Second time’s a charm for medical marijuana in the Senate; bill heads to the House _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, two years in row tried to add amendments onto unrelated bills that would have extended a moratorium onto assisted living facilities that compete with nursing homes. Mills owns 10 percent of a nursing home. 

It took a second day and some increased pressure from supporters, but the state Senate on Wednesday advanced legislation that seeks to expand the conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana in Louisiana.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the same measure failed to pass the Senate by one vote.

Sen. Fred Mills, a Republican from Parks who also is a pharmacist and long-time advocate of medical marijuana, said he fell to his knees Tuesday night after Senate Bill 271 was rejected.

“I was crying because I kept getting email after email after email from parents,” he said, urging his colleagues to send the bill to the House for consideration.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Louisiana for more than two decades, but no one’s been able to legally use it because the state didn’t establish a framework for the distribution or cultivation of the plant, which remains a Schedule I narcotic on the federal level. Lawmakers continue to work through legal hang ups for distribution and cultivation.

But, under current law, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and symptoms stemming from chemotherapy are the only medical conditions covered.

Mills’ bill would add, among other ailments: HIV/AIDS, cachexia, seizure disorders, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

The drug treatment would take the form of cannabis oil that doesn’t get users high, and it would be “recommended” by physicians, rather than “prescribed” to skirt pot laws.

Several senators said they worried that expanding the availability of medical marijuana would lead to increased recreational use.

“In every state where medical marijuana has been legislated, non-medical use has increased, use among children has increased and addiction has increased,” said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said she was swayed by the outpouring of parents who have reached out to her to tell her about their children who may benefit from medical marijuana.

“There is science on both sides of almost every issue,” she said. “What has made a difference for me in deciding how to vote on this is the 84 emails I got from (parents).”

But Appel and others argued that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate medical marijuana so dangers are unknown.

“It makes no sense to me why wouldn’t we go along with the FDA?” he said.

Mills argued that the issue should be seen as one of “states’ rights,” and pointed to recalls of drugs that had previously been FDA-approved.

“Why are we waiting on someone to help us when we have the ingenuity to do it ourselves?” he said.

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