The trend toward cannabis reform in the South continues.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that will expand the state’s medical cannabis program, adding to the legislation Edwards signed last week to remove many criminal penalties for personal possession.
Specifically, HB 391 “authorizes the recommendation of medical marijuana in raw or crude form,” or cannabis flower, Edwards tweeted on Tuesday. The bill will allow for medical cannabis to be sold in smokable form, which bill sponsor Representative Tanner Magee argues will make the products more affordable for patients.
Upon signing HB 652 last week, Edwards was careful to note how far the legislation went — and where it stopped short.
The bill, “contrary to the narrative developed in the press and elsewhere, does not decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, 14 grams or less,” Edwards said. “Instead, anyone convicted of this crime will now be subject to a maximum penalty of $100 instead of being exposed to parish prison time. This is not a decision I took lightly.”
In recent weeks, neighboring state legislatures have moved toward expanding access to cannabis as a medicine. In Texas, for example, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill to expand, albeit slightly, the state’s medical cannabis program, while in Alabama, medical cannabis became legal. Medical cannabis is already legal in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and while the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a voter-passed medical cannabis initiative, lawmakers are already discussing how to craft a bill to resurrect the effort.
When it comes to more robust reforms, though, like legalization for adult use, there is less momentum. As Cannabis Wire reported last month, Louisiana House lawmakers voted down one bill in a trio that would have legalized and regulated cannabis for adult use, effectively killing the effort for the session.
Medical cannabis has been legal in Louisiana since 2015, but the program did not launch until 2019. And, as Cannabis Wire reported, the program rollout and its current format are unlike most others. Only two entities were granted permission under the law to produce medical cannabis: the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center. And they selected two private companies, GB Sciences of Louisiana, LLC and Advanced Biomedics, LLC (d/b/a Ilera Holistic Healthcare), to cultivate the cannabis on their behalf. Today, cannabis is only available in non-smokable forms, like oils and lotions, from select state pharmacies.