Louisiana Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Licensing Bill In Anticipation Of Legalization
Louisiana lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill in committee to impose fees and set up a marijuana business licensing system if legalization is enacted, while another measure to bring the state’s hemp program up to speed with federal regulations also advanced.
The licensing legislation from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) cleared the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-2. It would establish a $2,500 annual fee for cannabis business licenses and a $100 annual fee for a personal cultivation permit.
Additionally, it would stipulate that, if the state takes in more dollars from those fees than it needs to cover administrative costs, those excess funds would go to individual municipalities and law enforcement.
Members adopted an amendment that outlines penalties for violating the law and also describes the responsibilities of the commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), including collecting and administering fees and penalties.
But this proposal will only take effect if a separate bill to legalize marijuana in the state is enacted. That legislation, also sponsored by Nelson, was approved by the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday and is heading to the floor.
It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retailers. Possession of up to two and a half pounds of cannabis would be lawful. Regulators would be tasked with creating a permit for adults to grow up to six plants for personal use.
“I think all of our constituents sent us here to do something, not just think about doing something,” Nelson said at Thursday’s hearing. “There’ll be plenty of time in the probably year-long process of generating the rules for ATC to govern this that we can cover all these bases.”
Meanwhile, the House Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee advanced legislation concerning hemp regulations on Thursday.
Sponsored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R), the bill covers a lot of ground, but it’s primary function is to align Louisiana’s hemp program with the federal rules for the crop that were finalized and took effect under the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month.
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But there are some particularly notable provisions as well. For example, it would create a category of lawful “consumable hemp” products such as commercial feed, pet products and hemp floral material.
Curiously, it prohibits the sale of hemp products intended for inhalation but removes a prohibition on the production of such products.
Food and beverages containing CBD are currently banned from being produced or sold in Louisiana, and this bill would also remove that restriction.
These more modest reforms come in the backdrop of an effort to legalize marijuana for adult use. The governor of Louisiana said on Tuesday that he has “great interest” in the legislation, which represents a notable departure from his typical dismissive response to questions about the policy change.
“As I almost always do, I will take a look at the bill as it arrives on my desk and see what it contains and what amendments have been added to it,” the governor said. “I’m not going to speculate now on that, but I do have great interest in that bill and what it says, especially if it does make it up to the fourth floor. I’ll take a look at it at that point and then make sure that you all know exactly how I feel about it.”
Meanwhile, a bill to allow medical marijuana patients in Louisiana to access raw cannabis flower cleared a key House committee on last week. The full chamber also recently approved complementary legislation on taxing those products if they are legalized.
The main bill would amend the state’s existing medical cannabis law to make it so physicians may recommend raw marijuana products intended for inhalation. Dispensaries could sell up to two and a half ounces of flower cannabis to each patient in a 14-day period.
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.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.