Louisiana bills seek to legalize marijuana
More than a dozen bills related to marijuana have been filed by Louisiana legislators for this year’s session, including three that would take different paths to full legalization.
House Bill 462 by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, calls for a state constitutional amendment that would allow local governing authorities to hold elections to decide whether sale, possession, distribution and use of marijuana would be permitted in their jurisdictions. Constitutional amendments require approval of two-thirds of the members of the state House and Senate and a majority of voters.
House Bill 509 by Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, would legalize recreational marijuana consumption by adults 21 and over statewide. The bill would require the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the state Board of Pharmacy to license and regulate manufacturers and retail distributors respectively.
Under HB 509, revenue from marijuana taxes would go to K-12 education, the TOPS college scholarship program, transportation and the state general fund.
House Bill 564 by Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, authorizes the LDAF to create and issue up to 15 cannabis production facility licenses. The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control would issue cannabis retailer permits
HB 564 would also allow households to get their own “personal cultivation permit” for personal use only. A number of fees and restrictions would apply under the bill, including a ban on selling cannabis to anyone under 21.
Louisiana law permits marijuana products for medicinal use, though the state’s complex system for making those products available has not yet gotten off the ground and smokeable pot is not allowed. Gov. John Bel Edwards is asked about legalization of recreational marijuana during virtually every episode of his monthly radio call-in show, and always declines to support the idea.
Full legalization is a tough sell for many lawmakers, especially in an election year. A recent LSU poll found that about 55 percent of Louisiana residents support legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, though the likelihood of support varies widely with age.
Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 80 percent support legalizing recreational use of marijuana, along with 67 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, the survey found. About half of 50- to 64-year-olds are in favor, while 69 percent of residents who are 65 years or older oppose legalization.
Other pending bills that touch on marijuana include:
House Bill 59: Removes the possibility of imprisonment for first-offense possession of 14 grams or less. Reduces potential fine from possessing more than 14 grams but less than 28 grams to $300 from $500 but maintains a possible six-month sentence.
House Bill 138: Amends the definition of “marijuana” to exclude hemp, while adding certain other drugs such as Methoxyacetyl fentanyl (an opioid) to the list of controlled dangerous substances. Hemp is a plant that is related to, but distinct from, marijuana, and is not psychoactive. Hemp can be used in food, clothing, paper and other products.
House Bill 169: Seeks to create a database of health outcomes associated with medical marijuana.
House Bill 358: Deletes the prohibition of inhaled medical marijuana.
House Bill 507: Imposes a 7 percent tax at the wholesale level on medical marijuana and dedicates the money to the New Opportunities Waiver Fund, which provides home- and community-based services for people with disabilities through the Medicaid program.
House Bill 605: Excludes marijuana for therapeutic use from state and local sales and use tax, as doctor-prescribed drugs already are. Technically, medical marijuana products remain illegal to prescribe, though doctors can recommend them to patients.
House Bill 560: Imposes a 15 percent tax on retail sales of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products, with proceeds dedicated to the New Opportunities Waiver Fund. CBD is not psychoactive and is purported to have health benefits.
House Bill 568: Transfers oversight of therapeutic cannabis from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to the Louisiana Department of Health. Critics have blamed LDAF for delays in rolling out the state’s medical marijuana program, though the department has pointed to the need to ensure the legislature’s mandates are being followed.
House Bill 579: Authorizes hemp farming under the oversight of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain expects between 250 and 1,000 Louisiana residents will sign up to become approved growers if the state and federal governments provide a legal framework.
Senate Bill 61: Creates the Louisiana Commission on Medicinal Plants within the Department of Agriculture and Forestry to advise the department on medicinal plant regulation.