Bills to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana are awaiting Governor’s approval

Bills to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana are awaiting Governor's approval

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Recently, a number of medical cannabis bills have been sent to the desk of Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards. If approved, the bills would expand patients’ access to medical cannabis across the State of Louisiana, which is one of 33 in the U.S. to have enacted a law allowing people to obtain medical cannabis for a range of diagnosed conditions.

On May 31, legislators finalized HB 819, which was approved by a number of House and Senate lawmakers. As per details of the bill to broaden patients’ access to medical cannabis in Louisiana, plant-based therapies could be recommended to patients for “any condition” that he or she “considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat “

If Gov. Edwards approves HB 819, physicians who are participating in the state of Louisiana’s medical cannabis program will be granted a wider scope of discretion in regards to making patient recommendations. 

“This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said about HB 819. “Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines – many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis – the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.”

Louisiana’s medical cannabis expansion measure was approved by the Senate health committee in a 5-1 vote. This vote shifted it to the full Senate for debate. Prior to the Senate health committee’s decision, the House had already voted 77-15 for the bill. 

Measures to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana await governor response 

Even if the recently-introduced bills are not approved, the list of qualifying conditions to receive medical cannabis in Louisiana won’t exactly be limited. Since amendments were made to the state’s medical cannabis law in 2015, the eligibility criteria has included a broad spectrum of illnesses, conditions and diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Parkinson’s disease. However, patients must receive an accurate prognosis from their doctor in order to obtain medicine.

In the event that the new measures to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana are signed into law, it will follow in the footsteps of numerous other legal weed states that have passed progressive measures to broaden patients’ access to the plant; California, Maine, and Virginia are a few examples. Although state lawmakers approved a limited medical cannabis access law back in 2016, the program’s update did not affect patients until three years later.

In addition to HB 819, House and Senate lawmakers also approved another measure to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana House Bill 418. This piece of legislation would safeguard “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical [cannabis]” from being prosecuted. 

Legislators didn’t stop there, with another measure to expand medical cannabis access in Louisiana also gaining approval House Bill 211. If the governor signs this law into effect, banking/financial institutions would be able to work with state-licensed medical cannabis businesses.

Gov. Edwards must now make a decision as to whether or not none, some or all three of Louisiana’s medical cannabis measures will be enacted into law.

Recreational cannabis in Louisiana remains illegal 

It remains against state law to consume cannabis for recreational purposes in Louisiana. Then again, things are moving in a less prohibitionist direction, what with Gov. Bobby Jindal putting his signature on Senate Bill 143 back in June 2015. As a result of the former governor signing HB 143 into effect, cannabis possession penalties were reduced. 

Based on the rules, first-time offenders who possess 14 grams – or less – of the cannabis plant must pay $300 in fines and/or spend 15 days behind bars. First-time offenders who carry in excess of 14 grams on their person – but fewer than 2.5 pounds – will have a six-month jail term and be required to pay a fine of $500.

Anyone caught possessing more than this amount of recreational cannabis in Louisiana will risk a minimum of two years to a maximum of 25 years in prison. Extortionate fines are added onto the offender’s tab if he or she is found with more than 60 pounds of cannabis. The fee for this offense may vary – depending on the quantity of cannabis discovered – from $100,000-$1,000,000.