Louisiana, which is, perhaps, the most infamous state in the nation for its strictness for all things pertaining to pot, is on the verge of resurrecting a medical marijuana program that has set idle for over two decades.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives put their seal of approval on a bill that would allow patients suffering from specific, serious conditions to have access to the herb. The measure was pushed through in a vote of 70 to 29. It now heads back to the Senate for approval over an amendment that would make the bill functional once it is signed into law.
Louisiana legalized medical marijuana 24 years ago, but it has since been a worthless law because the language only allows physicians to prescribe the herb rather than offer recommendations. As we learned earlier this week with the recent legalization of cannabis oil in Texas, physicians are forced to violate the Controlled Substances Act by writing “prescriptions” rather than provide certifications, meaning patients can not get their hands on the medicine once it is made available.
Since the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I dangerous drug, it cannot be legally prescribed by a physician. However, recommendations for the herb can be offered under the First Amendment, which is how patients in 23 states and the District of Columbia have managed to receive clearance for cannabis under their respective programs.
Any doctor who goes over Uncle Sam’s head and writes a marijuana prescription not only runs the risk of losing their DEA license, which provides them with authorization to prescribe all pharmaceutical drugs, but they also take a chance of being carted off to federal prison. Hence, no doctor in his right mind dares dabble in drugstore doobies.
This is the reason the Louisiana House Committee on Health and Welfare came forward last week to make some minor adjustments to Senate Bill 143, specifically changing the language to reiterate that physicians would not prescribe medical marijuana, but rather, provide qualified patients with the proper reefer recommendation.
Although Governor Bobby Jindal is not exactly the poster child for pot reform, he told reporters last month that he would sign the medical marijuana bill into law if it happened to cross his desk.
“If it got to our desk we’d sign it,” Jindal said during a recent press conference. “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.”
So, who will benefit from this medical marijuana program?
Once the law is set into motion—making Louisiana the 24th state in the nation to legalize weed for medicinal purposes—physicians could begin providing recommendations to patients suffering from glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and cancer chemotherapy. The law mandates, however, that the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners provide the state with other conditions and diseases that should be added to the list, with those suggestions due a couple of months before the state legislature reconvenes for the next session.
Ideally, the state’s medical watchdog group could lobby for recommendations of medical marijuana for conditions ranging from AIDS to PTSD, but state lawmakers would ultimately decide on the validity of the proposed conditions.
As long as there are no snags in the Senate, Senate Bill 143 will most likely be shipped off to Governor’s Jindal’s office in the near future. There is speculation that the success of this measure is due to the recent support from the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, which has adamantly opposed the legalization of marijuana for any purpose, in the past, but agreed to take a “neutral” position in 2015.
Once the governor signs the bill, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry would have until the beginning of 2016 to submit a regulatory proposal to legislature.