By Melinda Deslatte
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers are moving to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, as marijuana nears availability within months.
The House voted 60-39 Thursday to add more conditions to the list of diseases and disorders eligible for marijuana treatment. The proposal by East Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Ted James would include glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease on that list.
A separate measure by Jefferson Parish Democratic Rep. Rodney Lyons that won earlier House passage would allow medicinal-grade cannabis for autism spectrum disorder.
Both proposals await debate in Louisiana’s state Senate.
Supporters say medical cannabis could help veterans suffering from PTSD and others with severe conditions, rather than steering them to addictive opioids.
“We’ve got a lot of vets who don’t want to take drugs, the heavy drugs,” said Rep. Kenny Cox, a Natchitoches Democrat and retired Army officer.
Opponents said lawmakers should wait until the medical marijuana program begins before expanding eligibility.
“I just wonder if we’re not jumping the gun,” said Rep. Scott Simon, an Abita Springs Republican. “We’re heading that way and we’re heading that way fast. My only concern is that we’re swapping out one addictive drug for another.”
James said marijuana is not addictive. He said Louisiana residents have described traveling out of state or permanently moving elsewhere to get therapeutic cannabis for treatment of medical conditions.
“If we can prolong life and ease pain for one young person, one senior with this bill, I think we’re headed in the right direction,” James said.
Louisiana’s medical cannabis program is just getting organized, with plans to have marijuana available to patients by the summer. Current state law, passed in 2015 under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and tweaked again in 2016 under Gov. John Bel Edwards, allows use of medicinal cannabis for people with cancer, a severe form of cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy and other specific diseases. Cannabis can be available in medicinal oils, pills, sprays and topical applications, but cannot be sold in a smokable form.
Only the agricultural centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University are allowed to grow medicinal-grade cannabis, overseen by the state agriculture department. Both schools have selected vendors to run the growing operations and are working through their start-up.
A handful of doctors have applied for and received permission to dispense medical marijuana once it’s available. The Board of Pharmacy hasn’t yet selected the dispensing pharmacies.
Forty-six states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Also pending on the House floor is a third bill dealing with Louisiana’s program, by Houma Republican Rep. Tanner Magee, seeking to remove the January 2020 expiration date of the state’s medical cannabis law.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at twitter.com/melindadeslatte