Louisiana Increases Access to Medical Marijuana

Louisiana's medical marijuana laws were relaxed on June 11, 2020. Previously, in order to qualify for a medical marijuana prescription, a patient would have to demonstrate to a physician that he or she was suffering from a specific ailment or disease, like seizure disorders, epilepsy, cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, or Parkinson’s disease.
Jared Rosenthal
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On June 11, 2020, Governor John Bel Edwards signed into the law House Bill 819, which became Act No. 286 of the Louisiana Legislature. Among other things, the Act allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for any condition that the physician "considers debilitating to an individual patient." This gives doctors and patients increased flexibility in the treatment of illness that might not have been possible under the old legislation.

It also exacerbates complex issues in employment law. For example, how does the change in legislation affect Louisiana laws on drug testing employees? How does the new Louisiana medical marijuana law impact employers in federally-regulated industries (like transportation)? Continue reading below to find out.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in Louisiana?

The legal status of medical marijuana in Louisiana is changing and complicated. While access to medical marijuana in Louisiana has been liberalized by the legal changes in 2020, there remain significant state restrictions on the prescription, supply, and use of medical marijuana.

Complicating the issue is that marijuana, medical or otherwise, remains a controlled substance under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. In layman's terms, this means it's completely illegal at the federal level. So, while Louisiana authorities may recognize your employee's medical prescription as excusing the possession or use of marijuana, federal authorities and regulatory agencies will not.

As a result, whether or not you or your employee will be entitled to possess or use marijuana depends as much on the regulatory bodies he or she is likely to encounter as his or her personal circumstances.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to some of the most common concerns regarding Louisiana's medical marijuana laws:

How do Louisiana employers conduct drug testing while staying in compliance with the medical marijuana laws?

The answer to this depends on the industry. Federally regulated employees who fall under the Department of Transportation are subject to that agency's Medical Marijuana Notice. That notice requires that Medical Review Officers (MROs) may not indicate a test is negative where an employee tests positive for cannabis-related chemicals because they are prescribed medical marijuana. In short, marijuana is still prohibited for employees who work under DOT compliance regulations, such as truck drivers, pilots, and ship captains.

Do employers have to allow employees to use medical marijuana at work?

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against anyone with a physical or mental disability who may require marijuana as a treatment for an illness. They have a duty to accommodate, whenever possible, an employee with a disability. Nevertheless, employers must ensure that their employees can safely execute their duties as a prerequisite of employment, which means it is permissible and prudent to perfrom drug testing. Further, employees in federally regulated industries may fall under "zero tolerance" regimes that prohibit the use of marijuana, even with a prescription.

What factors determine whether an employer can allow the use of medical marijuana?

the nature of the employee's disability (if any)
the nature of the employee's job, especially whether its safety-sensitive or not
the regulations and legislation governing the employee's industry
the level of government responsible for the industry (state or federal)

What should Louisiana employers know about their responsibilites with respect to medical marijuana?

Louisiana's employment drug testing laws did not change when medical marijuana became permitted in certain circumstances. Companies still have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities, as they always have had. Louisiana employers still have a duty to ensure employees can perform their jobs safely, regardless of whether or not those employees require accommodations. Both of these duties must be adhered to, even if they appear to come into conflict with one another.

Final Thoughts

Employers must remember that Louisiana's medical marijuana laws do not impact every situation the same way. Federally governed industries are not impacted at all by the state law. For non-DOT employers, medical marijuana prescriptions may be taken into account, but it depends on the nature of that employee's job and the employee's medical condition or disability.

While there aren't easy answers, one thing remains clear. The complexity of the medical marijuana regulations do not entirely remove the abilities or responsibilities of an employer with respect to drug testing. Let us know if you have any questions about how you should deal with the new Louisiana medical marijuana laws.


DOT "Medical Marijuana" Notice, U.S. Department of Transportation, https://www.transportation.gov/odapc/medical-marijuana-notice
"HB819 by Representative Larry Bagley." Louisiana State Legislature, https://legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?i=238772
Jared Rosenthal

Jared Rosenthal

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