Louisiana lawmakers have been quietly busy advancing three pieces of legislation concerning expanded medical cannabis access, protected marijuana banking services and the establishment of a taskforce to ascertain cannabis industry employment needs.

The Senate voted 28-6 for a bill that would allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana to treat any debilitating condition. There are currently only 14 conditions for which a physician may do this under Louisianan law. The House of Representatives passed the bill in mid-May and several days later it was advanced by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The Senate included an amendment that would require medical cannabis dispensaries to record transactions in the state prescription-monitoring database. House lawmakers will need to approve this change before it can be sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for his signature.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), initially drafted the legislation to simply add two more conditions to the qualifying list, but the language was later changed by a House committee to include any condition a doctor “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

House Bill 819 is the new standard for medical marijuana programs. The bill allows any doctor who is licensed by and in good standing with the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to make medical marijuana recommendations for their patients,” Bagley said.

“The bill also ends the Legislature’s task of picking medical winners and losers each session, and instead allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any condition that a physician, in his medical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient,” he added.

The recent flurry of activity among Louisiana lawmakers on expanding access to medical cannabis is a welcome change to the seemingly endless delays which plagued the establishment of the state’s medical marijuana program.

The House of Representatives passed another marijuana-related bill that would shield banks and credit unions from state regulators for providing financial services to cannabis businesses. Rep Edmond Jordan (D) introduced the proposed legislation to prevent state regulators from interfering with the financial arrangements of businesses “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.”

The bill has now also been approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs and awaits a full vote on the Senate floor. It’s worth noting though that even if this bill is passed into law, financial institutions servicing marijuana businesses in Louisiana could still be subject to federal interference given the nationwide prohibition of cannabis. The US House of Representatives twice passed federal cannabis banking legislation to remedy this, including in the recent COVID-19 stimulus package, but it has faltered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The final piece of marijuana-related legislation to advance in Louisiana comes from the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. It unanimously approved a resolution to set up “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.”

An excerpt of the legislation argues “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”

The task force, comprising eleven members, would “report its findings and recommendations, including any suggestions for proposed legislation, to the legislature no later than February 1, 2021, at which time the task force shall cease to exist.”

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