Louisiana lawmakers approved a bill that would expand medical cannabis cultivation and reassign responsibility for the state’s medical marijuana program.

The House Committee on Health and Welfare voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 566, sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley. If enacted into Louisiana cannabis laws, licensing and regulatory authority for medical marijuana would move from the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry to the Department of Health.

The measure would further remove the limit of just two cannabis cultivation licenses. Those licenses are currently held by the agricultural departments at Southern University and Louisiana State University.

“My bill would change the regulation of the medical marijuana industry from the ag department to LDH, and we had several meetings with LDH and the ag department to make sure that would be ok, and for the additional growers,” Bagley said.

Kevin Caldwell, southeast legislative manager for Marijuana Policy Project, compared Louisiana’s medical marijuana program with nearby states ahead of the committee vote.

“Let’s look to see what our neighbors are doing,” he said. “In Arkansas, a state that has over 1 million less citizens than… Louisiana, they have eight growers. The state of Florida has 22 growers. Oklahoma, which has no caps, has well over 1,000 growers. Missouri has 60 growers. The state of Mississippi adopted a medical cannabis program this year and they put no caps on the number of growers in their program.”

Caldwell then noted that more cultivators results in cheaper cannabis products, highlighting the fact that medical marijuana prices in neighboring states are around 40 percent less than in Louisiana.

Medical cannabis reform advocates also spoke in front of the committee, with one arguing that the current duopoly over cannabis production in the state is forcing medical marijuana patients to go back to using opioids.

“The people that are running it right now are just here to make money,” said Angela Broussard, a medical cannabis patient. “People who are coming off of opioid dependency are looking back to opioids right now, because that’s $3 a month. And this is ridiculous.”

Others who testified told committee members that supply shortages and sky-rocketing prices meant medical cannabis bills for conditions like epilepsy and Crohn’s disease, among others, come in at around $400 a month.

Jeff Schmidtke, executive director of a company seeking a cannabis cultivation license in Louisiana, said increasing the number of growers would be a benefit to all.

“More growers alleviate the pressure of stocking empty shelves and allow for more products to be dedicated to doctors, scientists, professors, students and deans of research for all hospital systems across the state,” he said.

A separate medical cannabis bill – HB 697 – would also expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program by allowing for home delivery and increasing the number of pharmacies authorized to sell the treatment. It was recently approved by the same House committee.

Another bill – HB 135 – would allow out-of-state patients to purchase medical cannabis in Louisiana and it cleared the House in a full floor vote by 72-22.

Related: Cannabis Cultivation Laws by State

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