Though Louisiana has had a working medical marijuana program since 2015, one of the major restrictions is that patients are not able to use whole-plant flower, and smoking is prohibited. That could finally change, as a new bill that would allow patients access to smokable medical marijuana products is heading to the desk of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is expected to sign it into law.
Currently, patients are able to vaporize liquids and use topical applications, inhalers and edible gummies via a “metered-dose inhaler,” a small handheld device filled with medicine, but they can neither smoke nor access whole-plant flower buds. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of the state’s current program and, because raw cannabis takes less processing, would make medicine cheaper for patients.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking Republican. The Senate earlier had approved the measure with a 23-14 vote, but added amendments, which sent it back to the House, which gave final approval to the medical flower proposal in a 76-17 vote.
A companion House-passed bill to tax that same medical cannabis flower to steer revenue to infrastructure and utilities is advancing through the Senate, where the Finance Committee approved an amended version of the bill and returned it to the floor.
The Senate is also set to soon take up a decriminalization proposal that would make possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis punishable by a $100 fine and no threat of jail time. That one was approved by the House last month.
Plans to get past decriminalization measures and legalize marijuana for adults haven’t found much traction in the legislature so far from either party.
“House Bill 652 seeks to address a problem that I think many of us have recognized over the years,” Democratic state Rep. Cedric Glover, sponsor of the successful decriminalization measure, said at a committee hearing.
He added that there is widespread acceptance that low-level possession offenses should not lead to incarceration or felony convictions.
Edwards said in a radio appearance last month that while full legalization went nowhere this year, he does believe it “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually” and that he has “great interest” in the current legislation.
A new poll shows even constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.
“In the past, as a legislator and as governor, I’ve been opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana,” he said. “I’m not quite comfortable yet, but I understand we’re likely to get there in the next several years.”
The state has a long history with medical cannabis. Gov. Edwin Edwards first signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana only for patients with glaucoma and those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment in 1978.
Incremental changes came over the years, but it wasn’t until 2020 that the legislature significantly expanded the program by allowing physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any condition rather than from the limited list under current law.
If passed, the new measure allowing smokable products will go into effect at the beginning of 2022.
This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.