Pubdate: Thu, 05 Apr 2018
Source: Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA)
Copyright: 2018 The Times-Picayune
Author: Maria Clark


A Louisiana House committee voted Thursday (April 5) in favor of a
proposal to expand the use of medical marijuana to treat people with
chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma. The bill
cleared committee with an 8-4 vote.

HB 579, sponsored by Rep. Edward James, D-Baton Rouge, met some debate
before the vote. Opponents questioned whether there was enough medical
research establishing medical marijuana as an effective treatment for
people with chronic medical conditions.

A 2016 law allowed the use of medical marijuana to treat certain
conditions, including HIV/AIDS, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy
and epilepsy. James' bill would add glaucoma, severe muscle spasms,
intractable pain and PTSD to the list.

The proposal appears to offer medical marijuana use as a possible
alternative to prescription pain killers. It makes reference to opiate
use in defining what would be considered "intractable pain," or a
state in which the cause of the pain "cannot be removed or otherwise
treated with the consent of the patient... it is a pain so chronic and
severe as to otherwise warrant an opiate prescription," according to
the bill.

Speaking during Thursday's committee meeting, proponents of the bill
said adding chronic pain to the list of conditions covered by the
state's medical marijuana law would actively address opioid addiction
rates in the state.

Tony Landry and Jonathan Brown, both veterans representing Louisiana
Veterans for Medical Marijuana, said that the passage of this proposal
could eventually benefit thousands of veterans who are dealing with
chronic pain and PTSD. Landry described his struggle with chronic
pain, noting he was prescribed muscle relaxers and opiates to manage

"I am here to advocate for other veterans who can get off of opioids,"
he said.

An earlier version of James' proposal also included expanding
legally-sanctioned marijuana forms to include cannabidiols, or CBD
oil, the compound from cannabis identified for its medical use. The
bill would have approved CBD oil to be consumed in any form including
through an inhaler or liquid form. That section was removed from the
final version of the bill approved Wednesday by the committee.

Existing law allows for medical marijuana to be sold as a medicinal
oil or in pill, spray or topical lotion form. It cannot currently be
sold in a form that can be smoked.

Rep. Dodie Horton, one of four committee members who voted against the
bill, told James she could not "support expanding a system, where we
haven't even begun testing the medications."

"You can testify here, that this magic potion will work. I just don't
believe," Horton said. "We don't even have proof of the help it will
give people."

Supporters of expanding medical marijuana laws point out that the Drug
Enforcement Administration still considered marijuana a Schedule I
drug, the same category as heroin. The resulting limits and
restrictions make research difficult, if not impossible, they say.

James, a cardiologist, spoke at a separate health and welfare
committee on March 29 in favor of HB 627, a bill that expands medical
marijuana use for patients with autism. During that hearing, he
explained federal guidelines limit what research doctors and health
institutions can do on the effects of cannabis on patients.

"You can't do clinical studies," he told the panel, adding researchers
risk losing funding if they do.

HB 627 cleared committee last week and heads to House Chamber on

On Thursday, James said medical marijuana use to treat conditions like
PTSD and glaucoma is "a public health issue, not a criminal justice

"This bill is an improvement, it's not radical," James said. "It's
about enhancements to an existing law."
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