New laws expanding the medical marijuana program in Louisiana went into effect on August 1. The state’s medical marijuana program has been criticized for being too limited and too restrictive since the program was established in 2016, but the three laws that went into effect on Saturday aim to improve the situation.
Louisiana’s medical marijuana program may have been established three years ago, but patients were not granted access to medicine until August of 2019 when the first round of the product became available. Home cultivation remains illegal for the more than 4,000 registered medical marijuana patients. Only two facilities are allowed to cultivate medical cannabis for the entire state, and only nine pharmacies are licensed to distribute it to patients.
House Bill 819
Previously, the number of physicians that were allowed to recommend medical marijuana therapy was limited and so were the conditions that would qualify a person for the program. Under the new regulations established by HB 819, any physician licensed by the state of Louisiana has the authority to recommend medical cannabis to his or her patients. Previously, only physicians registered with the program were permitted to discuss it with patients. As a result, the program struggled to recruit physicians to participate.
This legislation also expands conditions which qualify a person to apply for the program and puts more emphasis on the patient-physician relationship by opening the program’s door to any person suffering from “any condition” which is deemed to be debilitating by the physician. Under the prior regulations, only patients suffering from a certain list of conditions, like cancer, epilepsy, or HIV, could qualify for the medical marijuana program.
House Bill 418
Even though more than half of the states in America have legalized some form of cannabis use, whether medical or recreational, the plant and its derivatives remain federally illegal. House Bill 418 aims to provide extra protection for those businesses that operate within the parameters of Louisiana state law. This legislation certifies that: “Any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health and has patients in its care using medical marijuana shall be exempt from the prohibitions provided in this Section for possession and distribution of marijuana.”
House Bill 211
House Bill 211 addresses another major restriction placed on state-legal cannabis businesses by the federal government. While cannabis remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, businesses licensed by the federal government, like those that provide banking services, are not able to work with any cannabis-related company without fear of federal prosecution.
Unlike federal regulations, the enactment of House Bill 211 is meant to motivate financial institutions to service those cannabis-related businesses that are licensed and operating legally in the state of Louisiana.
This legislation sets the expectation that the state will not: “Penalize a state bank or credit union for providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider solely because the account holder is a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or is an employee, owner, or operator of a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”
Federal Law: SAFE Banking Act
Many proponents think that federal lawmakers should take a page out of Louisiana’s playbook regarding the relationship between financial institutions and legitimate cannabis businesses. As long as cannabis remains illegal under federal law, banks that choose to work with cannabis industry businesses are at risk even though those businesses are operating legally under state law.
The United States Congress is currently considering legislation known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) which would effectively lift the restrictions preventing banks and insurance service providers from openly working with cannabis businesses.
The House has already approved the SAFE Banking Act, and the legislation is currently being held up by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Some Senators may need encouragement from you, the constituents, to support the SAFE Banking Act. NORML has made it incredibly easy to contact your state’s Senators to let them know that you want them to approve the SAFE Banking Act. Click here to be redirected to NORML’s website where all you have to do is enter your information and it will automatically send your letter of support.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills recently that redefine some of the state’s current rules and regulations concerning marijuana in the biggest move for the industry in the state since medical marijuana first became legal back in 1991.
The first bill, known as SB 143, will make Louisiana the first Southern state to allow patients suffering from a variety of ailments and medical conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and is intended to help create guidelines for medical cannabis distribution within state lines. Despite legalizing medical marijuana 24 years ago, the state has yet to establish regulations for how the plant should be cultivated, prescribed or dispensed.
The second of the two bills, HB 149, reduces the penalties assessed on those found in possession of marijuana within the state. Prior to its passage, those found guilty of a second offense of marijuana possession would face a felony conviction.
Under HB 149, second-time offenders will face only a misdemeanor conviction. Additionally, first-time offenders can now have their convictions removed from their records if they do not reoffend within a period of two years from the date of the initial infraction.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
While Jindal’s signature did not come as a surprise – he has been vocal about his support of both bills in the past – he signed without sending a press release or otherwise sharing details of his decision to do so.
Part of the reason for this may be because some opponents to the legislation have since stopped efforts to halt it. The Louisiana Association of Sheriffs, a primary opponent in years past, did not attempt to block the legislation this time around.
This is likely due in part to the fact that Sen. J.P. Morrell was quite vocal about getting Louisiana’s marijuana possession penalties more in line with those assessed by other Southern states. Other legislators feared that felony convictions for marijuana possession could have lifelong consequences for young offenders.
While progress was made with the recent signings, there are still several key decisions to be made. One involves how the plant will be cultivated within state lines given a modification of the bill that allows for cannabis use exclusively in its oil form.
While Louisiana State University has expressed willingness to cultivate cannabis in plant form, it remains to be determined how the plant would then be processed into cannabis oil.
Louisiana legislators have passed a new bill intended to close the gaps on a medical marijuana law passed nearly 25 years ago. No patient has ever benefited from the 1991 law, because it failed to provide any structure for how to regulate the cultivation and prescription of cannabis.
Gov. Bobby Jindal already singed the bill into law. While, this is good news for people who have been waiting to incorporate cannabis in their treatment plans, officials expect the plan to take a minimum of two years to implement.
Mike Strain, Louisiana Agricultural Commissioner, said his office would begin immediately on the complex process of constructing regulations for cultivating and dispensing marijuana. Part of the challenge will be to adhere to strict guidelines imposed by state law enforcement associations. Strain said,
“This is all new ground. We’re going to follow every rule, every regulation with a great care.”
With the bill, Louisiana joins nearly half of the United States in legalizing access to medical marijuana. Currently, proposed prescriptions would be available only to sufferers of glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and cancer patients in chemotherapy. The proposal requests, however, that other conditions be considered for treatment.
The executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, Malcolm Broussard, is ready to begin structuring licensing for medical pharmacies. The law allows for a total of 10 medical marijuana pharmacies for the entire state, which has a population of over 4,500,000 people.
The question of who will grow the plants remains unanswered at this time. Under the bill, only one grower in the state may be licensed to cultivate cannabis for medical distribution. Under the law, only consumable cannabis will be permitted. Smoking the plant is not included in this legislation.
First right of refusal goes to Louisiana State University and Southern University. If they decline, the process may go to bid in the private sector.
Strain noted that the process of issuing contracts and licensing is likely to come under intense public scrutiny. He said that he and other officials intend to operate with caution and transparency.
The deadline for submitting all proposals is January of next year. If lawmakers reject the new rules, administrative officials will have to start over.