In recent years, the call to legalize marijuana has been heard across the country, and more and more states are legalizing the use of cannabis, including marijuana and derivatives like CBD, for use in medical and/or recreational capacities. You might be surprised to learn that Louisiana, long considered to be among the more restrictive states where marijuana use is concerned, was actually the first to legalize it in 1978, when Senator Troy Guarisco sponsored the bill and Governor Edwin Edwards signed it into law.
Unfortunately, the well-intentioned bill, which allowed for marijuana use by patients with glaucoma and those undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer, did not provide a means for supplying marijuana, and so it remained inaccessible, albeit legal. Back then, it wasn’t possible to find a medical marijuana doctor in Louisiana or receive a medical marijuana evaluation, much less purchase medical marijuana.
The Marijuana Prescription Review Board was created under the 1978 law, but it relied on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to appoint members and provide product and distribution logistics, which never materialized. The end result at the time was that doctors could not legally offer a medical marijuana evaluation in Louisiana or write a prescription, and there was no legal product available to purchase anyway.
It would be over a decade before Louisiana broached the subject again. In 1991, the state legislature amended the 1978 law to include spastic quadriplegia as a qualifying condition and create a deadline of 1992 for HHS to do their part. In 1994, HHS finally made it legal for doctors to offer medical marijuana evaluation in Louisiana and prescribe the drug, but still, there was no viable mechanism in place for patients to actually receive medication.
When Fred Mills became the executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy in 1998, he was made aware of the supply problem, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Mills, by then a senator, sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 154 to address the missing component – a dispensary system for medical marijuana. The bill didn’t go far, due to opposition, but Mills was undeterred, introducing a second attempt, SB 143, in 2015.
With changes to the types of marijuana allowed (non-smokable forms) and oversight of growth, dispensing, and prescription by three state agencies, opposition waned. Governor Bobby Jindal signed it into law in 2015, and later provisions included an extended list of qualifying medical conditions.
Today, the laws have finally come to fruition. Patients can visit a medical marijuana doctor in Baton Rouge or other areas to undergo a medical marijuana evaluation and receive a recommendation. The state now recognizes two approved growers, the Agricultural Centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University, along with nine pharmacy locations where medical marijuana can be dispensed.
Following a successful harvest at Southern University, the first tinctures became available for purchase in August 2019. Earlier in the year, HB 358 was approved by lawmakers to add vaporized marijuana (via metered-dose inhaler) to the list of approved forms of medical marijuana.
The good news for patients is that they can not only locate a medical marijuana doctor in Louisiana and receive a medical marijuana evaluation in Baton Rouge or their area of residence, but also find the products needed to address symptoms for a wide range of conditions. Hopefully, accessibility for patients will continue to expand in the years to come.