A bill to legalize smokable medical marijuana for patients that already passed the Louisiana House was approved in a Senate committee on Wednesday, sending it to the full chamber for a final vote.
The move comes one day after the House advanced legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession and another committee cleared a measure to impose taxes on marijuana sales if the states legalizes it for recreational use.
A separate proposal to enact legalization, meanwhile, has again been delayed for House floor consideration, with a vote now expected next Tuesday.
But while that represents the most ambitious cannabis reform bill to move through the conservative legislature this session, advocates are encouraged by Wednesday’s vote to allow patients in the state’s limited medical cannabis program to access raw, smokable flower marijuana products. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved the legislation in a 6-1 vote.
A separate, complementary measure to impose taxes on flower medical cannabis passed in the House last month and advanced out of a Senate committee on Monday.
Also on Monday, the House approved a bill from Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) that is meant to align Louisiana’s hemp program with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for the crop that were finalized and took effect in March.
Advocates are closely monitoring each of these developments—and there have been a lot this session—but the adult-use legalization bill from Rep. Richard Nelson (R) is receiving the most attention.
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.
The measure has now been rescheduled for House floor action three times at the request of Nelson, who has worked on amendments intended to increase support in what is expected to be a close vote. One proposal that has been posted would remove the home cultivation provisions to address concerns that have been raised by law enforcement.
A separate proposal from Nelson that the chamber is set to consider next week would establish a $2,500 annual fee for cannabis business licenses and a $100 annual fee for a personal cultivation permit.
And on Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved another complementary Nelson bill to impose taxes on cannabis sales if Louisiana ends prohibition. As amended by the committee, adults would pay a 15 percent sales tax on cannabis products, in addition to state and local taxes. The resulting revenues would be split between the state general fund and the local local jurisdictions where sales take place, with a chunk of the latter going to support law enforcement.
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On Wednesday, the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee also approved a revised version of a bill from Rep. Candace Newell (D) that would establish certain regulations for a legal marijuana market, and it includes a set of provisions that are meant to promote social equity in the industry.
Under the decriminalization measure that cleared the House on Tuesday, possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis would be punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time.
There is an additional decriminalization bill moving through the legislature as well, and it’s awaiting scheduling for final consideration in the House. That legislation, also sponsored by Newell, would simply remove the existing criminal penalties for possession, distribution and dispensing of cannabis “if the legislature provides for a statutory regulatory system for the legal sale and distribution of marijuana and establishes a sales tax on those sales.”
A House committee on Tuesday also advanced separate legislation to repeal a current law that requires illicit cannabis sellers to purchase tax stamps for their products. It would only take effect if legalization passes.
When it comes to broader legalization, while advocates have generally expected resistance from the governor, who has repeatedly expressed opposition to the reform, he did say last month 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.
As state lawmakers have continued to advance these marijuana reform bills, two recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—show that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.