A wave of applause grew in the Louisiana House as the green lights on the voting machine kept illuminating in favor of a measure that cleared a path for limited use of medical marijuana in the state.
By the time voting ended and the voting machine was turned off, two-thirds of the 105-member House had agreed the state would do what it takes to implement a decades-old law that allows marijuana use for therapeutic medical reasons.
The vote followed impassioned pleas from two representatives who emotionally recalled the suffering endured by loved ones battling cancer.
Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, talked about his brother, David, who died of prostate cancer after chemotherapy and other medical options failed.
“If this would help a person you know from the pain and the destruction of his body my brother suffered, you would consider this bill,” Huval said.
Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, choked back tears. “This should be between the doctor and the patient. We should not be afraid to advance our science,” he said.
The House voted 70-29 for the Senate-passed measure after adding a few new provisions.
One addition named the proposed new law for the late Alison Neustrom, who testified for medical marijuana legislation last year as she battled cancer. Neustrom’s father, Mike Neustrom, is the Lafayette Parish sheriff. The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s opposition helped kill the legislation last year.
Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, credited Alison and her father for the evaporation of the sheriffs’ opposition. This year, the group helped tighten the wording to address law enforcement objections.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association opposes the legislation.
Senate Bill 143 returns to the Senate for approval of House changes, then goes on to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk. Jindal has indicated he would sign the bill.
Bill sponsor Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, monitored House floor debate, reviewing proposed amendments and talking with members.
Louisiana has allowed the use of medical marijuana for 24 years, but no one’s been able to use the herb because of a lack of rules and regulations.
SB143 would regulate medical marijuana dispensing and cultivation in Louisiana for use in treatment of glaucoma and spastic quadriplegia and for those undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
Under the legislation, the state Board of Medical Examiners, the Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry would have different roles in developing the rules, regulations and licensing.
The therapeutic marijuana could only be dispensed at 10 pharmacies in the state. All of the therapeutic marijuana would be cultivated at one licensed location.
The full Senate voted 22-13 for the measure earlier in the legislative session.
“It’s about easing the pain of those suffering from cancer ... other diseases, like cerebral palsy,” Rep. Helena Moreno said.
“The way this bill is written, it’s a safe, secure and responsible way to dispense medical marijuana for those suffering and in need,” the New Orleans Democrat added.
Opponents worried about the potential for expansion and noted that therapeutic marijuana has not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“This is the first step to legalizing recreational marijuana if you vote for this bill,” said Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston. “Marijuana does not cure anything.”
Moreno also proposed and the House adopted a series of amendments to make the licensing of the therapeutic marijuana producer as well as its operations more transparent. Included is a competitive bid or proposal process, with the contract, memorandum of understanding or cooperative endeavor agreement subject to public records. In addition, the location of the facility would be subject to disclosure as well as inspection.
One amendment gives LSU and Southern University Ag Centers the right of first refusal on the production facility license before it’s put out for bid.
Another new provision states that the marijuana produced would be at the lowest acceptable therapeutic level available through scientifically accepted methods.
The House also took out references to physicians recommending marijuana treatment for a patient and replaced it with physicians writing prescriptions.
A physician’s recommendation has been used in other states with medical marijuana laws to get around potential FDA problems with prescribing a substance the agency has not approved.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage from the State Capitol, follow Louisiana politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/