Photo by Bart Everson
Louisiana is on its way to becoming the 24th state in the nation to legalize a functional medical marijuana program.
The House of Representatives voted 70 to 29 in support of a measure that would bring to life an over two-decade-old medical marijuana program that has remained worthless all of these years due to the nature of its language. Senate Bill 143, which was recently amended by a House committee, must once again go before the Senate for approval of the latest changes. It will then be sent to Governor Bobby Jindal for his signature.
Although Louisiana legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes back in 1991, the law has never been functional because it dictates physicians “prescribe” rather than recommend the use of cannabis. This is a major malfunction in the drafting of legislation that several states, most recently in Texas, have ended up officially putting on the books, essentially forcing physicians to break federal law in order to endorse the use of medical marijuana.
Despite 23 states and the District of Columbia legalizing cannabis for medical use, the federal government still considers it a Schedule I dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Therefore, it’s highly illegal for any physician to write a prescription for cannabis, but they are permitted to recommend the herb in accordance with the First Amendment – a great American loophole that has allowed patients all over the country to gain access to their respective state’s medical marijuana programs.
However, the recent changes made by the Louisiana House Committee on Health and Welfare ensures the latest measure will provide patients with access to the medicine they need. The group met to amend the language of the bill to make clear that physicians would not be “prescribing” medical marijuana, only offering recommendations for this treatment.
This bit of fine-tuning will ultimately prevent the state from suffering another 24 years without legal access to the herb over fears from the medical community that their actions could result in federal prosecution.
Fortunately, even though Governor Jindal has not given much in the way of support when it comes to reforming the state’s marijuana laws, he announced in a recent press conference that he fully intends to sign the medical marijuana bill into law.
“If it got to our desk we’d sign it,” said Jindal. “Our view on medical marijuana was, it had to be supervised and had to be a legitimate medical purpose and his bill meets that criteria.”
Assuming that the law ends up going the distance, patients suffering from glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, as well as those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, would be able to seek recommendations for medical marijuana. These people would obtain medicinal cannabis through 10 licensed dispensaries, which will be supplied by a single cultivation site. The LSU AgCenter has been given the first right of refusal.
While the restrictiveness of Louisiana’s medical marijuana bill leaves a lot to be desired in relation to what the state will consider a ‘Qualified Condition,” the law would allow the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to submit suggestions for additional conditions and diseases that they feel should be incorporated into the program. This list would need to be turned in 60 days before the state legislature begins its next session.
Marijuana activists, of course, are hoping the LBME recognizes that various conditions from AIDS to PTSD should be included on the list, but it will be up the state legislature to determine which ailments make the cut.
Reports indicate that as long as the bill does not stall in the Senate, it will go before the Governor within the next week. Once it is signed, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry will have until January 2016 to submit their regulatory proposal.
Do you think it’s time for Louisiana to have a medical cannabis program? Tell us what you think in the comments.