UPDATE: Thursday morning, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law that expands the medical accessibility of marijuana in Louisiana.
“This is one of those bills that I believe will have a positive impact on people who need it the most,” Edwards said.
Read our May 17 story on Louisiana’s new medical marijuana program below.
Louisiana is now poised to become the twenty-fifth state in the nation to legalize a comprehensive medical marijuana program.
On Monday, the Louisiana Senate voted in concurrence with the House regarding a measure (Senate Bill 271) aimed at creating a functional medical marijuana law out of legislation that has been on the books for around four decades. The proposal is now on its way to the desk of Governor John Bel Edwards, where the word on the street is that he will sign it into law without hesitation.
Unlike other states that have pushed through legislation aimed at legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes, the latest action in the Louisiana Legislature has not necessarily attracted a lot of attention from the usual suspects of marijuana reform. This is mostly because the move is being considered more of an expansion effort rather than a full-throttle push to provide patients with access to cannabis medicine. However, the bill stands to create a program that is just as strong, if not stronger, than some of the others we have seen emerge in recent years all across the country.
The bill, which was introduced by Senator Fred Mills, dusts off an existing medical marijuana law that was passed in the 1970s — one that never got off the ground because the language of the law forces doctors to cross the boundaries of the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act by prescribing medical marijuana rather than offering recommendations. Yet with a few strokes of a pen, Senate Bill 271 eliminates the word “prescribe” and replaces it with more appropriate vernacular that allows physicians to exercise their First Amendment right by providing patients with a certification that gives them legal access to weed.
Under the law, patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions – including cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis – would have access to cannabis products as long as they have permission from a doctor.
Unfortunately, no smokable marijuana would be permitted, and patients will not have the freedom to engage in home cultivation.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the new law is that it’s still going to take some time before patients are able to get their hands on cannabis medicine. That’s because the state still hasn’t figured out who is going to grow all of the weed to be distributed in its 10 medical marijuana dispensaries. Right now, state officials are still waiting on LSU and Southern University to decide whether they will cultivate the herb. If they choose to pass, the market would then be opened up to the private sector – giving way to the first medical marijuana industry in the Southern portion of the United States.
Earlier this month, Governor Edwards told reporters that while he would not support legislation aimed at legalizing weed for recreational purposes, he doesn’t want to stand in the way of parents providing sick children with a medication that has been shown to effectively treat a number of serious conditions.
“I, quite frankly, think the state ought not be between the doctor and parents on what’s best for those children,” he said.
Yet law enforcement agencies, like the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association (LSA), came out swinging against the bill over concerns that by allowing cannabis oil production it would set the state on a progressive road to full legalization. Mike Stone with the LSA testified before House members that approving a new medical marijuana law meant, “We’ll be back next year… because next year we want the smokable marijuana to help these patients.”
Nevertheless, both the upper and lower chambers ultimately ignored the cries of law enforcement – pushing the bill forward, without any issue, after listening to the testimony of parents with children suffering from a variety of serious and life threatening conditions.
Once the Governor signs the bill, which is expected, it could still take the state as long as 18 months, maybe longer, to launch the program.