As national opinion about marijuana use trends from a shrug to "why not," Louisiana is considering a measure that would allow medical marijuana use in the state. Senate Bill 143 by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, passed the Louisiana Senate on May 4. The bill outlines to the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners the rules and regulations for "marijuana for therapeutic uses."
An obscure state law already allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, but without legalizing dispensing and possession it's virtually useless. Mills' measure allows the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to create a "specialty license" for up to 10 dispensaries throughout the state. It also allows for one grow site — "no more than one licensee and to no more than one geographic location" — to be determined by the state's Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
SB 143 passed the Senate by a 22-13 vote. New Orleans-area senators voted for the bill, except one: Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he is open to medical marijuana use in the state, and the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association is supporting Mills' measure.
In Washington, D.C., Louisiana's doctor-politicians are split on the issue. During 2014 debates, Louisiana's junior U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said he would support medical marijuana. U.S. Rep. John Fleming, however, warned on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last month that "smoking pot increases psychotic episodes by a factor of two to four times normal." Fleming voted against a measure that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with information about medical marijuana. Louisiana's other doctor U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and Ralph Abraham also voted against the measure.
Meanwhile, retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who ran for the U.S. Senate last year and said during the campaign that he did not support medical marijuana, has changed his position. Maness recently wrote to his supporters following the Senate vote that he is "proud to live in a state that has passed a measure that is both reasonable to patients who badly need the medication and addresses law enforcement concerns."
"This legislation fills a legal gap that has stood unfilled for years, keeping the medications from those who need it," Maness said.
There's little chance that the state will tackle recreational pot use, which has been legalized in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Washington State and Washington, D.C. State Rep. Dalton Honore, D-Baton Rouge, wants to put marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot, but he put his House Bill 117 on ice May 6 when he realized he didn't have enough support in the House Criminal Justice Committee.