Marijuana plants fill a Denver warehouse. (John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Heading to gov’s desk: No debate to speed up Louisiana medical marijuana bill

BATON ROUGE — An effort to speed up and expand the dispensing of medical marijuana in Louisiana won final legislative passage Monday, spurred by personal stories of people with seizures and severe pain that bill advocates say would be eased with medicinal-grade pot.

Update: Louisiana medical marijuana expansion bill signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards

Lawmakers created a framework for the Louisiana medical marijuana program last year, but regulatory hurdles built into the law have slowed its start.

The bill by Republican Sen. Fred Mills, a St. Martin Parish pharmacist, will broaden the program to cover more diseases and make regulatory changes aimed at getting marijuana — in an oil form that can’t be smoked — into patients’ hands more quickly.

Senators agreed to House changes made to Mills’ bill with a 22-14 vote and no debate. The measure heads next to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has said he will sign it into law.

In sending the bill to the governor’s desk, lawmakers spurned opposition from local sheriffs and district attorneys who described the bill as a step toward unfettered, recreational use of marijuana.

Those arguments failed to gain traction against stories from parents who described children struggling with uncontrollable seizures, who talked of moving to Colorado to lessen their children’s suffering and who launched billboards and social media campaigns for the bill.

During debates, lawmakers told personal stories of their own family members with cancer, epilepsy and other medical conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana.

The law passed last year will eventually get medicinal-grade pot to people suffering from cancer and a severe form of cerebral palsy. Mills’ proposal will add seizure disorders, HIV, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and other diseases to the list.

The bill also sets a Sept. 1 deadline for LSU and Southern University to decide if they want to be the state-sanctioned grower of the product, in an effort to speed the decision-making since the schools get first right of refusal to grow the plant.

It also reworks some of the regulatory language to address doctors’ concerns about running afoul of federal drug regulations, allowing a physician to “recommend” use of therapeutic marijuana, rather than prescribe the drug.

Mills has estimated Louisiana is about two years away from getting medical marijuana to patients. The state-sanctioned grower needs to be selected, along with 10 licensed distributors.

More info on the Louisiana medical marijuana legislation:
Senate Bill 271

Senate vote