State lawmakers are considering legislation that would expand Louisiana's medical marijuana law to cover more ailments, including PTSD and pain disorders.
But an effort to allow medicinal marijuana in smokable or infused-edible forms in Louisiana was stripped from a bill during its committee hearing Thursday before members voted 8-4 to send House Bill 579 to the House floor.
"I hear, constantly, disappointment from the folks I represent because they realize their ailment isn't covered in the law that was passed," Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said in presenting his bill.
Medical marijuana technically has been legal in Louisiana for more than four decades but was never functional. A 2016 law was meant as a path to implementation.
HB579 seeks to expand on that law, even though the framework for medical marijuana is still being built and no prescriptions have been issued.
It currently applies to patients who have cancer, cachexia, HIV, AIDS, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. State law requires that it be in a liquid form, such as an oil or spray; capsules or pills; topical applications; transdermal patches; or suppositories.
A separate bill that passed the House on a 71-31 vote on Thursday would expand medical marijuana to children with conditions linked to autism spectrum disorder.
Meanwhile, James' bill that passed the committee would extend medical marijuana as an option for patients with glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain and post traumatic stress disorder.
James said that he hoped that by allowing people with ailments normally treated with prescription opioids, his legislation could help curb the addition and overdose crisis that has taken hold in Louisiana.
There were 531 opioid-related deaths in Louisiana in 2016 – up from 160 in 2012.
But some lawmakers remain leery of expanding medical marijuana in Louisiana – particularly as the existing program hasn't begun.
The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy is currently vetting nearly two dozen businesses that have applied to operate medical marijuana pharmacies.
Growing operations will be run through LSU and Southern University's ag centers through partnerships with private firms. Several doctors have obtained licenses to recommend the drug to patients.
"It amazes me we are trying to expand a program that has not been operational yet," said Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton. "It just blows my mind."
Horton said she worries medical marijuana is being touted as a "magic potion" to cure all ills.
"I don't believe there is proof for it," she said.
Members were particularly cautious of James' initial proposal to allow prescriptions for infused edibles and beverages and pot that can be inhaled.
"(If) it talks about inhaling isn't going to go over well with my constituents," said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall. "They have trouble distinguishing – marijuana is marijuana."
If it makes it through the House, HB579 then faces vetting from the Senate. At each step it could be further amended.
How they voted:
In favor of sending HB579 to the House floor (8): Reps. Bagley; Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe; Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; H. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte; and Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner.
Against HB579 (4): Chairman Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe; Reps. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Horton; Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs.