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Louisiana’s accelerating medical marijuana expansion designed by lawmakers to expand access and affordability for patients is moving faster than the medical community can keep up.
That became clear during the most recent hearing of the Medical Marijuana Commission where healthcare professionals expressed confusion about new laws allowing nurse practitioners to write recommendations for prescriptions and doctors to write recommendations through telehealth consultations without an initial in-person visit.
„We have a lot more work to do,” said Rep. Joe Marino, an Independent from Gretna who chairs the commission. „We have to increase access for patients.”
Republican state Rep. Jack McFarland of Winnfield, who is also a member of the commission, said rural patients are impacted more by delays than those in cities.
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„The fact is this is a legal medicine and we have to get this right,” McFarland said.
Marino said a 10th pharmacy license will be awarded in the New Orleans region sometime late this year. Among the 28 applicants are former New Orleans Saints hero Steve Gleason and the Louisiana Democratic Party chair.
There are currently nine regional monopoly pharmacies.
Here’s a rundown of Louisiana’s new marijuana laws enacted this summer:
► Act 473 (House Bill 629) by Rep. Marcus Bryant, D–New Iberia, bars law enforcement from using marijuana odor as a pretext for searching someone’s home without a warrant.
Bryant said searching a home because an officer claims to smell marijuana is a violation of the Fourth Amendment preventing unreasonable searches.
► Act 651 (House Bill 988) by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, prevents state workers from being discriminated against based solely on a positive drug test for marijuana if they are state-registered medical marijuana patients.
► Act 499 (House Bill 775) by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, legalizes equipment or devices used for the inhalation of marijuana for state-registered medical marijuana patients.
► Act 438 (House bill 135) by Marino authorizes the dispensing of medical marijuana to visiting patients who are currently in another state’s medical marijuana program.
► Act 439 (House Bill 137) by Marino provides immunity from criminal prosecution to qualifying out-of-state medical cannabis patients.
► Act 444 (House Bill 190) by Rep. Travis Johnson, D-Vidalia, adds nurse practitioners to those medical professionals who can recommend medical cannabis use.
Republican House Health and Welfare Committee Chair Larry Bagley of Stonewall praised Johnson’s bill, saying, „We have no doctors in DeSoto Parish. We see nurse practitioners.”
► Act 478 (House Bill 234) by Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie, makes it illegal for a driver or passengers in a motor vehicle to smoke or vape any form of marijuana. Violators are subject to a $100 fine, but police may only “enforce the provisions of this section as a secondary action when the law enforcement officer detains a driver for another violation.”
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► Act 491 (House Bill 697) by Republican Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee of Houma keeps the current number of medical marijuana pharmacists, but allows them to open satellite dispensaries within their regions when their patient count hits certain thresholds.
Louisiana has seen a large increase in patients
The number of medical marijuana patients increased 62% from 18,000 to 29,000 in the first quarter of this year when the raw, smokable product was added as an option for patients.
Magee’s bill also shifts regulation of the state’s medical marijuana program from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture to the Louisiana Department of Health, a change advocated by the industry.
It also adds the University of Louisiana Monroe to the institutions allowed to conduct research on the medicine’s benefits.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1