Louisiana lawmakers weigh expansion, taxation of medical marijuana

A House Republican leader’s bid to expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program and allow smokable cannabis started to gain traction today, as lawmakers advanced a bill that would tax the new therapeutic products.

Louisiana’s dispensaries sell medical marijuana in liquids, topical applications, inhalers and edible gummies.

Houma Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking Republican, is proposing to authorize sales of raw, smokable marijuana for medical use—and to apply state sales tax to those products if lawmakers allow them.

The House Ways and Means Committee agreed without objection to the bill applying the state’s 4.45% sales tax rate and dedicating the money generated to transportation projects. Lawmakers advanced the proposal to the full House for debate, even as some expressed concern about levying a tax on medicine, which is not done on any prescription drugs in Louisiana.

A nonpartisan financial analysis of the tax bill estimated Louisiana could eventually receive up to $12 million a year from the sales taxes.

The tax bill—raising potentially millions for a backlog of road and bridge work—is seen as a way to potentially ease passage of Magee’s separate proposal to expand the program to allow sales of the smokable marijuana “flower,” starting in 2022. That bill has not yet received a hearing.

Magee says the medical marijuana program is overwhelmingly popular in Louisiana as a way to help people with an array of chronic conditions. But he says the raw, smokable plant product is cheaper to manufacture and sell because it involves less processing.

Lawmakers have steadily expanded the medical marijuana program since enacting it in 2015. Originally, the program was tightly limited to a few medical conditions. Under a change lawmakers passed last year, doctors in Louisiana can now recommend medical marijuana for any patient they believe it would help. Read the full story.