After years and years of waiting, Louisiana citizens became the first from the deep south to have access to medical marijuana. Last week, Louisiana joined the more than 30 other states that have medical marijuana programs available for those with conditions such as PTSD, cancer and more.
Nine dispensaries opened this month, with more expected to follow suit, after lawmakers in the state decided nearly four years ago to allow patients access to the drug. The struggle to get in the hands of patients has been hard-fought, with lawmakers arguing extensively about the framework for the medical program.
State Sen. Fred Mills, a pharmacist in St. Martin Parish who sponsored the medical marijuana law, told ABC News that he never anticipated the long struggle and noted that hundreds of people who are looking to cannabis for help.
"The toughest thing has been not being able to give people a definitive timeline that they could make plans for," Mills said.
The hurdles came from disputes over the growers and regulations, for the most part, as the only two license holders in the state, Louisiana State University, and Southern University agricultural centers, ran into problems with distributors and lawmakers.
Gary Hess, a 41-year-old combat veteran with PTSD was one of the first people in line for the new program. "It has become a reality to my family this morning, waking up and knowing that I would be able to go home and for the first time in my long struggle, I'll be able to do this legally in front of my family," Gary Hess told reporters before making his purchase. "That's incredible."
Now, with the gates finally open, people across the state will soon have the opportunity to access medical marijuana for a range of illnesses.
What Are The Details?
While Louisiana cannabis may be legal in some capacity, you still cannot just go out and get some. To start, no smokable marijuana will be sold, for the time being - only tinctures. No smoking or vaping of any kind of cannabis is allowed under the law. In the future, marijuana can be available in oils, pills, liquids, topical applications and an inhaler.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, whose agency regulates medical marijuana, said 4,760 doses of therapeutic cannabis were in the first batch of mint-flavored product released Tuesday. The second batch, expected the week after, will contain 4,300 doses in a cherry-flavored product.
Under state laws, which have been loosened since first being enacted in 2015, the drug is available only to people with these conditions: intractable pain, cancer, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, PTSD, Parkinson's and certain people with autism spectrum disorder.
While this list will most likely expand in the coming years, insurance does not cover it in any form, meaning it will range in the triple-digit cost range for most patients. The bottles will range from $90 to $300 dollars, with the more expensive products having more THC.
Both the insurance and prescription process come from marijuana’s status as an illegal drug on the federal level, which although laws are in place to keep the feds out of medical marijuana programs, could still lead to consequences. As of right now, 84 doctors have the authorization to give recommendations to people. A list can be found here, (Under "practitioner type," select "therapeutic marijuana registration permit." Then select "active" under the "license status" tab.)
Only nine dispensaries are currently licensed in the state, however, another will be given out after the program has yearned for more data. The dispensaries were placed in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Monroe, Shreveport and the north shore areas of the state, effectively spreading them out.
While the initial user base is expected to be around 5,000 to 10,000, it is expected to grow to nearly 100,000 to 150,000 in the coming years. These advancements do come with a catch, as the bill currently legalizing the program is set to expire in 2025, meaning it must be voted on again at that time. While this means that the program could disappear and make marijuana completely illegal, it also could mean more advancements for the program in the future.
If federal law were to usurp the state one, this far off expiration date could be pointless, however, there are no guarantees. Louisiana is a conservative state with a Republican hold on the government, and they aren’t known for being cannabis’ biggest advocate.