State lawmakers in Louisiana approved a bill on Wednesday that allows patients in the state’s medical marijuana program to access smokable forms of cannabis. The measure, House Bill 391, was approved in the Louisiana House of Representatives by a vote of 76 to 17 after being approved by the state Senate with a 23 to 14 vote last month.
Under the newly passed measure, registered patients in Louisiana’s medical marijuana program will be permitted to possess and use unprocessed, smokable forms of cannabis. The program’s current regulations only allow patients to access medical marijuana products including topicals, tinctures, gummies, and inhalers that deliver a metered dose of a vaporized cannabis. Marijuana in raw flower form is not allowed and smoking medical marijuana products is also not permitted.
Republican House Speaker Pro-tem Tanner Magee, the sponsor of the bill, told local media that the approved products are too expensive for many of the state’s medical marijuana patients.
“Most of the products aren’t covered by insurance,” Magee said. “This is a way to provide a more affordable option.”
HB 391 was originally approved by lawmakers in the Louisiana House of Representatives in May. However, the bill was amended as it was being considered by the state Senate, requiring the House of Representatives to vote again on the revised version. The measure received overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses of the Louisiana state Legislature.
“This is wildly popular in every corner of the state and it’s what people want and what people need,” Magee said.
Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley, who noted that he has never smoked marijuana, said that cannabis has been a miracle drug for a close relative who lives with chronic pain.
“I’ve seen the relief it can provide,” said Bagley.
With the compromise version of the measure now approved by both houses of the Louisiana legislature, HB 391 now heads to the office of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The governor is expected to sign the legislation, according to multiple reports in local media.
House Bill 514, a companion measure to HB 391 that would assess a tax on medicinal cannabis flower, is currently under consideration by the Louisiana Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee approved an amended version of the bill and referred the measure to the Senate floor for a vote.
Decriminalization Bill Also on The Table for Louisiana
Louisiana state lawmakers are also debating a measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults. Under the measure, House Bill 652, possession of up to 14 grams (about a half an ounce) of cannabis would be punished by only a fine of up to $100 on the first and second offense. Minor marijuana possession offenses would still be classified as misdemeanors but would no longer carry the threat of jail time.
“We don’t need to be filling up our jails with misdemeanor offenses of marijuana,” Democratic Rep. Denise Marcelle, a supporter of the bill, told local media last month.
The Louisiana House of Representatives approved HB 652 on May 11 by a vote of 67 to 24, with significant support from members of both major political parties. The bill is now awaiting action from the state Senate.
Some of Louisiana’s largest cities, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, have already taken action to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. In New Orleans, penalties for a first cannabis possession offense are capped at a fine of only $40, while some city leaders are calling for the fine to be dropped even further to $1.
In 2018, the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge eliminated jail time as a possible penalty for possession of less than 14 grams of marijuana. Instead, a fine of between $40 and $100 will be assessed, depending on the number of prior offenses for a particular defendant. Shreveport’s revised ordinance is similar to HB 652.