Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law that will significantly expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program.
The bill removes restrictions on which doctors are qualified to recommend medical cannabis and allows them to recommend the treatment for any condition the physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”
Louisiana’s current 2015 medical marijuana law details a long list of severe qualifying diseases and ailments for medical marijuana including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures, and Parkinson’s disease. A 2018 amendment to the law included chronic pain as a qualifying condition.
The approved changes to the law will take effect in August.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall) who serves as chair of the House health committee, was passed by both the House and Senate in the last legislative session ending June 1. The House voted 75-16 in favor, while the Senate approved it in a 28-6 vote.
Following Gov. Edwards’ signing of the bill into law, Bagley noted his former opposition to any medical cannabis legislation. It is only after it became law that he saw the positive impact it had on people’s lives.
As well as scrapping limits to the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana treatment, the new law means there is no requirement for physicians to first receive a license from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners before they can recommend medical marijuana. Now, a physician must only hold “good standing” with the Board in order to recommend the treatment.
The new law goes a long way to loosening up Louisiana’s restrictive medical marijuana laws. So far, the state has reported limited patient uptake and few operational pharmacies. There are only two authorized grow sites, and one of them has yet to bring any medical cannabis to market.
Louisiana’s medical marijuana program has been plagued by delays since former Gov. Bobby Jindal revived the state’s decades-old medical cannabis program in 2015. While formally legal in limited forms since the late 1970s, the program never got off the ground.
The revived medical cannabis program launched last August but so far there are only nine licensed medical cannabis pharmacies for a widely dispersed population of nearly 5 million. State figures reveal that little more than 4,000 patients signed up for Louisiana’s medical marijuana program in the first three months of its existence.
According to David Brown, former president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, these low numbers suggest “the lion’s share of cannabis medicine in Louisiana is being supplied by the black market.”
Another reason for the limited patient uptake could be the ban on smokable forms of marijuana for medical purposes. The treatment is only available in oils, pills, liquids, topical applications and inhalers. Louisiana lawmakers have also been busy with other pieces of marijuana-related legislation. One of the bills would shield financial institutions from federal interference for providing their services to legitimate marijuana businesses. The other would require the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee to set up “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.”