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Pot and Politics 

In a gubernatorial campaign defined by similar philosophies, medical marijuana could be one dividing line between Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal.

Although Bobby Jindal and Kathleen Blanco are both opposed to the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use, their stances on its medical applications differ. Jindal firmly opposes medical marijuana; Blanco says she believes it has merit.

Federal law prohibits physicians from writing marijuana prescriptions, so some states are addressing the right of doctors to recommend marijuana. So-called recommendation laws are on the books in Hawaii, Alabama, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado and Maine. The governor of Maryland recently signed a bill establishing a mere $100 maximum fine for using marijuana out of "medical necessity." Nine states currently have laws legalizing medical marijuana and 35 have passed laws recognizing marijuana's medicinal value.

Jindal says not to expect him to sign any such legislation. "I'm opposed because of my experience at [the state Department of Health and Hospitals]," Jindal says. "The experts I worked with from the Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse were very concerned. The experts that work on addictive substances said this is a gateway drug. I'm not convinced that it's good for our society. ... I don't want to deny doctors from working in a controlled environment, though, and I think there are ways today for doctors to control the medicinal versions of THC." (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active ingredient in marijuana and can be found in a variety of prescription medicines.)

Blanco says she hasn't ruled out medicinal marijuana. "Well, that's kind of a hard one for me because I ... was always taught to believe that marijuana will lead to other harder drugs for some people and that has always worried me about the idea of decriminalizing it," Blanco says. "But I can see, in some limited cases, that there are people with severely painful diseases that claim that it helps them. I mean, I think you should alleviate pain no matter what it is. You know, no matter what the vehicle is."

In 1978, former Gov. Edwin Edwards signed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana to those suffering from paralysis, glaucoma and cancer. The legislation also established the Marijuana Prescription Review Board. Additionally, former Gov. Dave Treen signed a similar medical marijuana bill in 1981, as did former Gov. Buddy Roemer 10 years later. While Gov. Mike Foster has never seen a prescription bill land on his desk, he did vote in favor of one as a state senator. None of the state laws ever went into effect because they contradicted federal law.

If a governor were to advance medical marijuana, the first step would be to support a recommendation law, says Bruce Mirken, a spokesperson for the California-based Marijuana Policy Project. "What the new governor of Louisiana will have to do is work with the Legislature to enact a new law based on the model that has proven workable in eight other states, which would make the use of medical marijuana legal with a doctor's recommendation," Mirken says.

With most opinion polls pointing to a supportive public, Dr. Robert Goidel, co-director of the Public Policy Research Lab in Baton Rouge, is perplexed over why the topic of medical marijuana has never caught fire in Louisiana. "You don't find much interest in the Southern states," he says. "This just happens to be the healthcare issue no one wants to talk about it."

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