Louisiana House Passes Bill to Expand Medical Cannabis Program

Cannabis reform is on the agenda in Louisiana. But the state’s hesitant history with the plant suggests that the bills before lawmakers this session face a steep climb. 

While a limited cannabis bill was signed into law in 2015, medical cannabis products were not made available until late 2019. Along the way, as Cannabis Wire reported, there were other holdups, some related to quality control, and others to contracts. 

Now, Louisiana lawmakers are considering several cannabis-related bills that aim not only to expand the state’s medical cannabis program but also to fully legalize cannabis for adult use. On Monday, one of those bills, HB 391, introduced by Rep. Tanner Magee, which would allow for medical cannabis to be sold in smokable form, passed 73-26 after just a few minutes of debate. It will now head to the Senate.

Today, the state’s medical cannabis program is overseen by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and not, like most others, by the state’s health department. Only two entities, under state law, are allowed to produce cannabis for the program: the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center, which selected two companies, GB Sciences of Louisiana, LLC and Advanced Biomedics, LLC (d/b/a Ilera Holistic Healthcare), respectively, for this task. The cannabis products can only be sold in nine selected state pharmacies, and only in non-smokable forms, such as oils, capsules, lotions, and suppositories.

“This bill is to allow the pharmacies to sell marijuana in its raw or crude form. That’s what the bill is. It is not recreational marijuana. You can deal with that on another day. But today we’re talking about the existing medical marijuana program. And I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the bill,” Magee said when introducing his bill on Monday.

Rep. Chuck Owen asked, “Are any other states in our region or this part of the world doing this?” He also asked whether law enforcement opposed the bill, to which Magee answered no.

In response to Owen’s first question, Magee pointed to Arkansas, where medical cannabis is legal, and Mississippi, where a voter-approved ballot measure is currently facing a legal challenge. “Your constituents are going to get this,” Magee said, referencing smokable cannabis, adding that it depends whether lawmakers will “make them drive to Mississippi and bring it back to Louisiana or make them drive to Arkansas and bring it back to Louisiana.”

Rep. Raymond Crews asked, “Are there some advantages to the raw or crude form over the ones we currently dispense?”

Magee argued that it’s more of “an access issue,” as cannabis that has been processed into product form is generally more expensive, and medical cannabis is not covered by health insurance.

Earlier in Monday’s hearing, lawmakers advanced one of three adult use bills introduced by Rep. Richard Nelson. One, HB 699, would decriminalize and regulate cannabis for adult use, while HB 434 and HB 440 deal with taxes and licenses, respectively. HB 699 has advanced to the full House, but has not yet been scheduled for debate. On Monday, the House advanced HB 440 to its third reading.

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