Just a day after a bill to legalize marijuana in Louisiana stalled in the state legislature, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said on his live radio program Wednesday that cannabis legalization is going to happen in Louisiana eventually. “In the past, as a legislator and as governor, I’ve been opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana,” the governor said on the monthly program, Ask the Governor. “I will tell you, I have come to believe that it is going to happen in Louisiana eventually.”
Edwards stressed that while he isn’t yet endorsing legalization—he declined to take a position on pending legislation in the House—he wants to “make sure that we do it right.” Listen to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards discuss marijuana legalization, around 26:00 into the audio here.
“I suspect you’re going to see a lot of interest and studying the other states and making sure that we have a clear path forward,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve always said is that before we do it here, we need to make sure we study and learn all the lessons to be learned.”
“I think there’s a growing number of people who are sort of where I am,” the governor continued, “not quite comfortable yet but understanding that we’re likely to get there.”
Last month, in a pivot from his years of quickly dismissing questions about legalization, Edwards said that he had “great interest” in a marijuana bill that had advanced out of a House committee just hours earlier. That proposal, however, hit a speed bump on Tuesday after the full House of Representatives rejected a complementary tax measure.
Despite the setback for legalization broadly, numerous other cannabis-related bills have been advancing in the conservative state this session. The House last week approved legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is now awaiting Senate consideration.
A separate House-passed measure that is also before the Senate would give the state’s existing medical marijuana patients access to cannabis flower and permit them to lawfully smoke it. Currently patients are able to vaporize cannabis preparations via a “metered-dose inhaler,” but they cannot purchase whole-plant flower and smoking is not allowed.
Edwards proactively brought up both of those measure in the radio appearance on Wednesday, suggesting he is closely tracking them and is potentially open to signing the proposals if they reach his desk this session.
The full legalization bill, meanwhile, stalled after the House defeated a companion bill to tax commercial sales. Its sponsor then pulled the legalization measure and a separate complementary bill on licensing fees.
The developments on various cannabis-related legislation comes on the heels of a new poll showing that constituents in some of the most firmly Republican districts in the state support legalizing marijuana.
When it comes to legalization, advocates generally expected resistance from Edwards, who has repeatedly expressed opposition to the reform. But this year the governor pledged to take a serious look at its various provisions.
“As I almost always do, I will take a look at the bill as it arrives on my desk and see what it contains and what amendments have been added to it,” he said last month. “I’m not going to speculate now on that, but I do have great interest in that bill and what it says, especially if it does make it up to the fourth floor. I’ll take a look at it at that point and then make sure that you all know exactly how I feel about it.”
Edwards has been an anomaly among Democratic governors in his steadfast opposition to legalization. He’s signed legislation to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and support the hemp industry, but he’s consistently drawn the line there. “I’m just not in favor of legalizing marijuana,” he said in November 2018, adding that he would like to see how other states have fared after regulating cannabis.
Last year, the legislature significantly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program by passing a bill that allows physicians to recommend cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law. Edwards signed the measure in June 2020 and it took effect weeks later.
Two other recent polls—including one personally commissioned by a top Republican lawmaker—have found that a majority of voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use.