**Can You Smoke Weed in Public in Louisiana? **
Marijuana is legal for medical use in Louisiana but remains prohibited for recreational purposes. However, in 2021, the state decriminalized the possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis and reduced the penalty to a fine not exceeding $100. The punishments for possessing more than 14 grams of marijuana and other cannabis activities in the state are severe, ranging from fines to jail sentences, depending on the amount of cannabis involved.
Louisiana originally legalized medical cannabis in 1978, but the legal framework for legal sale was not in place until 2015, after the state enacted a bill to legalize it fully. Under the state's medical marijuana law, only individuals living with certain medical conditions are permitted to use medical cannabis. They may only purchase it at state-licensed therapeutic marijuana pharmacies (medical cannabis dispensaries) and are prohibited from cultivating their own marijuana. Several amendments have been made to Louisiana medical marijuana laws since it was first enacted in 1978.
Several marijuana bills were introduced and passed in Louisiana between the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions. While some have been enacted into law and a few killed, others are still pending at various legislative levels. Louisiana marijuana laws in 2023 include the following:
HB 135 was enacted to allow Louisiana-licensed therapeutic marijuana pharmacies to dispense medical cannabis to out-of-state patients with certain qualifying medical conditions. It also established the qualifications for such patients to be eligible for medical cannabis in the state.
Act 439 provides immunity from prosecution for patients enrolled in the Louisiana Medical Marijuana Program and exempts visiting qualifying patients from prosecution for certain violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Law.
This bill authorizes certain nurse practitioners and medical psychologists to evaluate and recommend qualifying patients for medical marijuana treatment in Louisiana.
AH 629 was enacted to prohibit the search of an individual's residence without a warrant based on marijuana odor. Under this Act, the smell of cannabis alone cannot be a probable reason for law enforcement to search a person's house without a warrant.
Act 478 prohibits passengers in motor vehicles or operators of motor vehicles from vaping or smoking marijuana while operating on a right-of-way or public highway. This Act also stipulates the penalties for violating the prohibition against smoking or vaping marijuana in vehicles.
HB 697 was passed to reform the systems regulating the production and dispensing of medical marijuana in Louisiana. It transferred certain regulatory duties from the state's Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) to the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH). Under Act 491, the LDH is required to license and regulate laboratories that test medical marijuana products in the state. Similarly, this Act mandates the remittance of proceeds of certain fees to the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR).
This bill authorizes the Louisiana Department of Health to charge and collect fees from individuals and contractors producing medical marijuana and remit proceeds of the said fees to the state's Department of Revenue.
HB 351 seeks to prohibit the disqualification of qualifying medical marijuana patients from certain employee benefits and allow an exception to the defenses permitted for workers' compensation claims for a recommendation for medical cannabis.
This bill seeks to increase the number of therapeutic marijuana pharmacies (medical marijuana dispensaries) to 30 with consideration to veteran, minority, or women-owned applicants.
HB 460 seeks to mandate the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to notify medical marijuana dispensaries within their region when they exceed 3,500 patients so they can expand satellite locations quarterly rather than yearly, as provided by current law.
This Senate bill aims to permit licensed physicians to recommend medical cannabis through telehealth services.
HB 17 seeks to provide for the cultivation, processing, and manufacturing of marijuana and cannabis products for adult-use purposes.
This House bill aims to impose a 15% tax on the retail sales of marijuana (recreational) if legalized under different legislation. It also made provisions for how the funds (revenue) will be distributed.
A companion bill to HB 17, HB 24 aims to remove criminal penalties associated with distributing, possessing, and dispensing recreational marijuana. This bill was killed in April 2023 by the House Criminal Justice Committee with a vote of 9-4.
HB 612 seeks to levy a 5% tax on the wholesale of adult-use cannabis and a $10 tax on retail sales, in addition to local and state sales taxes, if recreational marijuana is legalized. This bill also stipulates the allocation formula for revenues generated from these taxes.
This bill aims to expunge certain records of marijuana arrests and convictions for first-time possession of 14 grams or less of cannabis. This bill passed the Louisiana House by 69-30 and the state Senate by 32-7. It was signed into law on June 12, 2003 and went into effect on August 1, 2023.
Some of the pre-2023 efforts to legalize marijuana at the federal level include the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2020 (MORE Act) and the MORE Act of 2022. The MORE Act sought to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs and eliminate penalties for federal cannabis crimes. Also, the Act aimed to expunge past marijuana convictions for persons convicted of federal marijuana crimes. However, both bills were stalled.
In an attempt to move marijuana from the Schedule I list of controlled substances to a lower schedule of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Marijuana 1-to-3 Act was introduced in January 2023. Currently, the bill is with the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The content of this bill requires the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to transfer cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA. Unlike Schedule I drugs, Schedule III controlled substances have less potential for abuse and are currently accepted for medical use.
