States that have both a medical marijuana law and have removed jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana
Last update: September 21, 2023
Fall 2023 Elections Will Bring a New Governor and Legislature
While attempts to legalize adult-use of cannabis did not move beyond committee hearings during the 2023 legislative session, voters will have an opportunity to elect new voices to represent them in Baton Rouge this fall.
MPP has created a Louisiana cannabis voter guide for the October 14, 2023 and November 18 runoff elections. We used a combination of survey results from candidates, media quotes, and, for incumbents, their voting record on five criminal justice and four medical bills from the previous four-year legislative term. Please check out the voter guide, make a plan to vote, and share the guide with friends and family interested in cannabis policy reform.
State elections are fast approaching with early voting beginning on September 30. Make sure you are registered to vote — September is 23 cutoff for the open primary — and ensure your voice is heard at the ballot box. This election will decide both legislative and statewide offices for the next four years. Engage candidates on the campaign trail about their stance on cannabis policy reform. Have the candidate respond to the candidate survey if they have not already done so.
The Louisiana Legislature passes several cannabis policy bills in 2023, but legalization falls short
The Louisiana Legislature adjourned for the year on June 8, 2023. This year was a fiscal session, meaning legislators could only sponsor five non-budgetary/tax bills. Also, it was a session before statewide elections in the fall — traditionally slow sessions concerning cannabis policy reform. Despite these challenges, several cannabis related bills successfully made it through the legislative process, and were signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards:
HB 286 sets up a simple process to expunge first-time possession records for possession of 14 grams or less. It caps the fees at $300 and allows these expungements after 90 days rather than five years. This is an integral part of addressing the inequities of cannabis enforcement. For the first time, both the Louisiana Sheriffs Association and the District Attorneys Association worked with MPP and allied organizations to pass this crucial bill.
HB 460 mandates that the Board of Pharmacy release quarterly reports on the number of patients per region (instead of annually). This will help increase access for medical patients by allowing dispensing pharmacies to open satellite locations in their region for every 3,500 patients registered sooner.
SB66 codifies telehealth as a method of certifying medical patients (in addition to other telehealth issues).
Vicente law firm performed an analysis for MPP on what an adult-use cannabis industry would generate in sales and tax revenue. It forecasts $922 million dollars a year in sales starting in the third year of implementation, bringing in $222 million in annual local and state tax revenue. Using U.S. government data, the forecast estimates that currently there are 435,000 cannabis consumers over the age of 21 in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, during the 2022 legislative off-season, MPP’s Kevin Caldwell chaired a state task force on employment protections for medical cannabis patients. The recommendations were sent to the state legislature for consideration. HB 351, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry (D), attempted to implement some of them. The bill passed out of committee but failed to get a House of Representatives floor vote due to opposition from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).
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 2023 poll by Louisiana State University found 70% of respondents support legalizing cannabis for adult-use with 30% opposing. In 2013, only 42% supported legalization in the annual poll.
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. Shreveport and East Baton Rouge followed suit. In 2021, the New Orleans City Council approved a package of three ordinances sponsored by Council member Helena Moreno (D) to move the city as close as it can to legalizing cannabis possession. The city pardoned about 10,000 cannabis possession convictions and pending charges. 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. Smoking cannabis in public remains a ticketable offense under the Smoke-Free Air Act.
In 2021, the legislature decriminalized simple possession of cannabis statewide, making it a ticketable offense. 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.
While this is important progress that will save thousands from arrest and jail time, decriminalization doesn’t fix most of the harms created by prohibiting 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.
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 10 locations to dispense medical cannabis with satellite locations coming in late 2023/2024.
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.