Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law a broad expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program that will allow licensed physicians in Louisiana to recommend treatment for any patient they believe it would help.
The extraordinary expansion from Louisiana’s current 14 qualifying conditions was announced on June 16, 2020 and will go into effect as of August 1.
House Bill 819, introduced by its sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), had initially sought to add traumatic brain injuries and concussions. It was later amended to include several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any malady a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient,” per the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Medical Marijuana in Louisiana
“(Medical marijuana) is already law,” said Rep. Bagley, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, who had previously been generally opposed to medical marijuana. “This just provides better access.”
Senate Health Chairman Fred Mills, (R), whose legislation originally ushered in the first laws making medical cannabis available to Louisiana patients during the last term, supported the expansion.
“A lot of good results have happened,” Mills said. “Many more patients have said, ‘Why not me?’ Accessibility has become a big issue.”
Mills noted that MMJ had provided great relief to Louisiana’s late Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who lost her battle with cancer in August 2019.
Drops of MMJ, which became legal several months prior to her death, mixed with methadone not only kept Gov. Blanco alive for nearly two more weeks, but they dramatically improved her quality of life over that time.
“It was a game changer,” said Karmen Blanco-Hartfield, the former governor’s oldest child.
Louisiana Medical Marijuana Card Recommendations
With this new bill, doctors must only be in “good standing” with the Board of Medical Examiners, instead of having to obtain a license to recommend medical cannabis.
At this point, Louisiana’s medical marijuana is limited to only two growers–the agricultural centers of Louisiana State University and Southern University and their respective private partners – as well as nine pharmacies in regions throughout the state. It can only be used in non-smokable forms such as tinctures.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) pointed out that Louisiana will now join a handful of other states, including California, Maine, and Virginia that have enacted similar measures providing physicians with the ability to recommend medical cannabis to any patient they believe may benefit from them.
“This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.
“Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines – many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis – the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient”