Medical Marijuana Expansion in Louisiana: What To Know
Posted on Jun 18, 2018 in Drugs, Marijuana, Medical Marijuana
The Louisiana legislature recently expanded and revised the state’s medical marijuana laws. State law previously permitted doctors to issue physicians’ recommendation for cannabis to treat certain conditions, but made no provisions for patients to legally purchase or possess the drug. The new legislation, signed into law on June 2nd, resolves this dilemma and expands the list of valid conditions for which marijuana can be recommended. The updated list includes cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, Parkinson’s and any condition in which pain is deemed to be “intractable.”
The Louisiana Department of Health projects that the drug should be available to patients late in the summer of 2018. So far 23 doctors are authorized to recommend the drug—three of them located in New Orleans. The law authorizes the legislature to award 10 licenses for dispensing marijuana to pharmacies across the state. The license for the New Orleans region was awarded to H&G Drugstore. H&G will open a new location focusing on the dispensation of marijuana at 4718 Paris Avenue in Gentilly.
This legislation significantly expands legal access to marijuana, in line with state and nationwide trends. Still in most cases possession and use of marijuana will remain illegal in Louisiana. Notably, state law still prohibits the inhalation or vaping of the marijuana plant. Instead patients will use THC-less derivatives of the plant in forms like pills, salves and suppositories. The plants will be grown by the agricultural units of LSU and Southern University. These are the only entities authorized to grow marijuana under the new law.
The possession of even small amounts of marijuana—less than 2.5 pounds—can carry a first time penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. Subsequent convictions can net fines up to $5000 and prison sentences of up to twenty years. Conviction of possession of marijuana in amounts between 2.5 to 60 lbs. carries a penalty of 2-10 years in prison and up to $30,000 in fines. Operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana is subject to the same penalties as drunk driving.
Louisiana also imposes an unusual stamp tax on marijuana. Those who possess the drug are required to purchase stamps from the state priced at $3.50 per gram and affix them to their contraband. In practice this means the seizure of marijuana by the state can result in a doubled penalty of fines and jail time, first for the actual possession and again for the failure to affix the stamp. Possession of unstamped marijuana can mean a civil penalty at 200% of the tax stamp rate and up to 5 years in prison.
While more and more states are legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, under federal law it remains a Schedule I substance, totally prohibited for private use. For the most part the federal government has taken a hand-off approach to the emerging discrepancies between state and federal law, intervening primarily to disrupt large-scale operations it has reason to believe are feeding the marijuana black market. Recently, attorney General Jeff Sessions has made several high profile remarks that suggest this period of relative tolerance might be coming to a close. Those who end up with access to medical marijuana in Louisiana probably have little reason to worry, but should remain aware of the legal uncertainties surrounding their treatment.