Press Release  | 06/18/2001

Louisiana Passes Sweeping Drug Law Reform

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Legislative Coalition of Civil Rights Leaders, Fiscal Conservatives Join to Repeal Harsh

Louisiana, whose notoriously severe drug laws are largely responsible for giving it the highest incarceration rate in the country, passed dramatic drug reform legislation last week - joining the rising chorus of states rejecting the drug war's "lock 'em up" approach to drug abuse.

Among other changes, the drug reform legislation:

  • Eliminates Louisiana's heroin and cocaine "lifer" laws, which mandate life with no possibility of parole for distribution of any amount of heroin (now five to 50 years) or for manufacturing cocaine (now ten to 30 years);
  • Reduces the mandatory minimum for cocaine sales from five to two years (the maximum remains 30 years);
  • Eliminates the mandatory four-year sentence for simple possession of heroin (the maximum remains ten years);
  • Cuts penalties for distributing, manufacturing, and possessing amphetamines and methamphetamines; and
  • Saves the state an estimated $60 million per year in reduced prison costs.

"Louisiana citizens have long suffered under some of the most draconian drug laws in the nation, and they clearly deserve this legislation," said Bill McColl, legislative director for The Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation. "It's gratifying see Louisiana join the growing movement for alternatives to the failed drug war."

Over 200 people are currently serving mandatory life sentences in Louisiana for non-violent drug offenses - including a man sentenced last year to life in prison, without parole, for a drug transaction on which he made only $50.

Sponsored by members of the Louisiana Legislature's Black Caucus, the legislation garnered overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans alike, with a coalition of civil rights leaders and fiscal conservatives pushing the legislation to success.

The reform comes on the heels of drug reform in New Mexico, Missouri, Washington and Connecticut earlier this year. Last year voters in five states passed drug reform measures, while legislators enacted reform in five other states. The reforms included treatment instead of incarceration, drug sentencing reform, medical marijuana, syringe deregulation, and asset forfeiture reform.

Tony Newman at 212-548-0383

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