“I was not trying to pass a law that says you can be stoned at work because that’s crazy.”
By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator
The Louisiana House Labor Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would protect employees who use medical marijuana from being disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
House Bill 351, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, barely passed the committee on a 6-5 vote, with several committee members agreeing to support the bill based on Landry’s promise to work out a compromise with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).
Landry said she brought the bill because the state has neglected to put protections for consumers in place despite legalizing medical marijuana and regulating growers and sellers.
“The Louisiana resident buys the product, then the consumer loses their job and no longer has the money to buy the product that the state says was legal… We have a very strange circle here with the government not being very good at selling marijuana,” Landry said.
Landry was joined by Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, while presenting the bill. Marino, chair of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission, talked Landry out of voluntarily deferring the bill. The pair instead committed to work on the bill before it comes up for a vote on the House floor.
The bill was amended in committee to remove provisions that would’ve offered protection for worker’s compensation claims. Even without these provisions, LABI had concerns.
“The language in the bill says a qualifying medical marijuana patient who receives a recommendation shall not be disqualified for unemployment benefits,” LABI member Wayne Fontana told the committee. “So if somebody is impaired, gets fired as a result of hurting themselves or some others, then they still would be able to get unemployment benefits.”
Landry characterized these concerns as misleading.
“I was not trying to pass a law that says you can be stoned at work because that’s crazy,” Landry said.
Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, a workers compensation attorney, also opposed the bill. While he agreed there is a problem impacting medical marijuana users in the workplace, Frieman said he didn’t have a solution.
“If I knew the answer to the problem, I would have offered an amendment in committee to fix it,” Frieman said in an interview. “It’s gonna take a lot of bringing the experts into the table from labor lawyers and business and everyone else to figure out how this is gonna work.”
Landry’s bill builds off previous work she has done on labor protections for medical cannabis users. In 2022, she sponsored a proposal to protect state employees from being fired and would protect prospective employees from being discriminated against for their legal medical marijuana use.
Landry also set up a task force last year to study medical marijuana use and make recommendations to protect workers. The committee approved a slate of recommendations, most of which LABI’s representative on the study committee opposed.