September 2018: The Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners changed existing rules that limited the number of patients to which doctors could recommend medical marijuana. The Board also removed restrictions that mandated patients had to see physicians every 90 days in order to renew recommendations for medical cannabis.
June 2018: Governor John Bel Edwards signed SB35 into law, which grants immunity to employees of pharmacies licensed to dispense marijuana operating within the scope of the state-sponsored medical marijuana program. SB35 also named two agriculture centers as growers of legal marijuana plants: Louisiana State University and Southern University.
Under Act 261, only the agricultural centers at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University may grow marijuana for medical purposes. According to the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH), GB Sciences cultivates plants for LSU, while Advanced Biomedics grows and produces medicine for Southern University. [Information accessed August 7, 2018]
Patients with legal recommendations for cannabis medicine can purchase medical marijuana at one of nine specially licensed dispensaries or pharmacies.
Louisiana does not require patients to join a state registry to obtain marijuana medicine. Instead, they need a recommendation from one of nine authorized doctors.
Act 261 originally approved medical marijuana use for lethal conditions and diagnoses related to seizures and muscle spasms. However, the Louisiana State Legislature greatly expanded this list in 2018.
Effective August 1, 2018, Louisiana added the following to the state’s list of qualifying conditions:
See Act 708 for detailed information.
As of May 23, 2018, patients experiencing the following conditions as a result of autism spectrum disorder may qualify for cannabis medicine under Act 496:
The Louisiana State Legislature passed Act 261 in 2015 with the intent of legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bobby Jindal signed the act into law on June 29 of that year. However, the wording in the bill made it illegal under federal law. United States legislation does not allow physicians to prescribe illegal substances. Since cannabis is a Schedule I substance, doctors cannot prescribe it.
Senate Bill 271 amended the act in 2016 to change any language referring to “prescribing” medical marijuana to “recommending.” These changes allowed Louisiana to get around federal medical cannabis prohibition. However, it didn’t establish protections for patients, dispensaries or suppliers.
To fill the gap in protections left by SB 271, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB 180. They drafted this bill to protect legal patients from SB 271’s loophole. Yet, it came with a loophole of its own — it did not authorize cultivation or distribution. So, while patients had the legal right to medication, they could not legally obtain it. To mitigate this issue, SB 35 added protections for pharmacy staff who distribute medical marijuana under the state program.
Because of these restrictions, organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Council of State Legislatures don’t recognize Louisiana as a state with a legal medical marijuana program. However, the future looks promising for patients who live in the state. Two universities contracting with medical marijuana companies plan to have legal cannabis medicine available by the end of 2018. Louisiana’s medical cannabis policies may not be as robust as those in other states, but they have plenty of potential.
Under Louisiana law, the state has no unified program for medical cannabis. Instead, multiple state departments manage regulations and licensing related to their areas of control. While the DHH has no authority to regulate cannabis medicine, they provide a guide to medical marijuana policies on their website.
Louisiana’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry determines the rules and regulations surrounding the cultivation and production of medical marijuana. LSU and Southern University and have the only two licenses for growing and producing medicine. The schools’ contractors operate cultivation and production facilities on their behalf, where the universities also conduct medicinal cannabis research. As of August 2018, LSU expects to have medicine available by September 2018. The Southern Ag Center estimates they will have their first batch by the beginning of 2019.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy manages the rules surrounding dispensaries and dispensing medicine. They issue permits to qualifying pharmacies and dispensaries that allow them to sell medicinal cannabis to patients with recommendations. Up to 10 permits may be active at the same time throughout the state. To ensure all parts of the state have access to medication, the Board designated nine regions that can each hold one permit. In the future, the Board may issue the 10th allowable permit to meet an increased need in a region.
The Board also regulates the types of marijuana medications that dispensaries and pharmacies can sell. Under Act 261, dispensaries cannot sell cannabis in its raw form, or in the form of flower. It also forbids any products meant for smoking or vaping, such as certain concentrates. Aside from these two limitations, the Board allows a wide range of medical marijuana products that covers:
Louisiana’s State Board of Medical Examiners has the authority to license doctors to recommend medicinal marijuana. As of August 2018, 40 practitioners have therapeutic marijuana registration permits or have an application in process. Each licensed doctor will only have authority to work with 100 patients or less. So, a larger number of registered physicians also means a larger pool of potential patients.
GB Sciences and the Board of Medical Examiners plan to provide a continuing for certified doctors and pharmacists. They will collaborate with the Curry Rockefeller Group, a medical education company based in New York, to design the training. The course will include general information about cannabis medicine and the benefits that each formulation provides.
Patients may own up to a 30-day supply’s worth of non-smokable cannabis. Legislators plan to expand this definition soon.
Even with a recommendation, patients will not have the authority to grow their own medicine. They must go to a designated pharmacy or dispensary to buy medicine grown by the companies contracted by LSU and Southern University. These universities and their partners have the exclusive rights to grow medical marijuana in Louisiana, with no exceptions.