BATON ROUGE, La. (June 22, 2022) – Last week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed two bills into law that will expand the state’s medical marijuana program despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Rep. Joseph Marino (I) and Rep. Cedric Glover (D) filed House Bill 135 (HB135) and House Bill 137 (HB137) in February. Together, the two new laws will allow medical marijuana patients from outside Louisiana to obtain medicinal cannabis in the state.
Under HB135, medical marijuana patients in “actual possession” of a valid medical marijuana registry identification card issued under the medical marijuana laws of another state can obtain medical marijuana from a cannabis pharmacy in Louisiana.
Under Louisiana law, a medical marijuana card holder is exempt from prosecution under the state’s marijuana laws. HB137 extends this exemption to medical marijuana card holders from other states.
HB135 passed the House by a 73-22 vote. The Senate approved the measure 27-6. With Gov. Edwards’ signature, the law will go into effect on Aug. 1.
HB137 passed the House by a 67-25 vote and was approved by the Senate 26-7. It will also go into effect on Aug. 1.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
All of this is illegal according to the federal government.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a 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.
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 has expanded the program several times since then. It also decriminalized marijuana possession in 2021. This removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains 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, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 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. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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 expansion of Louisiana’s medical marijuana program 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.