BATON ROUGE, La. (June 19, 2020) – Last week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed three bills into law that expand the state’s medical-marijuana program despite federal prohibition.
Rep. Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall) introduced House Bill 819 (HB819) in March. The new law gives physicians complete discretion in recommending medical marijuana to their patients. As introduced, the legislation added traumatic brain injuries and concussions to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana. A House committee expanded the bill to allow doctors to recommend medicinal cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit. A Senate amendment requires dispensaries to record medical marijuana purchases in the state prescription monitoring program database.
Rep. Jeremy LaCombe (D-Livonia) introduced House Bill 418 (HB418) back in February. Under the law, any physician who recommends medical marijuana to a patient and any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana under state law are exempt from prosecution under the state’s marijuana laws. In effect, the law ensures physicians recommending medical marijuana will be shielded from state prosecution.
On May 22, the House passed HB418 by a 75-18 vote. The Senate approved the measure on Friday 34-2. The House concurred with a technical amendment and Edwards’ signature, the law goes into effect Aug. 1.
Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) introduced House Bill 211 (HB211) in February. The law protects banks and credit unions that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by state regulators. The new statute prohibits regulators from taking any action to discourage financial institutions in the state from servicing legitimate medical marijuana businesses, or from levying any penalties against banks or credit unions serving medical marijuana businesses.
West Virginia enacted a similar law last year. This legislation intended to allay fears that banks will be prosecuted or penalized for taking in marijuana-related accounts. The Federal government has used banking laws as a weapon in its unconstitutional war on cannabis by making it impossible for marijuana businesses to access the banking system – even in states where marijuana has been legalized. The feds can prosecute bankers for knowingly engaging with cannabis businesses under the Bank Secrecy Act, the USA Patriot Act, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
While the enactment of HB211 cannot stop federal prosecution of a Louisiana financial institution engaging in the medical marijuana business, it will provide some assurance that the state will shield it from financial loss and could create an environment where banks in the state are willing to handle medical marijuana funds.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal 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 cannabis 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.
Despite federal prohibition, Louisiana legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but there wasn’t any viable program in the state until the passage of two laws the following year. The state expanded the program in 2018. Further expansion would remove yet another layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most 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.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Louisiana joins a growing number of states increasingly ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including 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.
Efforts to expand medical marijuana laws in Louisiana underscore another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
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