LOUISIANA - With the topic of marijuana legalization in Louisiana gaining steam recently, that raises the question: What could legalization mean for those inmates serving time for non-violent drug offenses?
Louisiana currently has the highest incarceration rate in the country at 680 arrests for every 100,000 people. Thirty-two percent of the state’s inmates are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. Ryan king says should marijuana become legalized, that doesn’t necessarily mean those offenders would be released.
"Unfortunately, the way the system of laws works, is that once you are convicted of a crime under a legal statute then it’s hard to kind of revisit that," said King, a practicing attorney.
King says an offender’s best chance at being released would potentially come down to a parole board taking into consideration the crime committed as it relates to an updated version of a law that the person violated at the time of their arrest.
"Unless of course you’re talking about early release or something like that. If you want to get out on parole, the parole board may look favorably on that situation and say this is a non-violent drug offense, this person has been serving a sentence for a year or two years or what have you," he said.
He adds that should marijuana be legalized recreationally, the Louisiana Supreme Court could choose to apply the law retroactively which would then give convicted offenders another path to being released.
"For those that have already been convicted, they may be able to get a new trial at that point because of the retro applicability of whatever the new law or what have you might be," King said.
A retroactive marijuana law could also mean an increased caseload for lawyers as inmates would seek representation for their new trials. But King says he believes they’ll be well prepared. "It could be a bit more busy, a bit more work. But I think the criminal justice system, the lawyers in Louisiana, I think they’re positioned to take on that additional caseload."
The legalization of marijuana in the state could provide a much needed relief to its strained prison system.
Representative Richard Nelson recently introduced a 22-page bill to the Louisiana State House of Representatives aimed at legalizing marijuana. Should the bill pass, the final decision would be left up to voters in 2022.