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New Orleans mourns the death of Dr. John, the Louisiana House passes a bill allowing people to inhale but not smoke marijuana, Mayor Cantrell announces a late fee amnesty program, residents will vote on a constitutional amendment outlawing the right to abortion, and an online petition advocates for a Leah Chase memorial. Here's what you need to know in New Orleans this week:

The Doctor has left us

Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., better known as Dr. John, initially aspired to be a professional songwriter, producer, session musician and sideman, like the utilitarian New Orleanians who forged his creative worldview in the 1950s. He wanted to work behind the scenes, not out front.

But after assuming the persona of Dr. John the Night Tripper in the late 1960s, Rebennack was behind the scenes no more. His idiosyncratic style and sound — the gravelly growl, the sly, deceptively leisurely phrasing, the hipster patois, the hybrid Big Easy piano — embodied both New Orleans and its music.

Rebennack, an icon of the city who remained an active creative force and a voice for his hometown until he abruptly disappeared from public view 18 months ago, died June 6 of a heart attack after years of declining health, a family member confirmed. He was 77.

He was a prominent member of the pantheon of New Orleans piano legends, part of a direct lineage that included Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Allen Toussaint and Art Neville. His band, the Lower 9-11, especially when powered by the late drummer Herman Ernest, trafficked in stone-cold New Orleans funk.

In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Leon Russell and ’60s girl group singer Darlene Love. He joined fellow New Orleanians Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint, Lloyd Price, Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson in rock’s official shrine.

Dr. John’s last public appearance was in November 2017, on the stoop of Fats Domino’s old house in the Lower 9th Ward at the conclusion of a memorial parade in honor of the recently departed Domino, a friend and inspiration. He reportedly spent the past year and a half living quietly on the Northshore, even as his team maintained his Twitter account with a steady stream of vintage photos, footage and milestones.

“What goes around slides around, and what slides around slips around,” Rebennack said in 2011, just before his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. “As long as it’s slippin’ and slidin’ around, we ain’t got to trip through the shortcuts of life. We can take the long way around. It’s the shortcuts that kill you.

“The best thing you can be ‘like’ in music is yourself.”

— This is an abbreviated version of the obituary written by Keith Spera. To read the entire story:

House passes medical marijuana law that allows for ‘inhaling’ pot — but not smoking it

The Louisiana House last week voted 82-0 to allow medical marijuana patients to inhale cannabis, sending the bill to the governor’s desk for final approval. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, does not allow smoking, but patients can inhale medical marijuana through a device similar to an asthma inhaler.

Present law permits patients to consume medical marijuana through edibles, oils and extracts.

The bill initially stalled in the Senate as lawmakers sought to expand the number of licenses to prescribe medical cannabis, but legislators revived the measure after including “metered-dose inhaler” in the definition of acceptable devices.

James also added an amendment to allow doctors who live outside the state to suggest therapeutic medical marijuana treatment. The current law only permits in-state physicians to recommend medical cannabis usage.

In order to legally receive medical marijuana, patients must have “debilitating medical conditions,” such as cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, intractable pain and/or HIV.

No medical cannabis has been delivered to patients yet because of an ongoing feud between the state’s agriculture commissioner, Mike Strain, and the LSU AgCenter over growing methods. Therapeutic marijuana is expected to be available later this year. — HUNTER LOVELL | LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

City announces late fee amnesty program through Labor Day

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced last week the start of a three-month late fee forgiveness program aimed at encouraging residents who owe the city money to settle their debts at a reduced amount through Sept. 3.

The program applies to parking and camera tickets, sales and hotel and motel taxes, code enforcement violations and library fines. Money owed can be paid online, by phone or in person, depending on the type of fee or fine.

Those who pay parking fines and camera tickets during the allotted time won’t have to pay any late fees. In addition, individuals who owe the city money won’t get their vehicles booted while parking around town during the amnesty period. Those with library fines up to $100 can return their overdue items with all late fees waived — but only once.

Code enforcement violations upon correction may be reduced by $100 per violation. Business owners also stand to benefit from the program with reduced interest on outstanding sales, hotel/motel, parking and other select taxes and permits — without penalty.

“Whatever circumstances they’ve found themselves in and they owe the city, this is an opportunity to hit reset,” Cantrell said.

The program would save residents money on fines and the city money on hiring a collection agency to track down unpaid tickets, fees and fines.

According to the city’s website, the Cantrell administration anticipates the “recovery of millions of dollars of unpaid back taxes and fees” — based on studies in other cities. “What we’ve seen is it does bring in some much needed cash flow while at the same time just eliminating or alleviating that burden that’s carried by your residents and by your business owners,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said the program originally was only going to involve waiving late fees for parking tickets, but that her administration pushed for a more “comprehensive” approach “to meet our residents truly where they are.” — KAYLEE POCHE

Constitutional amendment outlawing right to abortion headed to 2020 ballot

House and Senate lawmakers passed several more abortion-related bills last week, less than a week after Louisiana’s governor signed the strict “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban into law. This legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed and lobbied anti-abortion laws.

Both chambers approved the bid for a constitutional amendment, which was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. This measure potentially would amend Louisiana’s constitution to say that it does not protect the legal right to have an abortion or to secure public funding for the procedure.

The House voted 78-21 on the measure, sending it to the Senate, which approved it with a 33-5 vote.

It is now up to Louisiana voters to decide. Jackson’s constitutional amendment will be placed on the statewide ballot for the 2020 presidential election, held in November. This was changed from the original proposal, which would have scheduled the amendment for this year’s October gubernatorial primary. — HUNTER LOVELL | LSU MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE

‘Leah’s Circle’? An online petition advocates for Chase memorial

An online petition to erect a memorial to the late chef Leah Chase at Lee Circle — and to rename it "Leah's Circle" — received more than 3,000 signatures in less than 24 hours after it was posted last week. The petition was created by Brent Rosen, President and CEO of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), and says SoFAB would cover the costs of creation and installation.

"We have an empty space at Lee's Circle in New Orleans," the petition reads. "There is no better New Orleanian to honor at the circle than Leah Chase. We should honor Mrs. Chase and her legacy by making it 'Leah Chase's Circle.' A statue of Leah Chase would bring all New Orleanians together in honor of one of our greatest culture bearers."

At a City Council meeting that day, council Vice President Jason Williams said he could get on board with that. Online, others suggested a memorial to Chase would more properly be located in her Treme neighborhood. — KEVIN ALLMAN