BATON ROUGE, La. (June 7, 2021) – Last Wednesday, the Louisiana House gave final approval to a bill that would significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program despite federal prohibition.
Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) introduced House Bill 391 (HB391) on April 1. Under the proposed law, medical marijuana patients would be able to access smokable products. Currently, patients in the state’s medical marijuana program can only vaporize cannabis preparations using a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot purchase whole-plant flower. Smoking marijuana remains illegal even for qualified patients.
Marijuana Moment called HB391 “a significant expansion of the state’s current program.”
On May 27, the Senate approved HB391 by a 23-14 vote with some amendments. The House concurred with the Senate version on June 2 by a 75-18 vote. The legislation now goes to John Bel Edwards’ desk for his consideration.
If Edwards signs the bill, it would mark the second expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program in as many years. In 2020, Gov. Edwards signed three bills loosening restrictions on medicinal cannabis.
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 before expanding it again last year. 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
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico and Virginia legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 17 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
The passage of HB391 highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law 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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