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Commentary: “Reefer madness” in Baton Rouge 

Medical marijuana legislation is a benign and necessary step for getting people the medicine they need

Medical marijuana won't become legally available in Louisiana for years, even though the state has legalized it in some form since 1991. That should reassure the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, both  of which oppose even medical uses for cannabis. It's less assuring to those who need it to combat the pain and symptoms of glaucoma, chemotherapy, cerebral palsy, seizures and a host of other maladies that have been treated effectively with cannabis oil.

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  Londyn Broussard is one of those people — a three-and-a-half-year-old girl prone to frequent violent seizures. Last week, the Lafayette Advertiser profiled the Broussard family, for whom conventional anti-seizure drugs weren't working. Londyn's mother began giving her cannabidiol, an oil derived from the cannabis plant that has no psychoactive components (read: it won't get anyone high). Londyn improved, but the family stopped using the medication when doctors said they didn't have information about contraindications or side effects.

  Louisiana doctors — and patients like Londyn — are in a catch-22 when it comes to medical use of marijuana. Last year, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal approved a law that would allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for only three conditions (spastic quadriplegia, glaucoma and side effects resulting from chemotherapy). But federal law outlaws such prescriptions.

  Senate Bill 271, introduced by state Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-Parks, would expand the number of maladies for which cannabis oil could be used, and it offers language that would protect doctors and patients who want to try it. The measure squeaked through the House Health & Welfare Committee after winning Senate approval. It now goes before the full House. We recommend its passage.

  Even if Mills' bill passes, use of medical marijuana is still years away in Louisiana. The state's first stab at legalizing medical marijuana came in 1991 — 25 years ago — but no mechanism has been put in place to make the law effective. Even now, the law requires plants to be grown at one of two official ag centers in the state, which has-n't begun.

  Mills' bill faces two political hurdles. One is legislators' antipathy to appearing "soft on drugs," even though no one is asking them to condone cannabis. The other is sheriffs and district attorneys, who invoke the "slippery slope" argument. Mike Stone, the sheriffs' association president, called SB 271 "part of a well-financed agenda. ... Next year they'll want smokable."

  The ultimate irony is that marijuana is readily available to those who want it to get high. Meanwhile, those who need it for medical purposes — like Londyn Broussard — can't get it. That makes no sense.

  California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana products in 1996. Only four states — Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado — have legalized and taxed pot for recreational use. Many others, including California, New York, Vermont and Minnesota, have found middle ground.

  Mills' bill is a long-overdue step toward getting people the medicine they need. Blocking it would be real "reefer madness." We urge passage of SB 271.

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