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Louisiana House Rejects Bill That Would Have Set Up Marijuana Regulations In Advance Of Adult-Use Legalization



House lawmakers in Louisiana rejected legislation on Monday that would have laid out a regulatory framework for legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state, voting 57–37 against the proposal from Rep. Candace Newell (D).

The measure, HB 978, would not have legalized cannabis itself. Rather, it would have begun establishing a regulatory system that would take effect if either the state or the federal government later legalized marijuana for adults.

“The bill does not legalize recreational marijuana,” Newell told colleagues ahead of the floor vote, describing legislation as a sort of trigger law. “This is a regulation structure that I would like to see Louisiana put in place in preparation for having recreational marijuana legalized on the federal level or on the state level.”

“Oftentimes,” she added, lawmakers “have put in place regulation structures—trigger laws—that have been in place just in case our federal government does make some changes.”

Opponents, however, said they were against legalizing marijuana and couldn’t support a regulatory bill.

Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R), who introduced an amendment that was adopted to delay the bill’s effect until a separate law taxing marijuana were adopted, said she wouldn’t vote for HB 978 itself, “just to be transparent, because I do not believe in legalizing recreational marijuana.”

Fellow Republican Rep. Polly Thomas, who also opposed the bill, suggested to Newell that the ostensibly minor change of setting up a regulatory structure would ultimately open the door to broader reform.

“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘the camel’s nose under the tent’?” she asked Newell.

“No, I am not,” the bill’s sponsor replied.

“OK, would you like for me to explain it?” Thomas inquired.

“I don’t think I do,” Newell said.

“OK, well,” Thomas paused. “I, like Rep. Schlegel, will not be voting for this bill.”

“You told me several times,” interjected Newell.

“Yeah, well, I’m gonna tell you ever time that I possibly can,” Thomas shot back.

Supporters in the legislature planned to implement legalization in Louisiana in three parts: pass a regulatory measure this year, then work next year to advance separate bills to legalize adult possession and create a marijuana sales tax.

“We do not have a tax structure in place right now for this because this was not the legislative year to bring a tax,” Newell explained. “So I have not had the opportunity—nor have any of you had the opportunity—to put in a tax structure.”

Getting the regulatory measure through the state’s conservative legislature would have been a significant win for advocates, and it would have set lawmakers up to better define what their program might look like in the next session.

Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager for the group Marijuana Policy Project, said he’ll keep working to build support among lawmakers through this year and into the next legislative session.

“We will continue to push the legislature to honor the wishes of the people of Louisiana who, in poll after poll, say they want to end cannabis prohibition,” Caldwell told told Marijuana Moment.

While another regulatory bill, HB 707, is technically still alive this session, it’s not yet clear whether that alternative proposal will receive a vote or even a hearing before lawmakers adjourn for the year. It includes a more permissive regulatory structure, including a provision that would allow home cultivation.

HB 978, the bill rejected by the House on Wednesday, would have authorized the Louisiana Department of Health to issue up to 10 production facility licenses. The commissioner of the office of alcohol and tobacco, meanwhile, would have been able to issue up to 40 retail licenses.

Retailers could have sold up to one ounce of marijuana or marijuana products to adults 21 and older, though selling on the internet, offering any products or services other than cannabis and any alcohol- or tobacco-containing products would be forbidden.

Providing or permitting entertainment, or permitting prostitution on the premises, would also be explicitly disallowed.

Anyone owning 5 percent or more of a production business would have needed to pass a background check, and anyone licensed or contracted to cultivate, process, transport or sell marijuana would be disqualified if they have been convicted or pleaded no contest to theft, illegal possession of stolen goods, fraud, violence or any offenses involving Schedule I drugs that are not marijuana.

Application fees for production licenses would have been capped at $2,500, while license fees would not exceed $100,000 annually. Licensees would also have needed to pay a “suitability” fee to the Louisiana State Police’s gaming enforcement section and a $50 permit fee for each employee. An amendment adopted on the floor on Monday would have allowed regulators to set licensing fees in addition to making a number of technical changes to the bill.

Retail licenses would carry an initial $100,000 permit fee and incur an annual renewal fee of $50,000. People would need to be 21 to own, work at or enter a retail establishment.

License holders could sell their production licenses only to individuals who’ve lived in the state for at least five years or to a group at least 51 percent owned by Louisiana residents.

Fines and penalties for violations around the law range from $2,500 to $10,000 and six months to five years behind bars.

Lawmakers in a House committee passed the other marijuana regulatory bill last month. That legislation, which also would not itself legalize cannabis, would establish an adult-use cannabis program under the Louisiana Department of Health. Unlike HB 978, it would not set a limit on the number of dispensaries or producers that regulators could license.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Adults could also grow marijuana at home for personal use under the other bill, HB 707. After obtaining a permit, they would be able to cultivate up to six plants per person, with a maximum of 12 plants per household. There would be a $75 annual fee for the permit.

As it stands in Louisiana, possession of up to 14 grams (or half an ounce) of marijuana is decriminalized, punishable by a $100 fine without the threat of jail time.

Last year, former Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) also signed into law a measure that was designed to streamline expungements for people with first-time marijuana possession convictions.

Whether current Gov. Jeff Landry (R) will be willing to sign into law any legislation moving the state toward adult-use legalization is another question. While his Democratic predecessor approved more incremental steps and acknowledged legalization as inevitable, he consistently said the state would not legalize under his tenure.

Seven in 10 Louisianans support legalizing recreational marijuana possession for adults—and nine in 10 back medical cannabis legalization—according to a survey released last year.

While marijuana legalization has stalled in the Louisiana legislature, there have been efforts to end prohibition and tax cannabis sales that have moved without being enacted.

For example, a comprehensive legalization measure and complementary cannabis tax bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) advanced through committee before the tax proposal was rejected on the House floor in 2021, torpedoing the broader measure’s chances.

Lawmakers have also taken several steps to reform other cannabis laws and build on the state’s medical marijuana program in recent sessions.

In 2022, for example, the former governor signed a slew of marijuana reform bills, including one key measure that would expand the number of medical dispensaries that can operate in the state and another to prevent police from searching people’s homes over the smell of cannabis.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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