BATON ROUGE, La. (Jun. 13, 2018) – Earlier this month, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed two bills into law that expand the state’s medical marijuana program. This will further nullify federal cannabis prohibition in the Pelican State.
Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) sponsored House Bill 579 (HB579). The new law expands access to medical marijuana to individuals suffering from glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rep. Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette) sponsored House Bill 823 (HB823). The new law will prevent the state’s medical marijuana program from expiring in 2020, as called for under the law as originally written.
“This will help address a growing opioid crisis, prolong life, make life more enjoyable for some people and save some lives,” Rep. James said.
HB579 passed the House on Apr. 12 by a 60-40 vote and then passed the Senate by a 21-13 vote on May 9. HB823 was approved by the House in a 69-26 vote on Apr. 18 and then passed the Senate by a 25-9 vote on May 9. With Gov. Edwards signature on June 1, the laws will go into effect Aug. 1, 2018.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as HB579 and HB823 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalization of medical marijuana in Louisiana removed one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Louisiana has swept away some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Louisiana legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but there wasn’t any viable program in the state until the passage of two laws the following year. By further relaxing restrictions, Louisiana joins other states that have significantly chipped away at cannabis prohibition.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.
With 30 states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The move to expand medical marijuana laws in Louisiana demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. HB579 and HB823 are perfect examples of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.