The Pelican State has taken a significant step in terms of medical marijuana reform this year. Last June 15, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law House Bill 819 which allowed physicians to recommend medical marijuana for any condition that they consider to be debilitating to their patient. The bill, which took effect last August 2020, is expected to reinvigorate Louisiana’s languid medical cannabis industry. According to David Brown, former president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana, the black market may be responsible for the low patient participation in the MMJ program. Those in Louisiana’s MMJ business believe that legal medical weed is just too expensive at present. Furthermore, patients in some areas would have to travel long distances just to get to a dispensary. But it seems that the bigger obstacle is the limited number of debilitating conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. In most cases, it’s an easy choice for those who can’t buy legally to go to the black market where it is cheaper and more accessible.
However, HB 819 is likely to increase doctor’s recommendations, which in turn, may bring in more patients into the program. According to Wellcana CEO John Davis, the bill will essentially allow every doctor to participate in the program, as well as every patient to have access to talking with their doctor about whether MMJ is appropriate for them.
Despite being a state in the southeast, it looks like marijuana reform is plodding in the right direction in Louisiana. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1991 and criminal penalties for possession were even reduced in 2015. However, punishments for illegal cultivation remain tough.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of Louisiana Marijuana Laws
Compared to other states, it’s interesting to see how first-time possession for personal use in Louisiana has quite a high limit before penalties increase.
- Possession – Possession of 14 grams or less is punishable by up to 15 days imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $300. More than 14 grams but less than 2 ½ lbs get up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $500. Additionally, there is a one-time two-year cleansing period for first-time convictions.
- Second offenses for amounts less than 2 ½ – up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $1000.
- Third offenses for the same amount – up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.
- Fourth offense for the same amount – up to 8 years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $5000.
- 2 ½ lbs but less than 60 lbs – 2 to 10 years and a maximum fine of $30,000.
- 60 lbs but less than 2000 lbs – a felony punishable by 5 to 30 years and a maximum fine of $100,000.
- 2000 to 10,000 lbs – a felony punishable by 10 to 40 years and a maximum fine of $400,000.
- 100,000 lbs or more – a felony punishable by 25 to 40 years and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.
- Sale and cultivation – Distribution (possession with intent to distribute) and cultivation are treated the same under Louisiana marijuana laws.
- Any amount on the first offense – a minimum of 5 up to 30 years and a fine of up to $50,000. If sold to a minor, the penalties go up to 5 to 45 years and a fine of up to $100,000.
- Any amount on the second offense – a minimum of 10 up to 60 years and a fine of up to $100,000. If sold to a minor, the penalties go up to 10 to 90 years and a fine of up to $200,000.
History of Marijuana in Louisiana
Marijuana’s history in Louisiana is quite an outlier. While it is presently getting left behind in terms of marijuana reform, it was actually once a pioneer in terms of medical marijuana legalization. In 1978, Sen. Tony Guarisco sponsored a bill that effectively legalized medical marijuana by way of a therapeutic research program. What was surprising is that the Guarisco’s bill was actually signed into law by then Gov. Edwin Edwards.
1978 Medical marijuana bill
At that time, the passage of such a law was quite an anomaly and that was proven in its implementation. Under Guarisco’s bill, patients with glaucoma and those doing chemotherapy for cancer would have gotten legal access to cannabis and a Marijuana Prescription Review Board would have been created to oversee the law. However, nothing came to fruition due to the failure of the Department of Health and Human Services to follow up in a substantive way. It was obvious that at that time there was still a lot of opposition from the state government, but this was not unusual in a conservative Southern state in that decade.
Guarisco’s law though was a major step in the right direction. It was then amended in 1991 to add spastic quadriplegia as a qualifying condition. In 1994, the DHH then promulgated rules allowing physicians to prescribe medical marijuana. However, the rules did not explicitly legalize nor gave the department authority to address components such as cultivation, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana products.
Medical marijuana framework and reduction of possession penalties
Another major push came in 2014 when Senate Bill 541 was filed by a Republican senator, no less. A pharmacist from New Ibera, Sen. Fred Mills bill proposed a framework for a legal medical marijuana dispensary system in the state. However, SB 541 lost the vote in the Senate health committee.
Nevertheless, 2015 saw the passage of two important marijuana bills – HB 149 which reduced possession penalties, and SB 143 which laid a framework for legal medical marijuana sales. Introduced by Rep. Austin Badon, Jr. and Sen. Fred Mills respectively, both bills were signed into law by then-governor Bobby Jindal.
Since then, most Louisiana lawmakers have come to realize the benefits that medical marijuana can bring to their ailing constituents. One shining example of this would be Rep. Larry Bagley, a Republican who was previously opposed to medical marijuana. However, after hearing out constituents whose lives have been made better by medical cannabis, Bagley did a complete turnaround on his stance and went on to sponsor HB 819. Earlier this year, Gov. Edwards also signed HB 211 which protects banks catering to medical cannabis businesses, and HB 418 which protects physicians and medical facilities involved with medical marijuana.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Louisiana
How do Louisiana marijuana laws compare with those in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Louisiana
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Louisiana.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Louisiana.
Yes, cannabis for medical use is legal in Louisiana.
None. Although patients are allowed to possess marijuana, home cultivation of medical cannabis is still not allowed in Louisiana.
Three pro-marijuana bills: HB 819, HB 211, and HB 418, got signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards. However, no notable efforts to forward the legalization of recreational marijuana have been made as of this year.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Louisiana.
Only adult workers employed in a licensed marijuana production facility are allowed to grow marijuana in Louisiana.
Louisiana seems to be making good progress in its medical marijuana legislation, thanks to lawmakers that recognize that most of their constituents can not only benefit from it but are now also in favor of it. However, Louisiana marijuana laws at present only make it conducive for dispensaries to operate and provide adequate supply and it looks as if there are plans to reduce penalties for unlicensed cultivation in the foreseeable future. Louisiana also isn’t close neighbors to states whose recreational marijuana laws could pressure it into doing the same so it is unlikely for home growing of medical marijuana to be legalized soon.