BATON ROUGE, La. (May 23, 2016) – Last week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law that will serve to resurrect the state’s dormant medical marijuana program by making an important technical change to current statute. The move is an essential step for the state to reject the unconstitutional federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.

Sen. Fred Mills Jr. introduced Senate Bill 271 (SB271) on Mar. 4. The legislation makes an important change in wording of the state’s medical marijuana law. By allowing doctors to “recommend” medical marijuana to eligible patients instead of “prescribing” the drug, some patients will finally be able to get access.

This language is important because with federal prohibition still in effect, “prescribing” cannabis could expose physicians to legal trouble.Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing a schedule 1 controlled substance. A written “recommendation” carries no such legal consequences.

The bill also expands the list of “debilitating conditions” eligible for treatment with medicinal cannabis.

The Louisiana legislature legalized medical marijuana last year, but the program never got off the ground due to the poorly worded statute. With the change, qualifying patients will now have limited access to medicinal grade marijuana.

“It simply is unacceptable to tell parents of kids especially that if they want to make available to their kids the medicine that is being recommended by their doctors in order to achieve some better quality of life, some reduction in pain or other symptoms, that they have to move,” Edwards said when he signed the bill.

The Louisiana program will remain limited in scope. As NORML reports, the new law does not address other restrictions on medical marijuana.

“The bill does not amend language in the state’s Therapeutic Research Act limiting the preparation of medicinal cannabis products to non-herbal formulations, nor does it address provisions limiting state-licensed cannabis cultivation to a single provider, or the dispensing of cannabis products to no more than ten licensed pharmacies. Those restrictions were put in place by legislation signed into law last year. Separate legislation, SB 180, which explicitly immunizes the program’s participants from state criminal prosecution, remains pending in the House and is anticipated to be voted on as early as next week.”

Officials estimate it will take between 12 and 18 months to get the system fully up and running.

Even with the limitation, the bill represents a good first step in Louisiana and sets a foundation for activists to build on.


Louisiana’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While Louisiana law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Louisiana essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Louisiana joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

Mike Maharrey