Louisiana has had therapeutic or medical cannabis legislation on the books for a long time. Decades, actually. But before the past few years, it hasn’t mattered because there were no protections in place that made it worth the risk for doctors to recommend and patients to seek. More importantly, it wasn’t until August 1, 2019, that the first round of state-approved medical cannabis was ready to be released.
Presumably you’re here because you want or need a medical cannabis card in Louisiana and you’re wondering: How do I do it? Is it easy? What do I need to know going into this process? Do I even qualify? Those questions will be answered below in this step-by-step guide.
Do I Qualify for Medical Cannabis in Louisiana?
Louisiana’s list of qualifying conditions includes:
There are some notable omissions of qualifying conditions common in other states, such as arthritis, severe nausea, Alzheimer’s, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others, but the list does expand treatment options for a significant pool of patients.
Be Evaluated by a Certified Physician
As with all medical cannabis programs, documentation is key. And it’s not enough merely to be diagnosed with a qualifying condition. You also have to get a recommendation (not a prescription) from a physician before you can access medical marijuana.
Doctors must be certified by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to recommend medical marijuana to patients. It may take a little digging to find a doctor near you that has the required “therapeutic marijuana registration permit,” but the state does have a database that allows you to search for physicians who have an active permit. Expect more doctors to become certified as the program matures.
Because of ongoing stigma around cannabis, many patients choose to go to a specific medical marijuana clinic rather than visit their primary care physician. These clinics exist in many parts of the state specialize in cannabis treatment and providing recommendations to those who need it. The benefit of visiting a clinic that specializes in medical marijuana is that you don’t have to deal with the anxiety of possibly wasting your time or having an awkward conversation with a reluctant doctor.
A word of advice: Despite the judgment that can come with ongoing stigma around cannabis, don’t leave your regular doctor out of the loop on this. If you’re being treated by one doctor for a serious qualifying condition and decide to seek medical marijuana as a treatment, it’s best if the doctor(s) who treat you regularly are fully aware and on board with it.
If you do go to a separate clinic for your evaluation, be sure to get your existing medical records beforehand. You don’t have to tell your primary doctor why you want your records—you have a right to them under the law. You can just say you need them for personal reasons, if you prefer.
When you head to your appointment, bring your relevant medical records, a government-issued ID, and some kind of documentation establishing your residency in Louisiana.
Be prepared to pay a couple hundred bucks for that initial visit to a medical marijuana clinic. For reference, The Healing Clinic in Shreveport-Bossier City charges $199 for the first visit, and Total Health Clinic, which has locations in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles, costs $249 for the initial evaluation.
If the physician judges that medical marijuana is a good fit for your condition, the clinic will then send your recommendation to a dispensary of your choice.
I Got My Recommendation. Now What?
You have a qualifying condition. You got evaluated, and the doctor recommended you medical cannabis to treat your condition. Now where do you go to get it?
It’s important to note that Louisiana doesn’t issue medical marijuana “cards” as many other states do. When you receive your recommendation, the recommending physician adds your name to a statewide medical cannabis patient registry.
You’ll also receive a recommendation to take to a state-licensed medical cannabis pharmacy to get the medicine.
As of this article’s publication, there are nine licensed pharmacies in Louisiana, one for each designated region of the state. Depending on where you’re located, you may have a bit of a drive ahead of you.
Here are the nine locations:
Note that in Louisiana, unlike most other states, medical cannabis is distributed through “pharmacies”—not “dispensaries.” One thing that distinguishes pharmacies in Louisiana from dispensaries is that they must operate similar to other pharmacies.
“It’s the only place I’ve been to that dispensary technicians are required in order to dispense this product,” iComply CEO Mark Slaugh told WAFB-TV. “If you go to Colorado, they’ll see we’ve got 22, 23-year-old budtenders who don’t have any sort of professional licensing or degree besides their occupational badge that allows them to work in the industry.”
This higher regulatory burden has the downside of resulting in fewer dispensaries in the state, but the upside is that dispensaries and staff members will ostensibly demonstrate a higher level of knowledge, compliance, and service to patients.
What Kind of Cannabis Can I Get?
Some less-than-ideal news about Louisiana’s medical cannabis program: The product options are still notably limited right now.
Which means, first of all, no smokable or vaping products.
Eventually, you’ll be able to get medical cannabis in the form of oils, extracts, tinctures, sprays, capsules, pills, solutions, suspension, gelatin-based chewables, lotions and other topicals, transdermal patches, and suppositories.
But for now, it’s pretty straightforward: The first available product is a mint-flavored tincture, according to the Associated Press.
There are two approved growers in Louisiana. Louisiana State University-GB Sciences of Louisiana, and Southern University-Advanced Biomedicals, more commonly referred to as Ilera Holistic Healthcare
LSU-GBSL just got its first round of medical marijuana approved by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the state agency that regulates licensing and production of medical marijuana. Ilera’s product is believed to be set for a fall release.
Louisiana’s medical marijuana program is just getting off the ground and is still somewhat limited, but it is functional for many patients, and the process is relatively straightforward.
Kathryn Thomas, the clinical director and managing partner of The Healing Clinic in Shreveport, said even in the early stages of the program and with limited available products, she’s heard numerous success stories from patients already.
“After we’ve waited all this time—and a lot of us have been sitting with offices for about a year, because of course the release date kept getting pushed forward—after all that anticipation, you stop and think: What’s the outcome?” Thomas said. “And what we’re hearing from patients are just marvelous stories. They’re able to take less opiates, or they’re able to sleep. Their pain is diminished. Right now we’re hearing very good reports on the response to the product.”