Medical marijuana is legal in Louisiana, but recreational use remains prohibited. Only qualified patients under the Louisiana Medical (therapeutic) Marijuana Program can legally purchase and consume cannabis in the state. The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy issues licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, otherwise known as therapeutic marijuana pharmacies. On the other hand, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) regulates the cultivation and testing of marijuana in the state.
Marijuana is strictly prohibited in Louisiana unless it is recommended for medical use. However, Louisiana decriminalized cannabis in 2021 when Governor John Bel Edwards signed HB 652 into law. Consequently, the bill reduced the punishment for possessing up to 14 grams of marijuana to a $100 fine with no threat of jail time. Qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana in Louisiana include cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, autism spectrum disorders, and glaucoma. The state's medical marijuana program is now under the regulatory authority of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), as required by Act 491 and Act 492 of the 2022 Regular Legislature.
Under Louisiana medical marijuana laws, qualified patients must obtain a certificate from a state-licensed physician in order to access medical cannabis legally. Currently, the state has no medical marijuana identification card in place. However, once certified for medical cannabis therapy, a patient must designate a state-licensed dispensary where they can purchase medical marijuana. They will need to provide a state-issued identification card when visiting a dispensary to purchase medical cannabis.
The legal sale of medical cannabis did not start in Louisiana until August 2019, four years after it was fully legalized. According to a 2020-2021 annual tax collection report published by the Louisiana Department of Revenue, therapeutic marijuana accounted for $76,794 of the state revenue collections for the FY 2019 - 2020. Similarly, for the FY 2020 - 2021, $286,963 was generated as therapeutic marijuana fees as part of the state revenue, an over 270% change from the previous fiscal year.
In the 2021-2022 annual tax collection report, revenues generated by therapeutic marijuana in Louisiana were combined with transportation network fees and reported as other fees. According to that report, the state generated $2.6 million as "other fees" for the FY 2021 - 2022, which included the total net collections for therapeutic marijuana. While these revenues are abysmal, medical marijuana sales are projected to increase significantly in the next few years with the addition of flowers and a few other modifications to the Louisiana Medical Marijuana Program. Medical marijuana sales are projected to reach about $330 million by 2025 in the state.
Although recreational marijuana remains illegal in Louisiana, according to a Bloomberg report, the state spent over $46 million in 2010 enforcing cannabis possession laws. It is generally believed that legalizing adult-use cannabis could wipe this expenditure from the state's books and add more revenues to its treasury. Based on average taxes collected from marijuana users in states with a marijuana market for a minimum of three years, Tax Foundation projected an estimated annual recreational marijuana excise tax of $81 million for Louisiana.
According to the Louisiana State Police (LSP), marijuana is the most abused drug in the state. Also, reports reveal that Louisiana is one of the states with the most arrests for marijuana possession crimes in the United States. The state is reported to have the third-highest rate of marijuana possession arrests in 2022 at about 203 per 100,000 people. In the crime data sent to the FBI by the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), marijuana-related arrests made up about 57% of the total drug-related arrests made by law enforcement in Louisiana in 2018. The state reported 1,948 arrests for illegal marijuana sales and 17,289 arrests for cannabis possession in 2018.
The number of illegal marijuana sales and possession arrests in Louisiana was 18,661 in 2019, the year the legal sales of medical marijuana began. The state reported 1,685 for cannabis sales and 16,976 for possession, a slight decline from the numbers reported to the FBI in 2018. This represented 21% of all reported drug-related arrests in Louisiana in 2019. Also, there was a notable drop in the number of arrests made in 2020, as the state registered 13,280 arrests for both marijuana sales and consumption with the FBI. However, marijuana arrests constituted over 60% of the total drug-related arrests that year.
In 2021, the number of reported marijuana-related arrests in Louisiana dropped further to 9,749 from over 13,000 in 2020. Although Louisiana is considered one of the states with the highest number of marijuana possession arrests, legalizing medical marijuana seems to have a positive impact on the state's marijuana crime rate.
While recreational marijuana is illegal in Louisiana, the journey to medical marijuana legalization in the state was a long walk. The state first allowed medical marijuana in 1978 when Governor Edwin Edwards signed a bill sponsored by Senator Troy Guarisco, Act No. 725, into law. This bill is considered the original Act legalizing medical cannabis in Louisiana. Act No. 725 legalized medical marijuana for patients with glaucoma and cancer. It also tasked the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to find the substance and make it available for eligible patients. However, the LDH did not do as required by the Act, and medical marijuana remained inaccessible. Doctors could not write a prescription or offer an evaluation for medical cannabis.
In 1991, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 874 to amend the 1978 Act to include spastic quadriplegia as a qualifying medical condition for medical marijuana. This second attempt to legalize medical cannabis in the state created a 1992 deadline for the LDH to promulgate laws to implement it. However, nothing was done until 1994. In 1994, the LDH permitted licensed physicians to offer a medical marijuana evaluation and prescribe medical cannabis, but there was no arrangement in place to enable patients to access their medications.
The supply issues continued until 2014, when Fred Mills became a senator after serving as the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy's Executive Director in 1998. In 2014, Fred Mills sponsored Senate Bill 154 to address the supply problem, a dispensary system to make medical marijuana available to qualifying patients. SB 143 was strongly opposed and killed, but in 2015, Mills introduced another bill, SB 143 (Act No. 261), that was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal. Act No. 261 fully legalized medical marijuana in Louisiana and established a system to cater to marijuana cultivation and distribution to qualifying patients.
Since 2015, the Louisiana legislature has passed several Acts to amend the 2015 Act, adding an extended list of eligible conditions for medical marijuana therapy in the state. About 30 qualifying conditions have been added as of 2022. The legal sale of medical cannabis in Louisiana started in August 2019.