Legislation that would create a $5,000 minimum fee to apply to run a medical marijuana pharmacy passed the Louisiana House on Wednesday and heads to the state Senate.

By nature of being related to marijuana sales, the bill raised eyebrows among members of the Legislature. But supporters were quick to point out that the bill is procedural in nature while attempting to set a high threshold to join the emerging industry.

The Legislature last year approved the sale of medical marijuana through pharmacies. House Bill 446, by Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, only seeks to set the fee associated with applying for a marijuana pharmacy license. The fee will go toward the cost of a background check and paperwork for the applicant.

The permit fee, if granted, is another $150. Absent of HB446, there would be no cost to applying.

What created more issues for legislators was the revelation that under current law only 10 pharmacy licenses would be issued by the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, and that members of that board were legally permitted to issue the licenses to themselves.

Several legislators likened the situation to the limited number of riverboat casino licenses in New Orleans in the 1990s. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who was convicted on 17 counts including racketeering, was accused of asking for payoffs from people applying for the limited licenses.

“History has told us that when we put limits on licenses, those licenses become more valuable,” said State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who sponsored an amendment to the bill that prevented board members and their immediate family from being able to receive licenses.

HB446, with the amendment, was approved by the House 73-21 and heads to the Senate.

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