Legislature convenes, Republican and Democrat lawmakers introduce legalization bills
Last update: April 20, 2021
For the first time, a Republican member of the Louisiana Legislature — Rep. Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville) — has proposed legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana. If the legislature approves his bill, HB 524, it would refer the question of legalizing cannabis to voters in November 2022. Then, both HB 524 and a companion bill, HB 434, would set up a system of legalization, taxation, and regulation.
Medical cannabis program improving, but more changes are needed
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 has only two state-licensed cultivators — Louisiana State University and Southern University — and the state has authorized only nine locationsto dispense medical marijuana.
Louisiana also restricts the forms of cannabis allowed — prohibiting whole-plant (flower) and smoking. In 2019, lawmakers approved HB 358, which allows for vaporization of marijuana via a “metered-dose inhaler.” This is a step in the right direction, but ultimately, how a patient consumes marijuana should be a decision for them and their doctors — not the state. Many patients need the immediate relief smoking provides. Moreover, 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.
A poll found 74% support for legalizing flower cannabis.
You can ask your legislators to allow raw, flower cannabis here.
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.
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.
Louisiana provides for safe access during the coronavirus
Louisiana relaxed some rules and regulations in times of coronavirus to allow safe access to medical cannabis in a manner consistent with social distancing. Pharmacies can now deliver medical cannabis to patients at home — or wherever else they are. And existing patients can get medical cannabis recommendations renewed via telemedicine.
Polling shows Louisiana voters support decriminalization and legalization
Thirty-one states have decriminalized (or in 18 of those states, legalized) marijuana. But Louisiana’s cannabis laws remain behind the times.
The people of Louisiana are ready to rid their state of the overly harsh penalties currently imposed for marijuana offenses. A March 2021 poll found 67% of Louisianans support legalizing cannabis. Only 24% said using or possessing marijuana should be illegal.
Louisiana’s largest city has listened to voters: In 2016, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana 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. For more details, please click here.
Despite this positive step, marijuana arrests remain rampant in the rest of the state, and racial disparities are alarming.A 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, Black people in Louisiana are 3.4 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.