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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy.

Louisiana House Votes To Expand Medical Marijuana Program To Include Smokable Forms

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Grape Crush, Indica-4.

The Louisiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday that would vastly expand the state’s medical marijuana offerings by allowing dispensaries to sell the smokable form of the drug to patients.

The House voted 73-26 to approve Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee’s HB 391, which would allow patients to receive up to 2.5 ounces of raw marijuana every two weeks.

The state’s current medical marijuana program only allows patients to purchase non-smokable forms of the drug — including tinctures, topical ointments, inhalers and gummies — from the state’s nine licensed dispensaries. Magee said those processed products are far more expensive than the raw form of the drug that patients would gain access to if his bill becomes law.

The bill was met with little resistance on the House floor and lawmakers voted to approve the measure after very little debate.

Following Monday’s vote, 20 state representatives joined Magee as co-authors.

Magee (R-Houma) has also sponsored legislation that would levy the state’s 4.45 percent sales tax on raw marijuana that would be sold through the medical marijuana program. During earlier committee testimony, he said the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that expansion of the program would yield $1.7 million in additional tax revenue in year one and as much as $12 million by 2026.

Two weeks ago, the House voted overwhelmingly to approve Magee’s proposed tax structure.

Both bills still have to advance through the state Senate, which has traditionally been more hesitant to loosen marijuana regulations. But Monday’s vote is just the latest to show growing bipartisan support for expanding access to the drug.

Last week, a House committee approved HB 699 by Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville), which would legalize marijuana for recreational use. The full House of Representatives could hold a historic vote on the issue as early as this week. Nelson’s bill has not yet been scheduled for floor debate.

The broader legalization effort has found favor among large swaths of Louisiana voters.

In March, a poll conducted by John Couvillon of JMC Analytics (and commissioned by the Louisiana Association for Therapeutic Alternatives, a pro-marijuana lobbying group) found that 67 percent of Louisiana residents favor legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. That figure was up 13 percent from a similar study the group conducted one year earlier.

Last week, an independently funded poll conducted by Ed Chervenak and the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center showed that a smaller share — 55 percent — of Louisianans favored the legalization of recreational marijuana.

It also found that the legalization effort has broad appeal among younger respondents — 68 percent of Louisianans between the ages of 18 and 34 support the change — and respondents in five of the state’s six congressional districts. The effort failed to win majority support in only the 5th Congressional District, where 46 percent of respondents said they favored legalization, 42 percent said they opposed the effort, and 12 percent said they were undecided.

And the effort is far more popular among Democrats, who were three times as likely to say they favored legalization than they were to say they opposed it. Only 44 percent of Republicans support legalization, while 48 percent oppose the effort.

But some conservative state lawmakers have commissioned their polls of their districts to determine how popular the effort is among their constituents. Magee tweeted Friday that three quarters of his deeply conservative house district were in favor of legalizing marijuana, including 73 percent of Republicans.

“This is wildly popular in every corner of the state,” Magee said when the bill was considered in the Health and Welfare Committee last week. “It’s what people want and it’s what patients need.”