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Louisiana governor signs package of ten cannabis bills

Last week, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) announced the signing of ten new marijuana reform bills. These regulations create provisions for new medical marijuana dispensaries, provide regulations for citizens’ right to privacy when using marijuana products, and introduce many more policy revisions. Advocates around the state are celebrating this new legislation as a step toward broader cannabis reform, such as the legalization of recreational adult-use marijuana.

In the ten new bills, there are several important measures being introduced, including:

Marijuana odor and privacy rights: According to HB 629, one of the bills included in the recent cannabis product package, “the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a search of a person’s place of residence,” one synopsis states. This legislation was sponsored by Rep. Marcus Bryant (D).

The Louisiana Department of Health and the state medical marijuana program: One of the most significant bills signed into law is HB 697, which gives the Louisiana Department of Health sole responsibility for the state’s medical-marijuana program. This was previously a responsibility that belonged to the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

This bill is significant because it allows medical marijuana dispensaries to pursue additional licensing opportunities, but it doesn’t make room for newer dispensaries to break into the market. HB 697 was sponsored by Louisiana Rep. Tanner Magee (R), who also introduced a separate measure to the governor which seeks to impose fees on marijuana testing facilities in the state.

Medical marijuana patients and out-of-state reciprocity: Two other bills that were part of Edwards’ cannabis package create provisions for the out-of-state use of medical marijuana products.

The first bill treats out-of-state patients as eligible for medical marijuana products as long as they are registered and purchase their medical cannabis products from a licensed Louisiana dispensary.

The second bill protects Louisiana patients from being prosecuted in other states for using medical marijuana that they legally purchased from a licensed Louisiana dispensary. Both of these bills were sponsored by Rep. Joseph Marino (I).

Prescribing medical marijuana: Rep. C. Travis Johnson (D) sponsored a medical marijuana bill included in the package that the governor signed last week. The bill allows nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana products to patients alongside doctors.

Expansion of the hemp industry: Another bill sponsored by Rep. C. Travis Johnson creates provisions for a Louisiana Industrial Hemp Promotion and Research Program. This program would work to support and engage in the development of “the industrial hemp industry,” according to one synopsis.

Marijuana products in vehicles: Additionally, Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R) sponsored a bill to prohibit the use of smokable or vapable cannabis products in all vehicles.

Paraphernalia and medical marijuana products: A measure sponsored by Rep. Cedric Glover (D) more clearly revises the Louisiana drug code’s definition of paraphernalia. With this bill, medical marijuana patients are no longer legally able to use devices that are “solely used or intended for use for the inhalation of raw or crude marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinols, or a chemical derivative of tetrahydrocannabinols.”

New regulations for the hemp industry: A bill sponsored by Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) introduces new regulations for the hemp industry, including the requirement of criminal background checks to apply for medical marijuana, new licensing standards for cannabis companies, and the prohibition of the sale of smokable hemp-based cannabinoids in alcoholic beverages.

All of these measures represent significant strides in marijuana advocates’ fight for broader access to cannabis products in the state of Louisiana. There are many more efforts currently being made for more inclusive cannabis reform. One such effort is a piece of legislation that would prevent employees who undergo drug tests in the workplace from being penalized for positive THC levels if they are registered patients. The bill, which passed in both the House and the Senate is currently awaiting approval from Governor Edwards.

Another effort from Louisiana lawmakers to increase access to marijuana products includes Rep. Larry Bagley’s (R) bill from earlier this year which sought to increase the number of state-authorized marijuana corporations.

“I’m not the poster boy for marijuana,” Begley said in one interview. “But why would I keep something that is legal out of the hands of people who need it?”

Though the bill gained more traction than other lawmakers and marijuana advocates may have expected, it ultimately did not pass.

In addition to this bill, Rep. Bagley worked to revise the Louisiana decriminalization law. His suggested revisions would have made it so that people aged 18 years and younger who were charged with low-level possession could face incarceration. Although the bill did advance, it also was not enacted.

On the whole, many Louisiana marijuana advocates are pushing for a common goal: the legalization of recreational, adult-use cannabis products in the state of Louisiana.

Though there are many strides to be made before legalization comes to pass in Louisiana, pieces of legislation like last week’s are key to broader cannabis policy reform. Another noteworthy bill signed by Governor Edwards was one that went into effect in August of 2021. The bill effectively decriminalized the possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana. The bill shifts the penalty for possession from jail time to a $100 fine.

Another critical piece of marijuana legislation for which Governor Edwards is responsible includes a bill that allows medical marijuana patients to smoke whole-plant marijuana flowers, whereas earlier legislation did not create provisions for this.

The governor has spoken out about marijuana legalization in the state of Louisiana, noting that it is a goal he hopes to one day achieve, but that it may yet be far away. In one interview, Governor Edwards said he had a “great interest” in increasing legal access to marijuana products for legal use, but it is unclear whether he will be able to achieve this goal before the expiration of his term in 2024.

In general, many Louisiana residents are in favor of legalization, with nearly six in ten Louisianans in support of legalizing marijuana, according to one poll from the University of New Orleans. Legislation like this recent package of bills will be key to winning the fight for broader marijuana policy reform in the state of Louisiana.

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