Although Federal laws prohibit all forms of cannabis, it is legal as medicine under state law in 24 states (Pennsylvania just became the 24th!) and the District of Columbia. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed two bills in June, 2015 that make significant changes to Louisiana’s cannabis rules.
Senate Bill 143 – Medical Cannabis
SB 143 establishes a system for dispensing medical cannabis and makes Louisiana the first state in the South to make cannabis available for chronically ill patients with certain specific diseases. This bill takes medical cannabis legislation passed in 1991 to the next level by creating a framework for how the state would cultivate, prescribe, and dispense the drug.
House Bill 149 – Recreational Marijuana
The other bill, HB 149, reforms Louisiana’s criminal penalties for marijuana, which were among the most stringent in the country. Now a second offense for marijuana possession is a misdemeanor rather than a felony. This bill allows first-time offenders to erase their first conviction for possessing marijuana if they do not re-offend within two years.
Cultivation of Medical Cannabis
SB 143 requires there to be no more than one grow/production operation for medical cannabis. LSU and Southern University have the right of first refusal to jointly or independently grow and process marijuana products. Accepting this right would place federal funding into a grey area, as both universities receive considerable funding from the federal government. The U.S. government specifically prohibits the cultivation of cannabis.
If the universities forfeit this right, the contract will be bid on by the private sector, with restrictions on location and connections to the public sector – including past public sector contracts and campaign contributions.
Distribution of Medical Cannabis
- No more than ten locations – all pharmacies in good standing – may be licensed to dispense medical cannabis products.
- Federal regulation prohibits national chains from qualifying and there are only 550 independent pharmacies in the state of Louisiana.
- Each licensed dispensary must have the ability, and may be required by the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, to maintain an escrow account of $2 million in a state-headquartered financial institution.
- Many independent pharmacies are already leveraged into accepting low margins on prescriptions because they have little or no bargaining power with insurance companies.
- Questions about the legality of cannabis escrow accounts have been raised; other institutions have prohibited medical cannabis programs from using banking services because they are regulated by the federal government.
Prescribing Medical Cannabis
- SB 143 requires a prescription from a licensed physician before a patient can obtain medical cannabis.
- The state will use the Prescription Monitoring Program (a program established to identify and inhibit the diversion of controlled substances and other drugs, which began collecting data in 2009) to track patients and purchases.
- Current federal regulation prevents licensed physicians from writing a prescription, which requires physicians in states with medical cannabis programs to write a recommendation for cannabis – not a prescription. Louisiana will need to address this regulatory dilemma before moving forward.
- Current eligible diseases include:
- Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy
- Those with a rare form of cerebral palsy – spastic quadriplegia