijuana. Fentanyl test strips have been excluded from the state’s paraphernalia prohibitions. These policies fall short of eliminating the black market for marijuana and other drugs.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana have been defelonized in Louisiana, with 14g or less resulting in a misdemeanor and fine up to $100, with no jail time.1 2 Possession of larger amounts, and of other substances, is still subject to criminal penalties.
Elimination of Drug Enhancements
Louisiana maintains broad sentencing enhancements for drug offenses, increasing sentences by 1.5x for sale or possession within 2,000 feet of a school, public housing development, day care center, or church.3
Louisiana has no statute affirming the requirement of mens rea. This can result in unjust outcomes when citizens are held to a standard of strict liability for obscure offenses like selling bread that lacks a state-approved vitamin profile.4 Implementing a mens rea requirement would necessitate proof of some form of intent. Louisiana could set a default standard of general intent when a statute is silent on the proscribed intent.
1. LA Rev Stat § 40:966
3. LA Rev Stat § 40:981.3