While Louisiana first enacted therapeutic marijuana legislation in 1978, multiple legislative sessions have seen changes to the program. Most recently, the 2016 session saw Gov. John Bel Edwards sign into law two bills, both introduced by Sen. Fred Mills, SB 271 and SB 180. SB 271, which you can read more about here, amended the existing program to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana, something the First Amendment freedom of speech protections allow them to do, as opposed to prescribing marijuana, which under federal law can cause physicians to risk losing their licenses to prescribe other medications.

SB 180 amended criminal statutes providing protections for patients and their caregivers for possession and consumption of therapeutic cannabis. Unfortunately, this bill did not explicitly extend those protections to growers, pharmacies, or their employees, putting the program at risk. For this reason, MPP does not consider the program “workable.” However, we are optimistic that the legislature will fix the program next year before the program is up and running.

Patients and qualifying conditions: The act currently covers cancer, HIV/AIDS, cachexia or wasting disorder, seizure disorders (including but not limited to epilepsy), spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis. To qualify, a patient must be clinically diagnosed as suffering from one of these conditions. However, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) must submit to the legislature an annual report of additional diseases or medical conditions that should qualify for marijuana recommendations, allowing for an expansion of covered conditions. The annual report must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the beginning of the legislature’s regular session.

Patients and forms of marijuana: Inhaled or “raw or crude” marijuana is not allowed. Physicians may recommend for therapeutic use any other form of marijuana, in accordance with rules that the LSBME must set forth.

Limitations on dispensaries: No more than 10 pharmacies in good standing may obtain licenses to dispense marijuana within Louisiana.

Limitations on production: The Department of Agriculture and Forestry will issue a special license for a single production facility, which must produce marijuana with the “lowest acceptable therapeutic levels available through scientifically accepted methods” under a tightly controlled system. The law states that either or both of Louisiana State University and Southern University, jointly or separately, have the right of first refusal to be licensed as production facilities. Both universities must provide written notice of their decision to the Department of Agriculture and Forestry by September 1, 2016.

Sunset: Unless it is re-enacted by the legislature, the act will expire on January 1, 2020. Also, upon federal rescheduling to Schedule II, each reference to a “recommendation” would change to “prescription.”