Louisiana Lawmakers Back Marijuana for More Ailments

By Melinda Deslatte

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — More Louisianians could soon be eligible under the state’s nascent medical cannabis program to treat their ailments, if Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards agrees to bills that have received the backing of state lawmakers.

Democratic state Rep. Ted James’ proposal adds glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Parkinson’s disease to the list of diseases and disorders eligible for medicinal-grade pot, which is expected to be available in Louisiana by late summer.

Democratic Rep. Rodney Lyons’ bill authorizes therapeutic cannabis for certain people with autism spectrum disorder.

The Louisiana House gave final legislative passage Wednesday, May 16, 2018, to the measures. James’ bill received a 54-34 vote, while lawmakers supported Lyons’ proposal with a 58-27 vote. State senators earlier had agreed to the legislation.

Edwards hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the expansion bills. On his monthly radio show Wednesday, May 16, 2018, he said he’d make a decision after the proposals reached his desk.

Supporters said therapeutic cannabis could help veterans suffering from PTSD and others with severe medical conditions, rather than steering them to addictive opioids. They said people have moved out of state to gain access to medical marijuana.

Opponents said lawmakers should wait until the medical cannabis program begins before expanding eligibility.

Louisiana’s medical cannabis program is still getting organized, but patients are estimated to have only a few months remaining to wait for the product.

Current state law, passed in 2015 under former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and tweaked again in 2016 under Edwards, already allows use of medicinal cannabis for people with cancer, a severe form of cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy and other specific diseases. Marijuana can be available in medicinal oils, pills, sprays and topical applications, but cannot be sold in a form that can be smoked.

Only the agricultural centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University are allowed to grow therapeutic cannabis, overseen by the state agriculture department. Both schools have selected vendors to run the growing operations and are working through their individual start-ups.

Nine cannabis-dispensing pharmacies have been selected around the state. Meanwhile, a handful of doctors have applied for and received permission to dispense medical marijuana once it’s available.

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