All eyes are on the South as the United States experiences its next wave of cannabis legalization. Not surprisingly, Southern states have been more conservative in their approach to developing medical cannabis programs.
Zero of the 18 adult-use programs now in existence have been created down south. The latest news stirring up Southern attention is a bill to advance employee protections for registered Louisiana medical cannabis patients.
Louisiana Medical Cannabis: Then and Now
Louisiana—where 58% of residents support full cannabis legalization—stands out as an early adopter of medical cannabis as compared to its neighbors.
Here’s a quick look at the progress that has already occurred in Louisiana’s cannabis program:
- 2015 – The state enacted its first medical cannabis law in 2015.
- 2019 – The law was expanded to allow Louisiana’s first state-licensed medical cannabis sales.
- 2021 – Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law that decriminalizes the possession of cannabis in amounts up to 14.5 grams, which is now punishable by no more than a $100 fine without jail time.
- 2022 – Louisiana again grabbed the attention of medical patients and cannabis companies when it added smokable flower to its list of permitted product types, effective Jan. 1, 2022.
The addition of flower sales in medical dispensaries (or “pharmacies” as they are named in Louisiana) resulted in a massive leap in patient registrations and sales. According to the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, purchases increased by 60% between the last quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022 following the Jan. 1 effective date.
As of April 2022, there has been a 600% increase in the number of medical cannabis recommendations compared to April of last year. This glaring expansion in the number of Louisianans participating in the Pelican State’s medical program demands enhanced protections for state-registered patients.
Rep. Landry’s Worker Protection Bill
To better protect workers based in Louisiana, Rep. Mandie Landry filed House Bill 988 that:
- Prevents state employees, who are registered medical cannabis patients, from suffering negative employment consequences should they test positive for cannabis (THC).
- Does not prevent negative consequences for those who consume cannabis during work hours and/or on work premises.
- Does not protect employees whose primary responsibility is to operate or maintain a state vehicle, or to oversee another employee who operates a vehicle.
- Does not protect employees of emergency medical services, law enforcement, public safety officials, state employees of the horse racing commission, or firefighter services.
House Bill 988 passed the House of Representatives with a 60-32 vote. It quickly passed the Senate without amendments with a vote of 26-8. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law on June 18, and it’s set to go into effect on Aug. 1.
What’s Next for Cannabis in the Pelican State?
As Louisiana legislators expand the state’s medical program by allowing a wider variety of product types and enhancing protections for registered patients, we will see the cost to pharmacies (and, therefore, patient purchasers) decrease significantly. The Board of Pharmacy has already made its recommendation to license more growers and pharmacies to meet the needs of the growing patient population and to improve patient accessibility.
There has been some movement in the Louisiana legislature to pass an adult-use (recreational) bill. However, despite support from Louisiana residents, adult-use bills have yet to gain any real traction. Most likely, the state will fully develop its medical cannabis program so that it has an established infrastructure that will be able to support purchases by Louisiana residents over the age of 21 before passing adult-use legislation.
What Else Is Going on in Southern Cannabis?
Florida, Oklahoma, and Louisiana have taken the reigns as leaders in the Southern medical cannabis scene. Mississippi—after an extensive delay caused by the ballot initiative passed by voters to create a state medical program was struck down in state court—has finally begun to kick it into gear and is now issuing cannabis business licenses. No adult-use laws have been passed in any Southern state.
We are all keeping an eye on the South’s biggest player and the second largest state in the U.S.: Texas. Texas has maintained an extremely restrictive program that allows just three operators to grow and sell limited CBD products.
It will be interesting to see whether Texas takes an Oklahoma/Mississippi approach that allows anyone to purchase a cannabis business license, or if it will take a competitive, restrictive approach as seen in Louisiana/Florida in which only a few licenses will be issued. Each approach has its trade-off to the accessibility, pricing, and quality of products enjoyed by patients and consumers.
If you or someone you know is interested in joining Louisiana’s fast-growing medical cannabis program, you can book an appointment with a Louisiana-licenced medical cannabis doctor here. Our experts help patients move through the sign-up process quickly and painlessly.
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