Pubdate: Tue, 06 May 2014
Source: Gambit Weekly (LA)
Copyright: 2014, Gambit Communications, Inc.
Author: Alex Woodward


Medical Marijuana Bill Dies in the Senate

Medical marijuana has been legal in Louisiana since 1991, allowing 
doctors to prescribe pot to certain patients. But 
sometimes-conflicting federal law and no state infrastructure for 
dispensing and regulating marijuana have effectively neutered that 
law, though it remains on the books.

On April 30, the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare voted to 
defer Senate Bill 541 from state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge. 
That bill deletes the current law and replaces it with a 
comprehensive means of regulating the prescription of marijuana, 
including creating a Therapeutic Marijuana Utilization Review Board 
and coordinating authority with the state's Department of Agriculture 
and Forestry, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana Board 
of Medical Examiners. The committee voted 6-2 against the bill.

In January, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would be open to medical 
marijuana "if there is a legitimate medical need" and under "very 
strict supervision." That month, the Louisiana House Committee on 
Administration of Criminal Justice met with doctors, criminal justice 
organizations and reform advocates to discuss the "feasibility and 
effectiveness" of legalizing weed. State lawmakers filed several 
marijuana bills aimed at health and criminal justice reforms. Last 
week, however, a bill to reduce penalties for marijuana possession 
also died in committee.

At last week's meeting, advocates speaking in favor of Mills' bill 
included Drs. Mark Alain Dery of Tulane University and Karla Doucet, 
as well as Jacob Irving, a student with spastic quadriplegia and a 
member of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. Marjorie Esman, 
executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of 
Louisiana, told the committee, "You're going to hear a lot of 
opposition mostly from law enforcement. What you will hear is 
political, not medical ... [and] based on politics and based on fear."

The committee applauded Irving's story and courage. Committee chair 
Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, said, "I think this committee wants 
to find a way we can help." But opponents argued that the bill would 
compromise federal law under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 
a view that was supported by the state's district attorneys who also 
argued against the measure.

"It pains me to oppose this bill," said Calcasieu Parish District 
Attorney John DeRosier.

"You're not the FDA," Mike Ranatza, executive director of the 
Louisiana Sheriffs Association, told the committee, adding that the 
medical exemption for smoking marijuana would create "problems for 
law enforcement with identification" and that the decision ultimately 
lies with the feds.

"This is not a medicine," said Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles 
Scott. "It's a controlled dangerous substance and has serious side effects."

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell also spoke in opposition, suggesting 
that marijuana is a "gateway drug" and linked to "85 percent" of 
cases he's seen that also involved "some of the most vicious, brutal 
murders (and) rapes."

"We're talking about people with cancer where this is a last-ditch 
effort for (treatment)," Mills replied. "Do you want to throw (the 
bill) in the garbage?" he asked, whereupon Caldwell admitted he 
hadn't read the bill.

Before the vote, state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, attempted to 
add an amendment that would put the bill into effect only if the FDA 
approved medical marijuana. That amendment also failed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom