A New Louisiana bill will protect employees who require medical cannabis.
Last May 19th, the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations voted unanimously on House Bill 988, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans. If the bill becomes a law, it intends to create protections for employees who seek to use medical cannabis, preventing them from being fired or discriminated against.
HB 988 states: “No state employer shall subject an employee or prospective employee to negative employment consequences based solely on a positive drug test for marijuana, marijuana components, including tetrahydrocannabinols, or marijuana metabolites if the employee or prospective employee has been clinically diagnosed as suffering from a debilitating medical condition and a licensed physician has recommended marijuana for therapeutic use by the employee under state law.”
This new law would guard the state's employees who legally use medical cannabis under their doctor's advice. However, this protection does not apply to law enforcement, firefighters, or other public safety officials. It also exempts employees whose primary role is operating or maintaining a state vehicle or are employees of the state horse-racing commission. The bill does not protect employees who are impaired on the job. With a 60-32 approval, the bill moves to the state Senate for further consideration.
Rep. Mandie Landry explained that she created this bill after talking to many people who turned to medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain or PTSD. Currently, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy reported over 43,000 medical marijuana users in the state. The first medical marijuana dispensaries in the state began operating in 2019.
The First Step Towards Normalizing Medical Cannabis Use
During the bill's discussion on the Senate floor Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs mentioned that this is a matter that the Division of Administration or the governor should be handling, not the Legislature.
But, even though the Division of Administration has a policy that protects its employees from being fired for legal medical marijuana use, it does not have the authority to implement similar policies at other state agencies. The Louisiana Department of Administration Communications Director Jacques Berry answered this by stating a need to unify regulations across the board.
After the bill was approved Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, commented, “this is new territory, just like when worker's comp was developed, we had to deal with alcohol issues. As we deal with more medical marijuana, we will have to have provisions to deal with if somebody's under the influence. But this is one step.” Larvadain is very interested in working with Rep. Landry to find a way for the law to protect firefighters and law enforcement officers, “a lot of those men and women have chronic pains.”
Local Louisiana advocates spoke publicly supporting the bill. Tony Landry, a member of the Veterans Action Council, commented that "CBD can accumulate in your body over time and cause a positive test. I’m in favor of this bill, and I just think we need to leave no employee behind.”
Last year, Louisiana decriminalized cannabis with Act 247, imposing a fine of $100 (or a court summons) for possession of 14 grams or less. At the time, Peter Robins-Brown, policy & advocacy director at Louisiana Progress provided a statement about the news. “Marijuana decriminalization will truly make a difference in the lives of the people of our state. It’s an important first step in modernizing cannabis policy in Louisiana, and another milestone in the ongoing effort to address our incarceration crisis, which has trapped so many people in a cycle of poverty and prison.”