Nov. 13, 2012 05:06

Marijuana's legalization is getting some hype here, but in a socially conservative state like Louisiana, change may be slow.

Written by Patrick Flanagan

Louisiana's Libertarians are saying its high time for marijuana's legalization here. 

"As Libertarians, we're for freedom on every issue, and we believe people should be able to smoke marijuana if they want," says Wes Benedict, chairman of the Baton Rouge Libertarians and former executive director of the national Libertarian Party in Washington D.C.

              Wes Benedict

Libertarian Party candidates ran in five of Louisiana's congressional district races this year, and each of their platforms included marijuana's legalization, says Benedict.

 Benedict points to Colorado and Washington state, where voters just legalized the recreational use of  marijuana, as an indicator of what's to come.

 "It's looking like things are changing around the country, which we Libertarians see as a good sign," Benedict tells IND Monthly. "Louisiana is a socially conservative state, so I don't expect to be on the leading edge of this issue, but changes are happening all over the country and those changes will spread. We will keep pushing the issue here, because it all starts with educating the public and our elected officials."

That education, he says, centers on the costs associated with marijuana's criminalization.

"The biggest benefit of legalizing will be in terms of saving money in the justice system," Benedict adds. "There's so much money spent just on police chasing marijuana, not to mention the cost of putting these people in jail. The crime we have with drugs is because they exist in the black market."

Leading the push is a group called Legalize Louisiana. The group emerged in 2011, and seemed to have some momentum after staging a series of rallies around the state.

                           Facebook photo of Legalize Louisiana's rally in Lafayette in 2011

This year's rally, at least in Lafayette, was a far cry from the hundreds of marchers who descended upon the Parish Courthouse in 2011.

Yet, the group on Nov. 7 posted an online petition to "Restore Cannabis Rights in Louisiana." The petition, which is posted on the group's Facebook page, calls for a reformation of:

Louisiana's Cannabis laws and policies, to honor the inalienable rights to all benefits of the Natural Cannabis plant, to result in safe and free access to the plant for all Louisiana citizens for every medical, industrial, religious, or recreational application.

Benedict says Legalize Louisiana's online petition is a good start, but will need support to prove effective.

"Public opinion is growing nationwide, but our activities are in the early stages here in Louisiana," he says.  "Legalize Louisiana's petition is a good way to start convincing our elected officials to at least put something on the ballot for voters to decide. Because unlike some other states, in Louisiana we have to get Legislative approval to add something to the ballot."

Click here to view Legalize Louisiana's petition, and here to read more about the Louisiana branch of the Libertarian Party.

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