A Louisiana bill to allow patients to access smokable medical marijuana products is heading to the governor’s desk, while separate legislation to decriminalize low-level possession of recreational cannabis is also pending final action in the legislature.
The House of Representatives gave final approval to the medical flower proposal in a 76-17 vote. The chamber passed an earlier form of the legislation last month, but the Senate amended it, meaning House lawmakers needed to concur in order to get it to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).
It would mark a significant expansion of the state’s current program if signed into law. As it stands, patients are able to vaporize cannabis preparations via a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot access whole-plant flower and smoking is not allowed.
A companion House-passed bill to tax medical cannabis flower is advancing through the Senate. The body approved a floor amendment last week to extend the state’s general sales tax and steer the resulting revenue to infrastructure projects and utilities, but it was recommitted to committee before a final vote on the legislation was held. On Wednesday, the body’s Finance Committee approved an amended version of the bill and returned it to the floor.
Meanwhile, the Senate is also set to soon take up a separate decriminalization proposal that would make it so possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis would be punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time. The House approved the measure by a vote of 67-25 last month.
These developments come weeks after an effort to more broadly legalize marijuana in the state stalled in the House.
“House Bill 652 seeks to address a problem that I think many of us have recognized over the years,” Rep. Cedric Glover (D) sponsor of the successful decriminalization measure, said at a committee hearing last week, adding that while opinions on full marijuana legalization vary, there’s widespread acceptance that low-level possession should not lead to incarceration or felony convictions.
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Edwards said in a radio appearance last month that while full marijuana legalization hit a roadblock this year, he does believe it “is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.” He also spoke about the decriminalization and medical cannabis flower bills as examples of reform’s general momentum.
The actions on various cannabis-related legislation comes as a new poll shows that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.
When it comes to legalization, while advocates generally expected resistance from Edwards, who has repeatedly expressed opposition to the reform, he did say in April that he has “great interest” in the legalization proposal, and he pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.
Last year, the legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.
Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.