Since 2014, Louisiana’s law enforcement has worked together to find a balance between addressing the needs of Louisiana’s families facing debilitating diseases such as cancer, quadriplegia and epilepsy, and upholding our oath to “support the Constitution and laws of the United States of America and the Constitution and laws of the State of Louisiana.”
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I Drug under the Controlled Substances Act — having the highest potential for abuse and no “current accepted medical use.” The Drug Enforcement Agency may make a decision as soon as June on whether to move marijuana from Schedule I to a different schedule. If this rescheduling were to occur however, it does not mean marijuana will become legal. While there are some encouraging signs that marijuana for medical use may be beneficial, more research like the Food and Drug Administration is overseeing needs to be done.
We understand the frustration of state Sen. Fred Mills — the lead champion on this issue — with the slow pace in bringing relief to Louisiana families. This is why the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police began discussions with the FDA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy three years ago. We wanted to ensure the FDA was not “dragging its feet” as some proponents of circumventing the FDA process have claimed. We found the FDA, working with the DEA, to be fully transparent and willing to work with stakeholders. We also learned they are developing a legal pathway to provide “safe and effective” constituent components of marijuana for medical use for patients.
In mid-March, a phase 3 study of the drug Epidiolex (an oral spray form of cannabidiol) revealed positive outcomes for children suffering from two epileptic seizure disorders. The manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, is expected to file for a new drug application this year with the FDA. One of the major hurdles patients encounter is finding the correct dosage to treat seizure disorders. This is why studies like these are critical to ensure not only therapies derived by marijuana are effective, but also that the drugs manufactured are safe for use.
It is important to note that the FDA worked with the University of Mississippi to oversee the trials of Epidiolex and have been more than willing to consider approval of other clinical trials of cannabis in states like Louisiana if so desired. We continue to meet with the FDA, on behalf of Louisiana’s families, to help expedite these studies in a timely manner.
Louisiana law enforcement though is rightly concerned that some marijuana special interest groups are not necessarily interested in what’s best for helping families, but rather how to achieve their goal of legalizing raw marijuana. Public safety will always be our top concern. Recent studies have shown since Colorado legalized crude marijuana use, it has seen a dramatic rise in emergency department visits, a spike in DUIs related to marijuana and more patients in drug and alcohol treatment centers reporting use of marijuana almost daily before seeking help. Drug-related crimes also make up the majority of crimes committed against our citizens and drug abuse continues to threaten our communities.
In 2014, more than 47,000 people across the country died from drug overdoses, which are now killing far more people than vehicle wrecks. The New England Journal of Medicine reports the admission of drug-dependent babies to neonatal intensive care units nearly quadrupled from 2004 through 2013; many of these newborns’ first experience of life will be the agony of drug withdrawal. Why would we want to risk creating a new marijuana market that compounds these challenges?
We strongly urge the Legislature and governor to work with our law enforcement community to promote federally approved research for future therapies that help our citizens and not harm them. That is why our association chose to oppose Senate Bill 271. Should the Legislature choose to adopt Senate Bill 271, we hope it will include a sunset provision of two years. This period would allow the FDA to ensure legally prescribed drugs are available and serve as a more effective and safe alternative.
Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone is president of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association. Michael A. Ranatza is executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.