LABI input, or lack of it, likely to shape medical marijuana workplace policy

Weed task force faces looming deadline to solve drug testing problem

By: - November 29, 2022 8:22 pm
marijuana buds in a prescription bottle

A Louisiana Senate panel on Wednesday accused the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) of exploiting nuances in state law to obstruct patient access to medical marijuana as part of an agenda that dismisses the drug’s value to medicine. (Canva image)

A state panel has three weeks left to wrap up work on draft legislation to protect workers who use medical marijuana. Before then, members hope to get feedback from a very influential business lobbying group, without which approval of the proposals is unlikely. 

Louisiana’s Employment and Medical Marijuana Task Force met Tuesday with a Dec. 21 deadline looming to submit its recommendations to state lawmakers. Kevin Caldwell, who represents the Marijuana Policy Project, said he and other members hope to convene twice more before that deadline.

Created through a resolution Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) sponsored, the task force has spent months looking at other states’ laws to draft proposals. According to testimony throughout the meetings, members are most concerned with protecting medical cannabis patients from the consequences of failing employment drug screenings. 

Currently, Louisiana employees are protected from failed drug tests if they have a valid prescription for the drug in question, such as an opioid or amphetamine. 

Task force member Troy Prevot, a physician’s assistant and expert on workplace drug testing, told his colleagues that employers don’t even see the failed drug test if the worker has a valid prescription. The drug testing provider reports it as if the worker passed the test, he said. 

Louisiana panel dives into medical marijuana workplace issues

Peter Robins-Brown, who represents advocacy group Louisiana Progress on the task force, said the most straightforward solution seems to be legislation that would treat a physician’s medical marijuana recommendation in the same manner as other traditional prescriptions for the purposes of drug testing. 

The task force is also researching ways to limit employer liability for discrimination and intoxicated employees at the workplace. So far, this issue has taken more of a backseat to the problem surrounding employment drug testing, and some members worry the Republican-majority legislature has little appetite for expanding employee rights if it could be detrimental to the business climate.  

Task force members have conceded that most of the lawmaking power, when it comes to commerce or labor issues, exists not with the elected lawmakers but with Baton Rouge lobbyist Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry

Patterson’s influence on legislation at the State Capitol was discussed at earlier task force meetings, and members said they would try to get him to participate in their work in an effort to shore up his support. Thus far, it’s unclear what position Patterson might take, though LABI’s task force designee, Prevot, has taken a lead on most meeting discussions.

LABI staff did not respond Tuesday to the Illuminator’s request for comment. 

Landry said it would be impossible to approve legislation affecting the private business sector without Patterson’s support. 

“I don’t think we can touch private business without LABI on board, and I don’t see that happening,” Landry said in a text message. “They’re too powerful.”

Task force members said they plan to begin an email thread with one another in the coming weeks to work through their draft recommendations.

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly titled Jim Patterson’s position. He is LABI’s vice president of government relations.


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots to 1997 when, at age 13, he built a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. Since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune and worked on staff at WAFB/CBS, the Sun Herald and the Enterprise-Journal, winning awards from the SPJ, Associated Press, Mississippi Press Association and McClatchy. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Muller is a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School alumnus, University of New Orleans alumnus and a U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper. He lives in Southeast Louisiana with his two sons and wife.