On Monday, two Louisiana bills were signed into law to increase patient access to medical cannabis in the state and to reduce criminal penalties for recreational cannabis possession, further thwarting the federal prohibition on the same in the Pelican State.
Signed into law on June 28, Senate Bill 143 (SB143) sets up a framework for the distribution of medical marijuana in the state. Although medical marijuana was legalized in 1991, there were no guidelines set to grow, prescribe and distribute the plant, which made it difficult for medical patients to access the medicine. That is what SB143 was written to change.
Under the new law, the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners, Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture are now responsible for coming up with the new regulations to govern the medical marijuana program and make it workable for patients. Qualifying patients include those afflicted with "glaucoma, symptoms resulting from the administration of chemotherapy cancer treatment, and spastic quadriplegia." State regulators can recommend adding conditions that qualify for medical marijuana to the Senate and House committees on health and welfare on an annual basis.
There is still the question of exactly how the state bureaus will regulate medical marijuana. Much of the discretion is put into their hands under SB143 with only loose guidelines put in place for them. Still, this is a step in the right direction for not just Louisiana but also all conservative-leaning states throughout the country. According to a NOLA report, Louisiana has become "the first state in the South to make marijuana available for a wide range of chronically ill patients." These measures can finally open the door for traditionally red states to embrace the cannabis revolution.
In addition, House Bill 149 (HB149) was signed into law on the same day as SB143. This makes it a second criminal marijuana possession charge a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony. First-time offenders are now eligible to have it expunged from their record if they go two years without being charged with another crime.
"We are fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for non-violent drug offenders, and I think this bill does that," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, as reported by NOLA.com. "I think that's good for those offenders and it's good for taxpayers.
Although these bills don't end cannabis prohibition outright, their significance cannot be discounted. They are substantial steps in the right direction for the state of Louisiana, and can spur action in other states that have yet to get on board with cannabis reform. The top-down federal mandates that have failed for so many decades are being replaced with a more decentralized, compassionate approach that is actually responsive to the needs of the people.
Activists should champion these victories that make medical cannabis more accessible and make it more difficult for people to be locked in cages for the non-violent, non-crime of marijuana possession. The end of the federal drug war is on its way whether detractors like it or not. The success of SB143 and HB149 help grease the wheels on our way toward that inevitable goal!