METAIRIE, La. (WGNO) — Ahead of next week’s legislative session, several bills are being prepared that aim to improve the state’s medical-marijuana program.

According to the Medical Marijuana Legislative Study Commission, Louisiana has the fewest cultivation licenses and the highest prices for medical marijuana in the U.S.

Currently, there are nine dispensaries in the state and two licenses that allow for the growing and processing of cannabis. Advocates are hoping to expand those numbers.

“One [bill] would be to increase the amount of cultivation licenses, right, so this provides greater supply,” said Jeff Schmidtke, the executive director for BioSciences of Louisiana. “It provides greater varietal options. I think it introduces competition to the market because it’s very limited at this point, with the end result most likely being the reduction of prices for the patient.”

Another bill is seeking to expand the number of medical pharmacies in the state.

Schmidtke believes these two bills would ultimately stop patients from obtaining marijuana illegally.

“We do not want Louisiana patients choosing illegal alternatives because they can’t access it legally, and right now, over 80% of our patients are seeking the illicit market, and that is unacceptable,” said Schmidtke.

Erick Sanchez, who uses medical marijuana, says it helps him cope with his anxiety and believes it’s a better alternative than other remedies.

“A psychiatrist or someone who can write prescriptions will suggest Xanax or other types of pills,” said Sanchez. “Now, the long-term effects of those are hazardous.”

Sanchez believes the time is now to improve the state’s program because he says half of Louisiana’s population suffers from either anxiety or depression.

“Cannabis has been proven to help in both of these circumstances, and I think that right now, the Louisiana legislature has an opportunity to help support these folks who are suffering with this really vital resource,” said Sanchez.

The 2022 regular session starts Monday.