Louisiana legalized medical cannabis in 2015, and since, legislative changes, revisions and other modifications have slowed the law’s rollout. But this November, medical cannabis sales will likely begin throughout the state. The problem, however, is how few patients will have access to a doctor who can provide the recommendation they’ll need to enter one of those dispensaries. As of today, Louisiana has just 31 physicians licensed to recommend medical cannabis treatments.
Recognizing the shortfall, Louisiana’s Board of Medical Examiners have taken a major step to make it easier for doctors to issue those recommendations. During a meeting in New Orleans today, the board voted to lift the patient-limit cap it had placed on licensed doctors.
Louisiana Lifts Follow-Up Requirements and Patient Cap on Recommending Physicians
Prior to today’s 8-1 vote, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners had set a limit on the number of medical cannabis patients a recommending physician could take on. The cap was set at 100 patients in 2016. If it were still in effect, it’s likely Louisiana’s medical cannabis program would only be able to serve 4,000 patients at most by November. A much smaller number than the 100,000 patients expected to enroll in the program, officials say.
Recently, however, lawmakers recognized the need to lift the patient cap. And the need has become even more pressing with so few physicians enrolling in the program. The state also added more qualifying conditions earlier this summer, which will likely draw more patients to seek medical cannabis recommendations.
So the vote to remove the patient cap is an important one. And it completely removes any limit or restriction on the number of medical cannabis patients a physician can work with. But that wasn’t the only access barrier the board voted to eliminate today. In a much closer 5-4 vote, the board also eliminated follow-up requirements for patients and their doctors. Previously, patients had to see their doctor after 90-days of treatment in order to be eligible for a renewal.
Medical Cannabis Groups Plan Campaign to Educate Louisiana Doctors About Cannabis
Removing the patient cap is only part of the equation, however. The other part is bringing more doctors into the field. But Louisiana’s young medical cannabis program doesn’t seem to have caught on with doctors yet. Just 48 have even applied.
As a result, many rural residents have no local access to a medical cannabis recommendation. To address the issue, Louisiana’s medical cannabis industry is taking the lead. GB Sciences is working on outreach and education programs to encourage more participation among Louisiana doctors.
The Louisiana State University AgCenter, which offers students industry-focused programs, is partnering with GB and the State Board of Medical Examiners to schedule informational meetings with doctors’ groups to create online resources.
In the meantime, lawmakers, physicians, and the industry are celebrating the board’s vote to remove the patient cap and follow-up requirements. Dr. Les Johnson, a board member, described it as “an historic moment for our state.”