Photo via iStock/ SeanPavonePhoto
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed two new medical cannabis bills into law, breathing life into the state's previously limited medical marijuana program. House Bill 579 greatly expands the pool of patients eligible for medical marijuana by adding glaucoma, intractable pain, severe muscle spasms, PTSD, and Parkinson's disease to the list of qualifying conditions. A second bill, House Bill 627, also adds autism to the list.
The state's original medical cannabis law, enacted in 2016, was so restrictive in scope that it raised concerns about whether or not a MMJ industry could even be viable in the state. The original law only allowed patients suffering from one of 10 qualifying conditions — including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and cancer — to use medical cannabis in oil, edible, capsule, or topical forms. The limited program did not immediately inspire confidence in the state's physicians, and as of last fall, only two doctors had completed the rigorous application process necessary to recommend the drug to patients.
State Sen. Ted James, realizing that an expansion of the program was necessary to keep the state's medical cannabis industry afloat, proposed HB 579 to expand the list of qualifying conditions. James' bill met with immediate resistance from the state's District Attorneys Association as well as the state Board of Medical Examiners, who both claimed that there was not enough research to support the medical benefits of cannabis.
Opponents of the legislation also argued that lawmakers should wait for the initial medical marijuana program to come into effect before expanding it. In the face of these challenges, it seemed unlikely that Louisiana's medical cannabis program could survive, but supporters of the legislation pushed against the odds and got the bills passed into law with a narrow margin. Gov. Edwards signed HB 627 into law last month, and approved HB 579 last weekend.
HB 579 will go into effect on August 1st of this year. Rep. James told the USA Today Network that the passage of his bill is "something I'm very proud of because this is a medicine I believe can improve the lives of so many people who are suffering.” Qualifying patients are expected to be able to acquire their medicine by the end of the summer.
The original medical cannabis law authorized the agricultural centers of Southern University and Louisiana State University to oversee the cultivation and production of medical cannabis in the state. This April, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy chose nine pharmacies across the state to distribute marijuana products to patients. The new bills do not expand the varieties of medical cannabis available, so patients will still be prohibited from purchasing or using smokable or vapable cannabis.