BATON ROUGE, La. — The House passed a bill Tuesday that would protect state employees who are being legally treated for medical marijuana.
House Bill 988, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, protects state employees from negative consequences if they are diagnosed with a condition for which their doctor recommends medical marijuana used in accordance with state law.
The bill, which passed 60-32, would protect employees from being fired and would protect prospective employees from being discriminated against for their use of medical marijuana. It now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
The bill would not apply to law enforcement, firefighters or other public safety officials.
The bill was amended on the floor to exempt employees whose primary role is operating or maintaining a state vehicle. Employees of the state horse-racing commission were also excluded.
The bill does not protect employees who are impaired on the job.
Landry said she brought the bill after talking to many people who turned to medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain or PTSD.
The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy reported that there are over 43,000 medical marijuana users in the state. The first medical marijuana dispensaries in the state began operating in 2019.
Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, took to the floor to say that the issue should be handled by the Division of Administration or the governor, not the Legislature.
“I'm not saying this is a bad bill,” Frieman said. “Unfortunately, because the division won't do their job, Rep. Landry's bill has to do the job for them.”
While the Division of Administration does have a policy protecting 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 Governor could enact an executive order with the same effect as Landry’s bill, but the next governor could opt not to renew it.
This would not be the first time that the Legislature enacted an employment policy for state employees.
In 2018, Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, authored a bill that was enacted into law that required state and local entities to enact sexual harassment policies.
Rep. Ed Larvadain, D-Alexandria, praised Landry’s efforts.
“This is new territory, just like when worker's comp was developed, we had to deal with alcohol issues,” Larvadain said. “As we deal with more medical marijuana, we're going to have to have provisions that we'll deal with if somebody's under the influence. But this is one step.”