Louisiana Governor Signs Measures to Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

The new bills expand the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana to include conditions like autism, PTSD, and intractable pain.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards last week signed into law two measures that expand the state’s medical marijuana program, a move that will make more people eligible for cannabis. House Bill 579 and House Bill 672 each add new conditions to the state’s list of diseases and conditions that are eligible for medical marijuana.

House Bill 579 by Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, adds glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Parkinson’s disease. Supporters of the bill believe adding PTSD as a qualifying condition will be particularly helpful to veterans living in the state. The measure will go into effect on August 1 of this year.

“It’s something I’m very proud of because this is a medicine I believe can improve the lives of so many people who are suffering,” James told USA Today.

House Bill 672, introduced by Democrat Rep. Rodney Lyons of Harvey, allows for medical marijuana to be recommended for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

Conditions that had already qualified for medical marijuana under Louisiana’s state law include cancer, wasting syndrome, epilepsy and seizure disorders, HIV and AIDS, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.

Both of the measures allow cannabis only in pill, oil, edible, or topical forms, as was the rule already with Louisiana’s medical marijuana program. Smokable or vapable cannabis products are prohibited.

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Latest on Louisiana’s Medical Marijuana Program

The new measures expanding Louisiana’s medical marijuana program come only a few months ahead of when cannabis is expected to be available to patients in the state.

Louisiana is one of 29 U.S. states to legalize medical marijuana. While an initial bill legalizing medical marijuana in Louisiana was passed 40 years ago, it was never implemented. A bill signed into law by Edwards in 2016 finally paved the way for implementation and now medical marijuana is expected to be available to patients for the first time at some point this summer.

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program is still getting organized. As of now, only the agricultural centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University are allowed to grow cannabis for the state, and the state agriculture department oversees their efforts. Nine dispensaries have been selected and only a handful of doctors have so far applied for and received permission to recommend medical marijuana once it becomes available.

The recent expansion of treatable conditions, particularly adding intractable pain, is expected to grow the state’s medical marijuana industry by millions of dollars.

“It’s a massive, massive increase,” said Brian Rudin, a co-owner of the planned marijuana dispensary in the Lafayette region. “It’s the difference between a handful of (patients) and potentially a massive amount of people that suffer from chronic pain that would see relief with cannabis.”

A 2016 study by Marijuana Policy Group estimated that several hundred thousand people in Louisiana suffer from chronic pain, and between 27,000 and 37,300 of them said at the time they would use medical marijuana if it were legal.

The program may be hindered, however, by the state Board of Medical Examiners’ rule that places a 100-patient cap on each doctor. A doctor in Baton Rouge recently told The Advocate that he’s already had 300 people contact him about medical marijuana, and estimated that at least 75 percent were doing so because of chronic pain.

Learn More

You can learn more about the Louisiana medical marijuana law, cannabis laws throughout the U.S., as well as what research has discovered so far about cannabis, through our research and education page.