While Louisiana first enacted therapeutic marijuana legislation in 1978, multiple legislative sessions have seen changes to the program to inch it closer to a program MPP considers effective.

In 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law two bills, both introduced by Sen. Fred Mills, SB 271 and SB 180. SB 271 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. Meanwhile, SB 180 amended criminal statutes providing protections for patients and their caregivers for possession and consumption of therapeutic cannabis.

On June 22, 2017, Gov. Edwards signed Sen. Yvonne Colomb’s SB 35, fixing a potentially fatal flaw in the state’s existing medical marijuana program by protecting medical cannabis industry workers from arrest and prosecution simply for going to work.

In 2018, the governor signed HB 579 and HB 627 into law. These two bills expand the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana by adding a variety of new conditions, including autism, PTSD, and intractable pain.

Unfortunately, flaws remain. Existing regulations depend on doctors engaging in conduct that could put them at risk under federal law. And, even if that flaw is fixed, MPP would still not consider Louisiana’s medical marijuana law “effective” because it fails to allow vaporization (or smoking).

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, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, and — in some cases — autism.

“Intractable pain” is defined as a pain state in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated with the consent of the patient and which, in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts. It is pain so chronic and severe as to otherwise warrant an opiate prescription.

The program also now includes any of the following conditions associated with autism spectrum disorder:

  • Repetitive or self-stimulatory behavior of such severity that the physical health of the person with autism is jeopardized.
  • Avoidance of others or inability to communicate of such severity that the physical health of the person with autism is jeopardized.
  • Self-injuring behavior
  • Physically aggressive or destructive behavior

However, no physician may recommend medical marijuana for treatment of any condition associated with autism spectrum disorder for a patient who is under the age of 18 unless the physician consults with a pediatric subspecialist.

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 Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners promulgated.

Limitations on dispensaries: One pharmacy will operate in each of the nine regions of the state established by the Louisiana Department of Health. A 17-member board is mandated by state law to oversee the marijuana dispensaries and will award a 10th permit as needed.

 

Limitations on production: The Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued 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 have agreed to grow marijuana and have sub-contracted out the cultivation of the plant.

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.”