Senate-Backed Medical Marijuana Bill Advancing In House

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates have done this year what they failed to do in the past: push to the brink of final passage a bill that could finally make good on Louisiana's 1991 medicinal pot law.

         Though the law has been on the books for over 20 years, it was essentially meaningless because the state never developed a framework to get the drug to those suffering from cancer, glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy.

         A bill to do just that was approved without objection Wednesday by the House Health and Welfare Committee and could soon come up for a vote before the full House.

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         "It's just adding clarity to the 1991 legislation," said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, sponsor of the measure, which has already passed the Senate. "When I convince (lawmakers) that they aren't voting to legalize (marijuana) because it is legal, they are like 'OK, give me the details and the facts.'"

         As written, Mills' proposal would have tight controls on the use and distribution of the drug. Only 10 pharmacies in the state could fill prescriptions. The Department of Agriculture and Forestry would oversee Louisiana's sole cultivation facility and patients prescribed the drug would be closely monitored.

         Another major provision specifies that the plant cannot be smoked. Patients could consume only refined forms of marijuana, such as oil.

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         The refinement process also changes the drug in another significant way: "You can't get high on it," said Mills, a pharmacist.

         Last year Mills brought a similar bill, but it was defeated in committee after drawing opposition from law enforcement. That changed this year, after he worked with the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association to draft the bill. The Louisiana District Attorney Association remains opposed.

         Pete Adams, executive director of the group, said passing the law would give pot proponents an opening. He predicted powerful business interests would push to liberalize Louisiana's marijuana laws, like in Western states that have legalized recreational use.

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         "They begin with medical marijuana, and they expand to decriminalization, and finally to legalization," said Adams. "There is an economic interest in this."

         Throughout the legislative session people who could benefit from medical marijuana have passionately advocated for the bill.

         On Wednesday, the committee sat silent as Michele Hall of Vernon Parish spread out a "poisonous" array of medicines that she gives her young daughter daily for seizures. "This stuff doesn't stop it," said Hall.

         But what does work is a refined marijuana product she previously obtained in Colorado.

         "I can't help her in this state without y'all's help," Hall told lawmakers.

         Mills said people like Hall are his motivation to push the proposed law.

         "That's what's keeps me going. Because when I think I can't go any more, I get calls from those kinds of folks," Mills said. "How dare us, as a state, not allow a doctor and a patient to make a decision."

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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