BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers have agreed that people caught with small amounts of marijuana for recreational use shouldn’t go to jail, sending the bill to the governor's desk.

The Louisiana Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill that will decriminalize possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana. The proposal needed 20 votes to pass and that’s exactly how many it got as Senate President Page Cortez read the vote tally.

Lafayette Senator Page Cortez
Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Senate

The Senate’s 20-17 vote gave the proposal final passage with the exact number of votes it needed. The House already had backed the bill in a 68-25 vote.

The penalty for possession of 14 grams was decreased from 300 to 100 dollars, which eliminates jail time, and lets the court decide if the possessor is capable of paying the fine. Alexandria Senator Jay Luneau led the effort in the Senate and said the legislation is a common-sense bill.

“We have people across the state that are in jail for 14 or 20 or 30 days or whatever it is because they don’t have the money to pay the fine,” Luneau said.

The bill is expected to decrease the number of inmates in local jails. Luneau said this will help cut costs since the state pays for most of the expenses.

“We’re paying thousands of dollars a week to house these inmates and it’s just a dollars and cents question more than anything else,” Luneau said.

Narrow passage of the measure by Shreveport Democratic Rep. Cedric Glover demonstrates the changing opinions about marijuana use in Louisiana.

The proposal heads to the governor’s desk. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t taken a public position on the bill. Glover’s legislation would make possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana a misdemeanor carrying a fine up to $100. If signed into law, a person caught with a small amount of pot would not face jail time.

(Story written by Melinda Deslatte/AP & Taylor Sharp/Louisiana Radio Network)

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