The Louisiana Senate agreed to expand the use of medical marijuana in Louisiana to treat several more health conditions in addition to the list of medical conditions already approved for treatment.
House Bill 579 from state Rep. Edward Ted James authorizes medical marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, PTSD and Parkinson's disease. House Bill 627 from state Rep. Rodney Lyons allows medical marijuana to treat autism spectrum disorder.
The current law allows for medical marijuana to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. The law doesn't allow for smokeable pot but for THC-less medicine processed from plants grown within the state university systems.
The Senate voted 25-9 to support James' bill and 21-10 to support Lyons' bill. Both bills head back to the House for final approval.
"In my opinion it takes care of some things that should have been in there in the first place," said state Sen. Norby Chabert, who introduced HB 579 on James' behalf.
Though medicine should be available to patients as early as this year, Louisiana's medical marijuana program has been relatively slow to get off the ground, now two years after lawmakers approved a legal infrastructure for it — the university systems that are responsible for growing pot that will be processed into oil- and cream-based medicines haven't started yet, and the state Pharmacy Board just recently approved licenses for nine pharmacies that will be allowed to sell the products.
[content-1] There also remains some pressure from conservative lawmakers skeptical that the program is even legal, or is a glimpse into full-blown recreational legalization. In a committee hearing last month, James' bill came under fire from state Rep. Dodie Horton, who quoted a satirical news website that claimed 37 people overdosed and died after smoking marijuana on the first day of its legalization in Denver, Colorado.
But medical marijuana advocates and lawmakers ushering in reform laws have argued, largely successfully if one is counting votes, that the program is not only within legal boundaries under the eye of the feds but also a moral imperative in treating debilitating health conditions.
Sens. Dan Claitor and Jack Donahue, both Republicans, admitted their position on marijuana for medical use has changed over the years.
"I've consistently voted against it," Claitor told the Senate. "But can tell you from personal family experience [that I've] seen folks suffer greatly from cancer, and get some relief as it relates to this ... I’ve come to a different place now."
Donahue said his "opinion of medical marijuana has changed" after his business partner who suffered from lymphoma received medical marijuana treatment.
Claitor — who joked that someone brought brownies to the Capitol earlier today ("I didn’t eat any today. I’m still on task.") — said "we are having a bit of fun here but it’s not funny to the people who need it for their medicine."
"We’re dealing with an opiod crisis in this country that in many ways is doing more harm than good," Chabert said. "This is definitely a way we can try to curtail that from a truly medical standpoint."