BATON ROUGE, La. (Apr. 19, 2018) – Yesterday, the Louisiana House passed a bill that would make the state’s medical marijuana program permanent. Final passage into law would take a big step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect.
Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) introduced House Bill 823 (HB823) on April 3. Under current law, the state’s medical marijuana program terminates Jan. 1, 2020. HB823 would repeal that provision and make medical marijuana permanently legal in Louisiana.
The House Committee on Health and Welfare approved the measure 9-0 last week. And yesterday, the full House passed it by a vote of 69-26.
Louisiana legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but the law was poorly written and did not result in any kind of actual medical marijuana program. In 2016, the state implemented a new law that made an important change in the wording of the statute. By allowing doctors to “recommend” medical marijuana to eligible patients instead of “prescribing” the drug, some patients were finally able to get access to medicinal cannabis.
HB823 is one of three bills moving through the legislature this year to expand the medical marijuana program.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as these remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. 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.
Further legalization of medical marijuana in Louisiana would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Louisiana could sweep away some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual 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 either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
By further relaxing restrictions and making marijuana legalization permanent, Louisiana can join other states that have significantly chipped away at cannabis prohibition.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.
With 29 states, including Louisiana allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. 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.
The move to expand medical marijuana laws in Louisiana and make them permanent demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. These two bills are a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB823 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
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