In April 2023, Senator Merkley Jeff introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act of 2023). The SAFE Banking Act, if passed, is believed to help facilitate the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. Currently, many financial institutions are prohibited from providing financial services to approved marijuana businesses at the state level. The SAFE Banking Act of 2023 seeks to provide protections for federally regulated financial institutions, including banks and credit card companies, that serve state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Earlier in April 2023, Rep. Joyce David introduced the PREPARE Act of 2023 to set the basis for the federal legalization of recreational weed in the United States. The PREPARE Act is short for Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment Act. This bill seeks the collaboration of diverse groups to discuss marijuana reforms whose outcome will potentially equip lawmakers with the information needed to establish a robust cannabis federal regulatory system. The PREPARE Act of 2023 is not expected to have an immediate practical impact on the nation's marijuana industry but may provide the framework for federal marijuana legalization.
Yes, qualifying cannabis patients can use cannabis for medical purposes in Louisiana, but non-medical (recreational) use of marijuana remains prohibited in the state. Some qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in Louisiana are cancer, PTSD, severe muscle spasms, epilepsy, seizure disorders, Crohn's disease, intractable pain, HIV/AIDS, and traumatic brain injury. Others include neurodegenerative diseases and conditions like:
In order to access medical marijuana and medical cannabis products in Louisiana, qualifying patients aged 18 and over must obtain recommendations from physicians with marijuana registration permits. Such physicians must be in good faith with and certified by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. Cannabis patients who are minors require their parents’ or legal guardians’ assistance to administer medical marijuana.
The sale of recreational marijuana is illegal in Louisiana, and only state-licensed therapeutic marijuana pharmacies can sell medical cannabis legally. However, Louisiana medical marijuana dispensaries may only sell medical cannabis to qualifying patients with recommendations from licensed physicians with marijuana registration permits. Qualifying patients are not at liberty to enter any of Louisiana's therapeutic marijuana pharmacies. Typically, a qualifying patient must designate a medical marijuana dispensary for marijuana purchases when obtaining a physician's recommendation for medical cannabis. This implies that a licensed medical marijuana dispensary will not sell medical cannabis to random patients who did not choose it (the dispensary) at the time of getting a recommendation for medical marijuana.
While at a Louisiana medical marijuana dispensary, the dispensary employees will look up the state’s cannabis registry to find a patient’s name and request to see the patient's government-issued ID for identification purposes. Therapeutic marijuana pharmacies may only sell up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana flowers to patients in a 14-day period or up to a 30-day supply of other state-approved cannabis products. Such products include edibles, topicals, metered-dose inhalers, and tinctures.
The following includes the several marijuana crimes in Louisiana and their related penalties:
Anyone convicted of possessing, displaying, or distributing drug paraphernalia in Louisiana faces up to 15 days of incarceration and/or up to a $300 fine.
The following are some defense strategies that can be deployed against marijuana-related charges in Louisiana:
In 1906, the United States Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act in an attempt to prohibit the consumption of marijuana. While the law did not ban marijuana, it significantly increased the cost of marijuana consumption by adding the labeling requirement. Several states enacted laws that prohibited the cultivation and consumption of weed between 1914 and 1925, and those legislations were met with little opposition. As a result, federal lawmakers were motivated to pursue the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level.
In 1937, the federal government enacted the Marijuana Tax Act to tax and regulate cannabis rather than ban it, making it less liable to legal challenges. However, the Act essentially prohibited the sale and possession of marijuana in reality, as more strict measures followed. The United States Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, establishing schedules (categories) of drugs and placing them on different levels depending on their potential for abuse and perceived medical benefit. Marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive category believed to have the highest potential for abuse with no medicinal usefulness.
In 1978, Governor Edwin Edwards signed a bill, Act No. 725, into law to legalize medical marijuana in Louisiana, changing course from the nationwide ban on cannabis. It was the state's first attempt at legalizing medical cannabis. There were several bottlenecks in implementing the provisions of Act 725. In 1991, another medical marijuana law (Act 874) was passed to authorize doctors to offer a medical cannabis evaluation and prescribe it. However, there was no viable framework to enable qualifying cannabis patients to access medical marijuana.
In 2015, Louisiana got it right when Sen. Fred Mill sponsored SB 143 (Act 261), a bill that eventually legalized medical marijuana fully in the state. Act 261 empowered three state agencies to develop a framework for a medical cannabis prescription, cultivation, and dispensary system. Between 2015 and 2022, several amendments were made to the 2015 bill, including the expansion of the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana in Louisiana. More recently, in 2023, the state legislature introduced HB 17, a bill seeking to permit the cultivation, manufacturing, and processing of cannabis for recreational purposes. It is currently referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. HB 24 was also introduced in 2023 in a bid to remove criminal penalties associated with distributing, possessing, and dispensing recreational marijuana. It failed at the Committee level.
Other 2023 bills introduced in the Louisiana legislature that affect cannabis policy in the state include SB 66, a Senate Bill that provides regulations for using telehealth to certify medical patients, and HB 460, a House Bill that mandates the Board of Pharmacy to publish reports on the number of patients registered in the Louisiana medical marijuana program. The Bill proposed publishing these figures quarterly, rather than annually, to better inform licensed dispensing organizations to open more locations to cater for the growing number of qualifying medical cannabis patients in the state. The Governor signed HB 460 and SB 66 into law on June 13, 2023 and June 12, 2023 respectively as Act 311 and Act 322.
Some of the common restrictions on marijuana in Louisiana are: