Act No. 874 of the 1991 Louisiana legislative session legalized medical marijuana. But it used the word “prescribe,” putting doctors in the crosshairs of federal law enforcement, and it made no allowances for dispensing, selling, or possessing medical cannabis.
Subsequent legislation, SB No. 541, tweaked qualifying conditions and called on the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to oversee the Therapeutic Marijuana Utilization Board and facilitate the licensing of doctors, producers, and pharmacies. However, neither the board nor the DHH made substantive progress toward getting medical cannabis into the hands of patients.
In 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed SB 271, making Louisiana the first state in the Deep South to create a comprehensive medical cannabis program. The bill replaced language in the 1991 medical marijuana law stating that physicians must “prescribe” medical marijuana to patients, which was impossible because marijuana is a Schedule I drug under federal law. Physicians can only recommend cannabis to a patient since all federal Schedule I drugs are considered dangerous and without medical value.
SB 271 mandated that medical marijuana must be provided in processed, non-smokable forms and distributed to patients through up to 10 pharmacies. It gave LSU and Southern University the right of first refusal to become licensed marijuana production centers for the state, and allowed for one additional producer to be licensed. But the state delayed implementation several times because of legislative changes, supply availability, and a lack of testing laboratories.
In June 2018, Edwards signed HB 579 and HB 627, which expanded the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and called on LSU and Southern University to conduct research on the medicinal value of marijuana.
In 2018, the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners eliminated a rule that made 100 patients the maximum number that could be treated by doctors licensed under the state’s medical marijuana program. The board also removed a restriction that required patients to see their doctor every 90 days to renew orders for medical cannabis.In 2021, Edwards signed legislation into law, House Bill 391, repealing the state’s ban on herbal cannabis for medically authorized patients. The new law, which takes effect on January 1, 2022, will for the first time allow state-registered patients to obtain “raw or crude” cannabis for the purpose of “inhalation.” Beginning on January 1st, 2022, registered medical cannabis patients will be able to purchase up to two and a half ounces of medical cannabis flower per 14 day period from licensed providers.