This session, the Louisiana Legislature passed two bills to expand the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. HB 579 and HB 627 add a variety of new conditions including autism, PTSD, and intractable pain. These bills are now on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. If you have a second, call the governor and politely ask him to sign HB 579 and HB 627. His constituent services number is (225) 342-0991.
This is a great step towards Louisiana having a functional medical marijuana program. Next session, we are hopeful the legislature will allow the vaporization of medical marijuana so that patients can finally have real access to the medicine they need.
Many thanks go out to the activists that showed up to the statehouse and contacted their lawmakers in support of these reforms!
Last Thursday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law SB 35 — Sen. Yvonne Colomb’s bill to prevent workers employed in the medical cannabis sector from facing felony criminal charges simply for going to work. This important victory marks a critical improvement to legislation first enacted in 1978.
With the governor’s signature, seriously ill Louisianans are one step closer to having access to medical cannabis treatment, but a few more problems remain. Specifically, the state continues to disallow the vaporization of cannabis — which MPP considers an essential element of a comprehensive medical cannabis program — and state regulations actively require doctors to put their DEA licenses at risk in order to recommend patients for the program.
Nevertheless, the program is moving ahead: the two universities granted licenses to operate marijuana cultivation centers continue to move forward; Louisiana State University has indicated it expects medical cannabis to be available for patients before the end of the year.
On Monday, SB 35, Sen. Yvonne Colomb’s bill to establish legal protections for medical cannabis industry workers, was approved by the Louisiana House. It now heads to Governor John Bel Edwards, who is expected to sign it into law.
The passage of this bill is critical to ensuring Louisiana will someday finally have a workable medical marijuana program. However, there are a few other tweaks — either to regulations that put doctors at risk under federal law or to statutes to require those regulations to be fixed — needed to ensure a workable program.
MPP sends hearty congratulations to everyone who contacted their elected officials on behalf of this important bill, particularly the hardworking team at Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana who have spent years on the ground organizing on behalf of the seriously ill in the state.
Simply being arrested for marijuana possession is bad enough, and can have life-long consequences. But imagine spending 13 years in prison for a small personal amount of a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. That's what Bernard Noble, a Louisiana man with a history of minor non-violent drug possession offenses, has been subjected to since being convicted in 2010. Now, thanks to the tireless work of his family, his defense attorney, advocates around the country, he will free in 2018.
Huffington Post reports:
Bernard Noble, a 50-year-old father of seven, has spent the last six years in prison in Louisiana serving out a sentence of 13 and a half years for possession of what was the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana.
Noble’s case was a rallying cry for those seeking reform of harsh sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. And Monday, after years of litigation, multiple articles on his case (including from The Huffington Post), documentaries, podcasts, rallies and petitions, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro agreed to resentence Noble to eight years, Noble’s attorney Jee Park announced in a statement. That means he could be free in less than two more years given the time he’s already served behind bars.
“To me, eight years is still too long for Bernard and his family,” Park said, “but the prospect of going home and being reunited with his children in less than 2 years brought relief to Bernard.”
Park said she’s hopeful that Noble, who she described as a “caring and responsible father, successful entrepreneur, [with] no violence in his past” might be paroled and released even sooner. Noble’s previous sentence did not include the possibility of parole.
Noble was caught with the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana in 2010. At first, Noble was sentenced to five years in prison. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office appealed that ruling and took the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Noble had seven prior convictions on his record, stretching back to 1989. All were convictions for possession of small amounts of drugs; two were for cocaine and the rest were for marijuana. All were nonviolent, and four were misdemeanors and three were felonies. The state used two of the felony charges in their branding of Noble as a “habitual offender” under Louisiana law. That allowed them to apply the maximum possible sentence against Noble, without a chance of parole.
Read HuffPost’s full interview with Noble from 2015 here.
MPP would like to congratulate Mr. Noble on this victory and thank all the people whose efforts are helping bring him home.
The Louisiana Legislature continues to repeat its mistakes. For nearly 40 years, flawed legislative drafting has prevented the establishment of a workable medical marijuana program. Yesterday, the House took another step forward by passing S.B. 180, but it failed to fix a key omission.
Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law S.B. 271, legislation intended to fix a poison pill so Louisiana can establish a medical marijuana program (you can read about it here). However, that law did not amend the criminal statutes, meaning the program would provide medical marijuana to seriously ill patients but allow for their prosecution.
S.B. 180, Sen. Frank Mills’ companion bill, seeks to close this loophole and does so for patients and caregivers. Unfortunately, the House did not even consider amending the bill to also shield growers, pharmacies, or their workers from criminal liability. While a court could find legal protections implicit for licensees, the omission could jeopardize the entire program.
S.B. 180 is now before the Senate for a concurrence.
When this session ends, Louisiana will be significantly closer to offering relief to seriously ill patients. The regulatory and licensing process will take many months, and final fixes can be made next session if they are needed. Meanwhile, the state can move to lay the structure for the program.
The Louisiana Senate will debate HB 149 today, legislation approved by the House that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession. This bill is almost identical to a Senate bill that was approved 27-12 late last month. Although penalties would still be staggering for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol, HB 149 is an important step forward — it could shave months, if not years, off of marijuana consumers’ sentences.
The bill will be voted on TODAY, so email your senator NOW and ask him or her to vote “yes” on HB 149.
While first offense marijuana possession would remain a misdemeanor, HB 149 greatly reduces the fine and potential jail time for possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana — the maximum jail sentence would be reduced from six months to 15 days while the fine would be reduced from up to $500 to up to $300. HB 149 also significantly reduces the sentences for second and subsequent marijuana possession charges.