A legislative panel gave its full backing to legislation Wednesday (April 29) that proposes authorizing legal dispensaries for medical marijuana in Louisiana.
By advancing the bill to the full Senate without objection from any members of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, the possibility widened that Louisiana patients suffering from a few, certain diseases could soon obtain a prescription for marijuana in few, certain forms. If the bill becomes law, medical marijuana would not be available in a smokable form, for example. It would also be restricted for use by patients suffering from glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and for those undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
The Louisiana Legislature legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1991, but there’s no mechanism in current law that allows for the legal dispensing of the plant. Doctors can legally prescribe it, patients can legally use it, but they don’t have a middleman. Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, gives legal authority to the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to set rules regulating a tightly constrained dispensary system.
Mills attributed his first legislative victory regarding the medical marijuana bill to collaboration with the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association. By negotiating with the lobby group, Mills was able to get his bill in a posture that allowed the group to take a neutral stance on it. The organization carries lots of weight with legislators because their constituents — especially those in more rural areas — view their sheriffs as the leading pubic safety advocate in their communities. The bill died in the same committee last year by a vote of 6-2, after the sheriff’s group testified against it.
While the sheriffs’ group’s official stance on the bill was neutral, the organization’s executive director Mike Ranatza sat next to Mills and spoke of the good he thought it could do, if tightly constrained and properly regulated.
“The move our sheriffs made was to be compassionate, to provide relief and hopefully not harm anyone,” Ranatza said, of the organization’s decision not to oppose the bill.
After impassioned testimony from several residents afflicted with symptoms the drug could remedy, the Senate Health and Welfare committee advanced the legislation. Cheers sounded in the committee room at the Louisiana State Capitol, and Mills shook hands with committee chairman state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans.
It now goes the the full Senate for consideration before moving over to the House.