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Marijuana and gun use leniency proposed

By Claire Salinas
On February 11, 2014

  • In this Dec. 5, 2013 file photo, marijuana matures at the Medicine Man dispensary and grow operation in northeast Denver. Colorado voters still support the state law that legalized recreational marijuana, but most believe it is hurting the image of the state, according to a new poll released Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. The Quinnipiac University Poll found that 51 percent of voters overall believe the measure is bad for the state’s reputation, while 38 percent see it as a net positive. AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

The Louisiana Legislature will be voting on two controversial bills in the upcoming legislative session.  One bill proposes criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana and repeated offenders be significantly decreased.  Another bill proposes that law enforcement officers be allowed to carry firearms into alcoholic beverage outlets.
Despite current national trends, Southeastern's drug policy has actually become more strict over the past year.  
In the summer of 2013 Southeastern's Student Code of Conduct Office altered its drug violations division so that not only regular drugs, but also synthetic drugs and particular drug paraphernalia were included in its drug violation division.  Synthetic marijuana, bath salts, incense and other manufactured drugs joined the list of banned substances on campus, along with hookahs and additional smoking devices, scales, rolling paper and weights.
Marijuana is now legal in two states, eight states have made the use of the drug for medical purposes legal and other states have varying degrees of tolerance for the drug according to governing.com. With the varying degrees of legalization for the drug in different states, it was only a matter of time before Louisiana faced the question of whether the drug should be legalized within the state.  Although the proposal does not call for the legalization of the drug, it significantly reduces the penalties for possession of the drug as well as for repeated offenders.
Specifically, the current law says on the second offense of possession, the offender will be fined between $250 and $2000, placed in jail for no more than five years or both, and that certain conditions must be met for the offender to be put on probation, including substance abuse treatment and community service.  The proposal says for the second offense the offender should not be fined more than $500, placed in jail for no more than two years or both.
For the third offense the current law says the offender should be fined no more than $5000, imprisoned for no more than 20 years or both. The proposal says the offender should be fined no more than $200, imprisoned for no more than five years or both.
The proposed law would add a fourth offense category, which would punish the offender with a fine of no more than $2000, a prison sentence of no more than eight years, or both.
President of Southeastern's chapter of Young American's for Liberty, Kevin Dupuy, gives his take on the situation.
"Any step toward reducing criminal penalties for personal drug use is a step in the right direction. We believe the health issue of drug use can best be addressed by treating it as the public health issue it is, not as an issue for the criminal justice system," said Dupuy.  "However, even the potential reformed sentences are ludicrously high. If you get caught using marijuana twice, you could still face up to two years in prison."
"These penalties do much more harm than the drug itself: a night with friends, at home smoking marijuana can turn into a life-altering stint in jail, a damaging criminal record and fines. The criminal justice system is not the way to fix a nation's drug problem, it's a way of sweeping it under the rug and we should want better."
The other proposal up for a vote in the legislative session would allow law enforcement officers to carry guns onto the premises of alcoholic beverage outlets, which in layman's terms, is anywhere that sells individual servings of alcohol. The officers would be allowed to carry in fire-arms while off-duty even if they were entering the outlet as a patron who was planning to partake of alcohol.  Currently the only people allowed to carry firearms into an alcoholic beverage outlet are the owner, or lessee of the establishment, an employee of the owner or lessee or a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of their official duties. Those who violate this law can face a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for six months or both.
Dupuy weighs in on this proposal.
"The person best positioned to decide whether or not to allow patrons with guns into an establishment is the owner. They know their clientele, their area and their risk," said Dupuy.  "Allowing off duty officers to carry guns into establishments that sell alcohol is a good first step, however allowing control over those decisions to be made by the facility itself should be the ultimate goal."
Junior computer science major, Scott Knight, has a different opinion about the proposed laws.
"I feel that as law enforcement officers who are aware that they are carrying a weapon into a potentially crowded zone, we should trust that they realize their obligation to act responsibly in this situation," said Knight.  "In the event that something would go wrong in such an establishment, having an armed, off-duty officer could potentially save lives and resolve the crisis as a first responder until on-duty officers can arrive for further assistance and backup. This could be a good thing."
Knight talks about how the proposals might affect students.
"Concerning the legislation about firearm allowance in places that sell alcohol and how it affects our Southeastern students, I think this would add an inherent level of security. It's not as if untrained civilians are the ones being permitted to carry arms into these businesses, and more often than not there are already on-duty officers in the same scene with handguns as well," said Knight.
Knight also addressed how the proposed marijuana policies could affect students if they were to be passed.
"I think that this could potentially cause problems because while the fines and potential jail time may be lowered, the drug is still an illegal substance," said Knight. "Some students may take the legislation as a sign that firstly, the justice system is 'lightening up' and 'not caring' about it as much, and secondly, since the consequences for being caught with the substance are much less significant then doing so would be seen as a trivial and negligible offense. Hopefully we all have more common sense than that."
Decisions on these proposals will be made in the upcoming Louisiana State Senate 2014 Regular Legislative Session. The Session will convene at noon on Monday, March 10, and
final adjournment will be no later than 6:00 p.m. on Monday, June 2, 2014.
 


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