Louisiana: Ask your senator to support cannabis policy reforms passed by the House!
Medical Cannabis and Decriminalized
States that have both a medical marijuana law and have removed jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana
Last update: June 22, 2022
Louisiana makes solid progress on cannabis reform in 2022
On June 6, 2022, the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its regular session, following several victories moving cannabis policy reform forward in the Pelican State. In total, more than 20 cannabis related bills were heard in the legislature.
Bills on the governor’s desk would:
give legal protections to verified out-of-state patients (HB137) and allow those patients to purchase cannabis products from dispensaries (HB135)
allow state employees in non-safety sensitive positions to utilize the medical program (HB988).
legalize cannabis paraphernalia for medical patients (HB775)
allow both psychologists and nurse practitioners, with prescriptive authority, to recommend cannabis for patients (HB190).
move the regulation of medical cannabis pharmacies solely to the Board of Pharmacy (HB314).
loosen suitability requirements to work in the industry, as it pertains to criminal background checks (HB553)
move the oversight of the medical program to the Department of Health rather than the Department of Agriculture.
Expand the number of medical cannabis pharmacies, providing that the10th pharmacy license will be issued in Jefferson Parish, and providing that as patient counts exceed 3,500 in a region, an additional satellite can be added (HB697).
providing that police officers cannot do a warrantless search of a residence based solely on the odor of cannabis (HB629)
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed two resolutions regarding medical cannabis. The Medical Marijuana Commission will continue to meet this summer and fall to receive input on improving the program (HR247). Another Task Force — which grants MPP two seats — will review employment protections for medical patients (HR269).
MPP and our allies also helped defeat a bill to recriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for people under 18 (HB700). We were also able to amend a bill that makes it a fine-only offense to smoke or vape cannabis in a moving vehicle, to making it a secondary offense only (you cannot be pulled over for it) limiting racial profiling (HB234).
Unfortunately, two bills that would have set up a regulatory framework for adult use (legalization) did not make it out of committee. However, we continue to see more bipartisan support for eventual legalization. It was a common statement from lawmakers that legalization would be happening in the next several years.
In addition, a bill died that would have cut the time a person has to wait for an expungement (HB774) as did a bill to decriminalize cannabis paraphernalia (HB1028). HB 1028 made it through the House of Representatives before failing on the Senate floor. Despite our, and our allies’, best efforts to expand the number of cultivators/processors in the state, that push was unsuccessful.
While working on longer term legalization, we hope to see a bill in 2023 to improve decriminalization and expunge previous records. These are integral parts of addressing the inequities of cannabis enforcement.
Louisiana decriminalizes small amounts of cannabis
On June 14, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Rep. Cedric Glover’s decriminalization bill — HB 652 — into law!
This law will save thousands of Louisianans from being incarcerated for small amounts of cannabis. The penalty for possessing up to 14 grams (or 0.49 oz.) of cannabis was reduced to a fine of up to $100. For those unable to pay, the court must use its discretion for alternatives, such as community service or installment payments.
Possession of up to 14 grams is now enforced by a summons (like a traffic ticket) not an arrest. HB 652 does not reduce penalties for possessing over 14 grams or for possession with intent to distribute or sales of any amount. Those penalties remain harsh.
Louisiana was the incarceration capital of the United States until recently. While the legislature reduced several penalties over the years, many continued to be jaw-droppingly harsh and tear families apart.
We are grateful to everyone who has worked so hard for humane cannabis policies in Louisiana, including Louisiana Progress — which led the charge on legalization and decriminalization advocacy this year; Kevin Caldwell and CommonSense NOLA, whose trailblazing local decriminalization efforts laid the foundation for statewide reform; and Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, who have been key to medical cannabis progress and broader reform over the years.
New Orleans pardons past, present, and future cannabis tickets
On August 5, 2021, the New Orleans City Council approved a package of three ordinances to move the city as close as it can legally get to legalizing cannabis possession.
Beginning on September 15, the ordinances — sponsored by Council President Helena Morena — will pardon about 10,000 cannabis possession convictions and pending charges. New Orleans had previously reduced the penalty for cannabis possession to a fine-only offense.
Anyone who receives a summons for cannabis possession under the new ordinances will have it immediately forgiven, with no action needed from the court or the ticketed individual. However, smoking cannabis in public will be a ticketable offense under the Smoke-Free Air Act.
Congratulations to our allies at CommonSense NOLA, including Kevin Caldwell; Council President Morena; and everyone else who worked so hard to enact these measures!
Medical cannabis program improving; governor signs bill to legalize raw, flower cannabis
Louisiana’s medical cannabis program started as perhaps the most restrictive in the nation, leaving behind most patients and modes of administration. The legislature has made significant improvements, but the law still has problematic limitations.
Louisiana’s medical cannabis law initially prohibited inhaled and flower cannabis. However, on June 21, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signed SB 391 into law, allowing whole-plant (flower) and smoking. Banning flower drives up costs, making medical cannabis inaccessible to most low-income and middle-income patients, and can result in cannabis businesses not being economically viable. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2022, but flower may not be immediately available at medical cannabis businesses.
Louisiana’s list of qualifying conditions also began as unduly restrictive. In 2020, however, the legislature passed and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed HB 819, which allows doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any medical condition the physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient” that the physician is qualified to treat. It also added several qualifying conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, traumatic brain injury, and chronic pain associated with sickle cell anemia or fibromyalgia.
HB 819 was sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R), who had been opposed to medical cannabis until he heard from constituents who found it relieved their pain. Now, he has become a champion.
His turnaround shows the dramatic impact constituent stories can have on their lawmakers. Considering reaching out to your state legislators about other marijuana policy reforms you care about.
One way Louisiana’s law remains among the most restrictive in the nation is the inadequate supply of cannabis: Louisiana has only two state-licensed cultivators — Louisiana State University and Southern University — and the state has authorized only nine locationsto dispense medical cannabis.
Medical cannabis access a "game changer" in Gov. Blanco's final days
After years of waiting, Louisiana medical marijuana sales finally started on August 6, 2019. Less than a month later, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s eldest child shared that medical marijuana was a “game changer” for Blanco. Blanco was near death when medical marijuana access became legal. Marijuana allowed Blanco to regain the ability to eat and hold conversations, allowing her to survive nearly two more weeks — long enough to celebrate her 55th wedding anniversary.
Polling shows Louisiana voters support legalization
The people of Louisiana are ready to rid their state of the overly harsh penalties currently imposed for cannabis offenses. A March 2021 poll found 67% of Louisianans support legalizing cannabis. Only 24% said using or possessing cannabis should be illegal.
Louisiana’s largest city has listened to voters: In 2016, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to decriminalize cannabis possession in the city. Encouragingly, officers are by and large abiding by the ordinance (rather than arresting under state law), and statistics show plummeting arrests. Shreveport and East Baton Rouge followed suit, and in 2021 the legislature decriminalized simple possession statewide.
It’s been a busy year in Baton Rouge so far! There were over 20 cannabis-related bills introduced this session. We have seen bipartisan support for both improving the medical program and for criminal justice reforms.