Louisiana legalized medical cannabis in 2015. Since then, lawmakers have introduced changes, revisions and other modifications to the law, slowing its rollout. Medical cannabis sales will likely begin in November. But already, the state’s program is looking at a shortage of physicians licensed to give medical cannabis recommendations. There’s currently a huge gap between the number of medical cannabis patients the state expects to serve and the actual number of patients it can, given the paucity of enrolled physicians and the limit Louisiana places on the number of patients to which an individual doctor can give recommendations.
Concerns Grow Over Medical Cannabis Bottleneck
Louisiana’s young medical cannabis program doesn’t seem to have caught on with doctors yet. Only a few physicians are enrolling, and even fewer have received approval. There have so far been just 40 applications from doctors for the permit required to make a medical cannabis recommendation. The state has approved just 23 of them.
With such low numbers, patient access becomes a concern. Even more so in Louisiana, where the State Board of Medical Examiners set a limit on the number of patients a recommending physician can take on. That limit is 100 patients, and the board established it in 2016. That means that if medical sales were to begin tomorrow, doctors could only serve 2,300 patients.
But even if all 40 doctors who applied receive approval, they could only issue recommendations to 4,000 patients. Compare that to the 100,000 patients Louisiana expects to serve with its medical cannabis program. It’s a massive bottleneck, and it’s already affecting doctors and patients.
Dr. Victor Chou, who operates a medical cannabis clinic in Baton Rouge, told the Associated Press that he easily surpassed his 100-patient limit last month. With an average of five patients seeking medical cannabis from Dr. Chou’s office each day, his waiting list is already topping 300 people. “It’s a grave concern to me that these patients basically are sort of trapped,” Chou told the AP.
As MMJ Expands, Louisiana Lawmakers Support Raising Patient Limit
Fortunately, an end to the patient bottleneck is in sight. Both lawmakers and medical officials recognize the need to lift the patient limit. Especially in light of the low numbers of enrolled physicians.
Vincent Culotta, the executive director of the State Board of Medical Examiners, said the board realizes the need to raise the patient limit. And Republican Sen. Fred Mills, a pharmacist and primary backer of the 2015 medical cannabis legislation, also supports raising the cap.
Louisiana expanded its medical cannabis program earlier this summer, adding a number of qualifying conditions. With more conditions, more patients in the state are eligible than ever. Whatever purpose the patient cap was intended to serve has been outpaced by the program’s rapid expansion. Ensuring access to it will require raising or eliminating the limit entirely.