Travel to 18 states and you can purchase marijuana legally and enjoy it however you like. Louisiana is not one of these states. While some laws regarding cannabis have been relaxed here, recreational use of marijuana is still illegal.
Medical marijuana has slowly been adopted, but concerns about accessibility remain. There are two ways to characterize where marijuana is right now for Louisianians: this state has come farther than the four states where it is fully illegal and the seven states where only CBD is legal, or Louisiana has not progressed far enough and action needs to be taken to bring it further along.
Here's where the legality of marijuana currently stands in Louisiana.
On June 15, 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed HB 652 into law which decriminalized possession of less than 14 grams of cannabis. A person may be ticketed for it, however, with a $100 fine. After arduous deliberation and legislation, medical marijuana is available throughout the state to patients via a doctor's prescription. Medical marijuana was first dispensed on August 6, 2019, and it was seen as a major milestone for medical marijuana advocates. Any licensed doctor in good standing with the state can prescribe cannabis for any "debilitating" disorder or disease. On June 22, 2021, the governor signed HB 391 which lifted the prohibition on raw/crude and smokable cannabis products for medical marijuana-prescribed patients. Possession of up to 2.5 oz of cannabis flower will be legal for medicinal purposes. There are two growers for the state's entire medical marijuana program currently: Southern University and LSU. The two universities actually contract the farming out to two private companies named Ilera Holistic and Good Day Farm.
Several bills involving marijuana are being discussed during the 2022 Legislative Session which convened on March 14. Many of the bills express a desire to expand the medical marijuana program in several ways including allowing more entities to grow the plant, pharmacies to dispense it, and nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe marijuana to patients.
Concerns have been raised before the inception of Louisiana's medical marijuana program that rightfully-prescribed patients may not be able to get to one of the nine dispensaries in the state, and they may not be able to afford it. Also, medical marijuana has a high price tag in Louisiana compared to other states because of our very limited number of growers.
Executive Director of BioSciences Louisiana Jeff Schmidtke is hoping that Louisiana lawmakers will decide to allow more growers during this legislative session because he is ready to begin working. He said in an interview, "It definitely causes some issues with supply. It also causes some issues with contingency. What is the backup? What is the population supposed to do when an entire harvest fails, either through failing tests, or spoilage, or contamination? There has been testimony from various pharmacy owners that have stated, as early as 2021, they have had a hard time maintaining a consistent level of supply. I think there's a direct correlation between inaccessibility and participation in the illicit market. I think the current system clearly enables the illicit market."
Representative Candace Newell of New Orleans is hoping to pass a bill to allow more growers to enter the state, and it's not just for the sake of medical marijuana. She said, "Once recreational marijuana is made legal on a state level or it is made legal on a federal level, we won't have to play catchup." Representative Cedric Glover of Shreveport is championing a bill that would allow the expungement for arrests that happened for small amounts of marijuana. While presenting a similar bill in 2021, Rep. Glover said, "One thing I think we can find common ground on is the belief that the possession of small amounts of marijuana should not lead you to jail or to become a felon."
There's also an issue of someone legally prescribed medical marijuana who is subject to drug testing if they don't perform their job well or become injured at work: Are they entitled to unemployment or workers' compensation if they are found to have THC in their system? Currently, employers are not required to allow medical marijuana patients to use marijuana while on the job. If they are let go from their job because of medical marijuana use, there is a state disability discrimination law that could allow fired employees to sue their former work place.
As marijuana laws slowly become more and more liberal in Louisiana, the U.S. House of Representatives has been discussing marijuana legalization at the federal level. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement ACT would see the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and would add a federal tax on sales of cannabis. If marijuana becomes legal at the federal level, however, it wouldn't mean that it would be legal for recreational use in states that do not currently allow it.
Louisiana may be behind other states in regards to our complicated marijuana laws, but there is a large and growing body of support for full legalization. Those who want to participate in changing the laws should get in touch with their local legislative