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20 Years for Pot Possession?

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According to an investigative report by the New Orleans City Business newspaper, Orleans Parish District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson is routinely seeking five-to-20 year sentences for minor pot possession offenders.

Smoke Screen District attorney boosts felony convictions with marijuana cases via neworleanscitybusiness.com

Shortly after Keva Landrum-Johnson took over as district attorney following Eddie Jordan’s resignation Oct. 30, hundreds of new felony cases flooded the public defenders office, overwhelming the 29 defense attorneys.

… The flood of new felony charges didn’t target murderers, rapists or armed robbers — they targeted small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot, and threatened them with lengthy prison sentences.

The resulting impact has clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system and damaged low-income African-American communities.

… Landrum-Johnson’s decision to accept felony charges on people arrested for second and third marijuana possession offenses is a dramatic break from the tactics of former DAs Jordan and Harry Connick.

A first-time marijuana possession charge in Louisiana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison but typically results in a small fine. A second offense is a felony that can carry up to five years in jail and a third offense up to 20 years.

Under Jordan and Connick, however, second and third offenses were routinely reduced to misdemeanors that typically did not require a trial. This freed up public resources to be spent on violent crimes as opposed to minor, victimless offenses.

Question: Who’s the real "bad guy" here?

The obvious answer is DA Landrum-Johnson, who is throwing the book at minor pot offenders in a cynical effort to appear "tough on crime" and bolster her campaign for Criminal Court Judge.

But the blame should not end with the DA. The true culprits responsible for this mess are the Louisiana lawmakers who, apparently, believe it’s quite alright for minor pot offenders to face up to 20 years in prison and a felony record.

It’s not the responsibility of each individual DA to try and make rational sense out of what is clearly an irrational law. In fact, in an ironic twist, DA Landrum-Johnson’s actions may actually hasten statewide reforms in Louisiana by once and for all exposing the state’s dirty little secret: Louisiana possesses some of the most malevolent pot penalties in the country!

Well, it’s time that we call them on it. Write or call your Louisiana state legislators and ask them if they believe that minor marijuana offenders should face five-to-20 years in prison. And if they don’t, then tell them to sponsor legislation in 2009 to make Louisiana’s absurd pot penalties a thing of the past.