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Marijuana grows in a temporary facility run by GB Sciences and the LSU AgCenter in south Baton Rouge. A background check on the company has been completed, giving it the go-ahead for growing plants in its permanent facility.

Lawmakers have backed several changes to the state’s taxes and fees on medical marijuana, passing a bill that excludes the drug from sales taxes and redirects fees to disability services.

The state House voted 84-6 Thursday to send the measure, HB 507, to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards. State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, sponsored the bill.

If signed by the governor, patients would not have to pay state sales taxes on the drug. Because lawmakers only allow doctors to “recommend” instead of “prescribe” the drug, it currently is not covered by Louisiana’s sales tax exemption on prescription drugs.

Advocates have said medical marijuana should be excluded from sales taxes like other medicine, and state Sen. Fred Mills, a Republican who has helped pass the state's medical marijuana program into law, has previously said he did not intend to make patients pay sales taxes.

John Davis, head of GB Sciences Louisiana, which was hired by LSU to grow medical marijuana, said the bill would “relieve a burden on patients,” and noted patients currently don’t pays sales taxes on opioids.

Louisiana patients are currently not able to get medical marijuana, even though it is legal. Regulatory challenges have delayed the production of the drug repeatedly, though a limited batch could finally be sent to pharmacies throughout the state this month.

The bill redirects some of the money raised by a 7% fee on marijuana production to people with developmental disabilities through the New Opportunities Waiver Fund and Early Steps, a program for children with disabilities. Currently, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is set to receive money from that fee to cover its expenses administering the program.

LDAF and GB Sciences have repeatedly butted heads over regulations on growing marijuana. 

Supporters say LDAF would still receive the money it is currently owed, but the additional dollars would be redirected to the disability services.

Also, the measure gives marijuana companies the ability to deduct ordinary business expenses from their corporate income taxes, something Abramson said puts the industry in line with other businesses that are allowed to take the deductions.

“This is not creating anything special for anybody in this industry,” Abramson said. “It’s putting them on all fours with every other business in this state.”

The measure failed to pass the Senate twice in the past week before Senators approved the measure on the third try on a 32-5 vote Wednesday.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.