Marijuana movement faces City-Parish Council

by Wynce Nolley

"What we aim for is bringing safe access to the cannabis plant in our community and in our state, and right now a state law is standing in the way of that and is causing a lot of unnecessary suffering, disenfranchisement and injustice right here in our community," says Dave Lucito, head of the recently announced Legalize Louisiana movement.

Several citizens advocating marijuana rights reform addressed the Lafayette City-Parish Council at yesterday's meeting, which was an aftershock from the Statewide March for Rights Concerning Marijuana that panned out as an incident-free protest at the courthouse two weeks ago.

"As I have looked around, I have seen some absurd things going on in our community and in the world, and so I do have the responsibility to be here in order to announce the initiation of a movement called Legalize Louisiana," proclaimed Dave Lucito, the 26-year-old who piloted the 400-strong march he said only fueled the movement's numbers in Lafayette and 10 other cities around the state.

"What we aim for is bringing safe access to the cannabis plant in our community and in our state, and right now a state law is standing in the way of that and is causing a lot of unnecessary suffering, disenfranchisement and injustice right here in our community," he added.

Lucito said he went before the council seeking its leadership to find an obvious solution through political argument, but without political affiliation.

"Whether it's Republican, Democratic, Green, (or) Libertarian, all these people need to get on board for this idea because it's 2011, and this is a serious injustice that affects our community," he said. "I personally envision for Lafayette that we transfer from the Oil Center to the Hemp Center in some point in the future. Even though it is legal to use this part of the plant the industrial hemp part of the plant why are we not doing that? Why are we still relying on the oil companies? If there has been a law for medical marijuana on the books in our state since 1978, then why are there still so many sick people?"

Lucito refers to a 1978 bill originally signed into law by then-Gov. Edwin Edwards that allowed doctors to legally prescribe medical marijuana to those suffering from glaucoma or undergoing chemotherapy, later allowing paralysis patients the same comfort. It was to be regulated under a proposed Marijuana Control Board, one that was never officially established and later dissolved by a 1989 bill that sought to eliminate inactive state commissions.

Although different versions of the bill garnered heavy support from Louisiana's most conservative politicians and were later signed into law by former governors David Treen and Buddy Roemer with then-state Sen. Mike Foster also voting in favor of the law it never saw application because of federal hindrances to the government's medicinal marijuana supply.

The affect of cannabis prohibition on the university population was also acknowledged in the discussion, as one University of Louisiana at Lafayette student came forth to voice her concern that such severe punishment follows students caught with the outlawed herb.

"I study very hard," explained Legalize Louisiana representative Paige Porter. "The idea that my scholarship or my financial aid can be taken away because of a marijuana offense baffles me, (and) that in 2011 we are still fighting to legalize a leaf and for the consumption of a leaf, and that the privilege to have an education could be taken away simply for being charged in accordance to that leaf." Porter studies English at the university and earned a 3.5 GPA.

According to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), about 22 percent of Louisiana students are denied financial aid because of marijuana convictions.

"I know people who have almost lost their children because of this, and they did break the law," she added, "but what I'm going to do today is to try convince you to break that law in half. We should not have to lose our privileges to have an almost-free education."

Jason Martin, another Legalize Louisiana representative present at the meeting, stated that marijuana criminalization is simply a violation of civil liberties.

"I represent a large number of people in the city and state, as well as the country, who want to legalize marijuana," he said. "It goes beyond all our different reasons. It simply has to do with our freedom of choices. Every day our freedom is taken away from us by over-regulating laws."

The council might not have shared as much enthusiasm about these public comments as it did for, say, the Tea Party of Lafayette and Acadiana Hotel and Lodging Association's efforts to defeat a proposed special tax to fund a new luxury hotel and convention center near River Ranch. Parc Lafayette developer Glenn Stewart pulled the measure before a council vote could take place after the two organizations heavily lobbied their opposition.

But the cannabis advocates' presence alone made one thing clear: Many in Lafayette are ready for an open debate on marijuana legalization and taxation, and they aren't going away any time soon. In fact, they plan to return in two weeks for another go around in larger numbers.

"It's obvious that people should not still be going to jail for (marijuana) when we just had a rambunctious Mardi Gras full of alcohol, which is way worse for you," posited Lucito. "Why are people still going to jail for this? Why aren't we working at all levels of the democratic process in order to get this? We have a town and group of visionaries who are coming together on this. We will expect and appreciate some action from this council on this issue."