Louisiana has some of the toughest drug possession laws in the nation, where you can be arrested for having a small amount of marijuana and end up in jail. Possessing larger amounts of illegal drugs can lead to sentences as stiff as 40 years in prison.
It’s time for the State of Louisiana to reconsider its approach to enforcement of drug possession laws. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state faces a serious health crisis in its prison system with a growing number of inmates testing positive for COVID-19. At the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, recent tests showed that nearly every woman in the prison dormitory has tested positive for COVID-19. With tough drug laws putting many non-violent offenders behind bars at a time when COVID-19 can spread rapidly in tight quarters, lawmakers face tough decisions to maintain order while slowing the spread of the virus.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug offense, it’s important to understand there are multiple levels of drug charges in Louisiana, with severe penalties. Your first step after a drug charge should be to contact a drug defense attorney who can help you plead to a lesser charge or work to have your charges eliminated. Your defense gets stronger when a skilled lawyer is able to gather the facts on how the police handled your arrest.
What are Louisiana’s Current Drug Possession Laws?
Louisiana is known for strict drug laws that severely punish nonviolent drug users or those who or possess minimal amounts of controlled substances. For those nonviolent offenders, a conviction not only means serving a sentence that’s lengthier than in many other states, but also having a criminal record for life. Once they’ve served their sentence, their criminal record hangs over their head as they apply for jobs, try to buy a home, or attempt to secure a loan.
The state’s approach to marijuana is a good example. A growing number of states have either legalized both recreational and medical marijuana or decriminalized their use. Louisiana has a medical marijuana law that allows doctors to prescribe cannabis to treat certain medical conditions; but if you’re caught possessing marijuana without a prescription, the penalties still apply, and it’s also illegal to sell medical marijuana.
As a result, possessing even a small amount of marijuana in Louisiana could lead to jail time and a $300 fine for a first offense. A third marijuana possession offense can lead to up to 2 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Four or more offenses can lead to up to 20 years in prison.
What are Penalties for Other Controlled Substances?
Louisiana takes an even tougher stance on more dangerous drugs like heroin. Instead of a few days in jail or a fine of several hundred dollars, possession of even a small amount of heroin can get you a minimum of four years in prison with hard labor.
A drug possession charge can be categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Several factors are considered, including:
- The amount of the illegal substance you have
- The number of prior drug charges you’ve faced
- Whether you intended to sell the drugs
- Whether you had Schedule I drugs, which have a high potential for abuse
It’s also important to recognize that in Louisiana, you can still face criminal charges without having any drugs in your possession, if you’re found with drug paraphernalia or any object used to take illegal drugs, such as baggies, bongs, pipes and burnt spoons. While a drug paraphernalia charge is a misdemeanor, it’s illegal to lend, sell, or display any drug paraphernalia.
What’s not clear is whether the state will revise its laws during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that Louisiana had the fastest-growing coronavirus infection rate in the nation, and Louisiana also has the highest incarceration rate in the country. The pandemic has been a major threat in the state’s jails and prisons, with large inmate populations and underfunded health services.
Get an Experienced Drug Defense Attorney On Your Side
Drug charges remain a very serious offense in Louisiana, and a conviction makes it harder to find employment, obtain public housing, and attend college. It’s also crucial to avoid being sent to a state jail or prison during this health pandemic.
If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, you need a trustworthy and experienced attorney on your side. In Louisiana, The John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm has focused on defending drug charges for decades. Attorney Eric G. Johnson has more than 25 years of experience protecting the rights of the criminally accused across Louisiana. He is a member of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. To schedule a free consultation, call 318-377-1555 or contact us online.