By Ted O’Neil | The Center Square
Medical marijuana patients in Louisiana will now be able to buy the smokable flower form of the drug under a new state law.
Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed House Bill 391. It passed the state House of Representatives, 75-18, earlier this month and was approved, 23-14, by the state Senate in late May.
The measure allows approved patients to buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana leaf every two weeks from one of the state’s nine medical marijuana pharmacies. Previously, patients could only get non-smokable forms of the drug, such as gummies, ointments and inhalers.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2022, and both of the state’s licensed medical marijuana growers have said they would have smokable marijuana for purchase on that date.
Louisiana lawmakers approved the medical marijuana program in 2015 and products became available to patients in 2019.
Backers of the law said the state needed to loosen its restrictions or face an end to the industry in the state because neighboring states, such as Arkansas, had begun to allow smokable medical marijuana.
The state’s two approved growers say the smokable form is less expensive to produce because it requires fewer steps to process.
Legislators rejected an amendment to the bill that would have added a third licensed grower, but said they will consider increasing the number of growers and approved pharmacies next year.
Several lawmakers, including some considered to be very conservative Republicans, told colleagues they had friends and family who had benefited from using medical marijuana, especially those battling cancer and dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy.
Edwards also signed into law House Bill 652, which decriminalizes possession of a small amount of recreational marijuana. It passed, 25-17, in the Senate and 68-25 in the House and takes effect Aug. 1.
Under the new law, people caught with up to a half ounce of marijuana obtained without a medical card will face a $100 fine instead of potential jail time.
Some 27 other states have passed similar measures to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Medical marijuana is legal in 36 states, and 19 states have fully legalized marijuana.