Louisiana Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Law

On June 29, 2015,  Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law that should finally give state residents access to medical marijuana. In 1991, Louisiana technically legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the state failed to provide a legal mechanism for access.

Under the new law, implementation and regulation of the state’s medical marijuana program will be the responsibility of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. When forming regulations, the board will consult the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association and professional law enforcement organizations, associations and commissions.

Patients suffering from one of the three listed debilitating conditions will be able to obtain medical marijuana in oil form only. The debilitating conditions include glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and symptoms resulting from the administration of chemotherapy cancer treatment.

It is unlikely that Louisiana’s new medical marijuana status will create many economic opportunities for investors or entrepreneurs. Marijuana cultivation will most likely be handled by Louisiana State University and dispensed in pharmacies.

In addition to medical marijuana, Jindal also signed a law that will reduce the penalties for possession of marijuana. Individuals arrested for simple possession will now be able to have the arrest erased from their criminal records so long as it is their first offense and they stay out of legal trouble for two years.

Second-time marijuana possession will also be reclassified as a misdemeanor, an offense that was previously classified as a felony.

Speaking with The Huffington Post, Yolande Cadore of the Drug Policy Alliance lauded the passage of these limited, yet significant, laws. “Louisiana’s overdue for a major overhaul of its drug policies and this is a good first step,” Cadore said. “It’s a relief to see that smart policymakers are starting to recognize this political reality.”

Although many marijuana reformers praised the new laws, others are concerned that the language in Louisiana’s new medical marijuana law might render it as useless as its predecessor. The problem stems from the bill’s use of the word “prescribe.”

In the eyes of the law, there is a fine line between a doctor prescribing and recommending a treatment. When prescribing medication, a doctor is bound by a litany of ethical, professional and legal restrictions; and by prescribing a drug with reportedly “no medicinal value,” according to the federal government, that doctor has broken a law that is not protected by marijuana legislation.

In contrast, recommending a drug carries fewer liabilities, which is why you see so many medical marijuana states use the word “recommend” in their laws.

Speaking with NOLA.com, Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Director Malcolm Broussard brushed off the concerns raised by advocates. “The outcome of the process — whether it is a ‘recommendation’ or a ‘prescription’ — remains the same,” Broussard said. “It is an order generated by the physician for filling at the pharmacy.”

To Broussard the whole issue is just a matter of semantics, and any problems will be sorted out during the rule making process. Only time will tell if Broussard is correct.

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