House Bill 988 was passed through the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on May 19. If the bill becomes law, it would create protections for state employees who seek to use medical cannabis. While it would prevent employees from being fired, and prevent discrimination against those who seek to apply, it does not apply to public safety employees such as firefighters or law enforcement.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mandie Landry, strongly believes that her bill is a healthier choice for Louisianians. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids,” Landry said, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. “This has proved to be a better option than them.”
The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy estimated that there are 43,000 medical cannabis consumers in the state, and currently only nine pharmacies to serve them.
At the committee meeting, Louisiana Department of Administration Communications Director Jacques Berry noted that his own department already has regulations in place to prevent discrimination for medical cannabis consumption. In support, he shared his thoughts on unifying regulations across the board with an example about a workplace harassment bill that is operating similarly. “Every agency had a sexual harassment policy, but they were all over the place, and Dr. [and Rep. Barbara] Carpenter wanted stricter, more consistent standards,” Berry said. “She wrote a very good law, and it is working very well.”
Similarly, Rep. Ed Larvadain spoke about looking ahead. “We’re going to have to change how we deal with medical marijuana. But this is a first step.” He also requested that he be invited to work with Landry about finding a solution that would protect firefighters and law enforcement officers as well. “A lot of those men and women have chronic pains because over the years they’ve had to climb through windows and police officers have been abused,” Larvadain said.
Many advocates who spoke publicly in support of the bill at the meeting. Tony Landry, a council member of the Veterans Action Council, commented that neither law enforcement or firefighters are allowed to consume CBD, since “it can accumulate in your body over time and cause a positive test. I’m in favor of this bill, and I just think we need to leave no employee behind.”
Last summer, Louisiana decriminalized cannabis with Act 247, which imposed a fine of $100 (or a court summons) for possession of 14 grams or less. At the time, Peter Robins-Brown, policy & advocacy director at Louisiana Progress provided a statement about the news. “Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state,” Robins-Brown said. “It’s an important first step in modernizing marijuana policy in Louisiana, and it’s another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison. Now it’s time to make sure that everyone knows their rights under this new law, and that law enforcement officers understand how to properly implement it.”
However, earlier this year House Bill 700 was introduced to imprison minors who possessed small amounts of cannabis. On March 23, the Louisiana Progress Tweeted a response to the bill’s approach in keeping minors away from cannabis. “In #lalege Admin. of Crim. Justice, the cmte is hearing HB700 by @LarryBagleyLA, which would actually criminalize juveniles for possessing less than 14 grams of marijuana more harshly than adults, incl. potential jail time. Very very very very very very very bad idea. #lagov”. Currently, it is still waiting for discussion in the House.