The State of Medical Marijuana in Louisiana
2020 Grade: D+
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Louisiana continued to organize improvements to its limited medical cannabis program in 2020, with Governor Edwards signing HB 81922 into law. The bill eliminated the state’s list of qualifying conditions, allowing doctors to recommend cannabis to patients as they see fit beginning on August 1, 2020. While the elimination of qualifying conditions is a huge stride for the Bayou State, significant work remains before the state’s system is functional for patient use. One of the most important issues for lawmakers to tackle in 2021 is patient access, as authorized cannabis products did not begin to reach patients until August of 2019 at only nine approved pharmacies.
ASA recommends increasing the number of legal medical retailers from which patients can secure medicine, authorizing delivery of cannabis medicine to patients, as well as a caregiver system to support patient access. Improvements in patient protections are also called for, specifically related to employment, housing and parental rights, as are improvements in cultivation, testing laboratory and pharmacy operating procedures and staff training.
Responding to COVID Louisiana declared medical cannabis businesses essential, allowed for telehealth visits as a substitute for in-person patient evaluation and authorized licensed medical cannabis retailers to deliver to patients regardless of patient location.
The state first passed medical cannabis legislation in 1978, however the program has never functioned. Bayou State lawmakers began to revisit cannabis policy in 2015 with the passage of SB 149, which reduced criminal penalties for cannabis possession. That same year Governor Jindal signed HB 149 into law, which authorized licensed physicians to prescribe cannabis in a manner aligned with federal guidelines. With no such guidelines in place the state program could not operate to serve patients.
In 2016, the state passed and signed a pair of bills, SB 271 and SB 180 which fixed the “prescription” language issue from 2015’s HB 149, established legal protections for registered patients, and expanded the list of qualifying conditions that patients must meet to obtain legal access to the state’s medical program. In 2017, Governor Edwards signed SB 35 into law, which extended arrest protections to employees of the medical cannabis industry, including those who would be dispensing at pharmacies, research facilities and laboratories.
Louisiana’s medical program authorizes only two state universities to cultivate medical cannabis, which registered patients can access at one of only nine pharmacies controlled by the state Board of Pharmacy. This narrow policy framework provides patients with extremely limited access, leaving many patients without the opportunity to obtain medicine. Following years of delay, the first legal cannabis products were made available to patients in the third quarter of 2019. While medical cannabis tinctures were the first legal products introduced, Louisiana law permits the development of oils, pills, liquids, topical applications and inhalers, though the smoking of cannabis is not an authorized treatment use.
Surveyed patients are excited about new reforms instituted allowing physicians to rely on their training to assess patient program eligibility rather than rely on a prescribed list of conditions. However, surveyed patients continue to express frustration with the slow rollout of the state’s program, lack of sufficient retail access locations, and insufficient supply issues.