As a wave of medical cannabis laws sweeps the nation, with even conservative states jumping on the bandwagon, the mainstream press sometimes makes it appear as though laws are proposed, passed, and then simply help millions of patients improve their conditions with the kind herb.
However, many states have passed or in the process of passing very narrow, limited medical cannabis laws that exclude millions of sick children and adults. Chronically and severely ill patients who find little or no relief — and plenty of negative side effects — from conventional therapies and pharmaceutical drugs are desperate for help. After having exhausted traditional treatments, doctors and friends often recommend medical marijuana as a last resort.
Unfortunately, many of these patients, with conditions such as epilepsy, severe pain, and PTSD, are breaking the law if they try something as benign as a CBD oil (which contains no THC and can’t get them high). From conservative Louisiana to progressive Colorado, laws supposedly crafted to help the sick and dying often exclude major diseases and, in the process, leave millions in pain and suffering who could otherwise be helped.
Louisiana Deprives Epileptic Children
One example is Ella Grace Hall, a four-year-old girl in Louisiana who suffers from severe epilepsy. Hall consumes six separate drugs each day in an attempt to control her seizures and give her a semblance of a normal life. The only problem: The drugs aren’t working. Amazingly, Louisiana’s law doesn’t cover epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, or even Crohn’s disease.
The lack of legal protection for treating a major condition like epilepsy has caused Hall’s mother to split up her family, moving her daughter to Colorado where CBD oil is legal and readily available. Like hundreds of other families, Hall is a “cannabis refugee” who must leave her home and loved ones to reside in a more enlightened, reasonable state that permits her to treat her condition with CBD oil and other derivatives of the plant.
Even Colorado is Guilty
Which, of course, makes Colorado appear to be the smartest kid on the block in terms of progressive compassion and science-based public policy. Unfortunately, even the Centennial State is guilty of excluding major conditions from its list of those qualifying for legal consumption of marijuana to gain relief. As recently as July 15, the Colorado Board of Health, in a vote of 6-2, elected to continue excluding PTSD from its list of qualifying conditions.
A number of other states, including New York, North Carolina, and Alabama, have passed very narrow medical cannabis laws that do not include a long list of major conditions. These states relegate thousands of very sick patients to obtaining their herbal medicine from the black market, with no legal protections or assurances of purity or quality.
Even in progressive Colorado, a state that has become the beacon of hope for millions of sick people and marijuana legalization advocates throughout the nation, patients are sometimes denied safe, legal access to an herb for which overwhelming empirical and anecdotal evidence is available (especially for conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease).
Until state governors and legislative leaders cease using medical marijuana as a political football and bill signing photo opp, thousands of patients will continue to needlessly suffer. Those who defend prohibition and exclusion of major conditions from very narrow state laws due to a lack of research — but then defend the Schedule I status of cannabis that prevents research from occurring — are playing a hypocritical and illogical game that insults patients and perpetuates a crude and decades-long culture war.
And until that stops, very sick patients like Ella Grace Hall will continue to suffer or be separated from their families — or worse, die.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills recently that redefine some of the state’s current rules and regulations concerning marijuana in the biggest move for the industry in the state since medical marijuana first became legal back in 1991.
The first bill, known as SB 143, will make Louisiana the first Southern state to allow patients suffering from a variety of ailments and medical conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and is intended to help create guidelines for medical cannabis distribution within state lines. Despite legalizing medical marijuana 24 years ago, the state has yet to establish regulations for how the plant should be cultivated, prescribed or dispensed.
The second of the two bills, HB 149, reduces the penalties assessed on those found in possession of marijuana within the state. Prior to its passage, those found guilty of a second offense of marijuana possession would face a felony conviction.
Under HB 149, second-time offenders will face only a misdemeanor conviction. Additionally, first-time offenders can now have their convictions removed from their records if they do not reoffend within a period of two years from the date of the initial infraction.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
While Jindal’s signature did not come as a surprise – he has been vocal about his support of both bills in the past – he signed without sending a press release or otherwise sharing details of his decision to do so.
Part of the reason for this may be because some opponents to the legislation have since stopped efforts to halt it. The Louisiana Association of Sheriffs, a primary opponent in years past, did not attempt to block the legislation this time around.
This is likely due in part to the fact that Sen. J.P. Morrell was quite vocal about getting Louisiana’s marijuana possession penalties more in line with those assessed by other Southern states. Other legislators feared that felony convictions for marijuana possession could have lifelong consequences for young offenders.
While progress was made with the recent signings, there are still several key decisions to be made. One involves how the plant will be cultivated within state lines given a modification of the bill that allows for cannabis use exclusively in its oil form.
While Louisiana State University has expressed willingness to cultivate cannabis in plant form, it remains to be determined how the plant would then be processed into cannabis oil.
Louisiana legislators have passed a new bill intended to close the gaps on a medical marijuana law passed nearly 25 years ago. No patient has ever benefited from the 1991 law, because it failed to provide any structure for how to regulate the cultivation and prescription of cannabis.
Gov. Bobby Jindal already singed the bill into law. While, this is good news for people who have been waiting to incorporate cannabis in their treatment plans, officials expect the plan to take a minimum of two years to implement.
Mike Strain, Louisiana Agricultural Commissioner, said his office would begin immediately on the complex process of constructing regulations for cultivating and dispensing marijuana. Part of the challenge will be to adhere to strict guidelines imposed by state law enforcement associations. Strain said,
“This is all new ground. We’re going to follow every rule, every regulation with a great care.”
With the bill, Louisiana joins nearly half of the United States in legalizing access to medical marijuana. Currently, proposed prescriptions would be available only to sufferers of glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and cancer patients in chemotherapy. The proposal requests, however, that other conditions be considered for treatment.
The executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, Malcolm Broussard, is ready to begin structuring licensing for medical pharmacies. The law allows for a total of 10 medical marijuana pharmacies for the entire state, which has a population of over 4,500,000 people.
The question of who will grow the plants remains unanswered at this time. Under the bill, only one grower in the state may be licensed to cultivate cannabis for medical distribution. Under the law, only consumable cannabis will be permitted. Smoking the plant is not included in this legislation.
First right of refusal goes to Louisiana State University and Southern University. If they decline, the process may go to bid in the private sector.
Strain noted that the process of issuing contracts and licensing is likely to come under intense public scrutiny. He said that he and other officials intend to operate with caution and transparency.
The deadline for submitting all proposals is January of next year. If lawmakers reject the new rules, administrative officials will have to start over.
Louisiana is close to becoming the 24th state to establish a legal process for licensing medical cannabis cultivators and retailers. Only non-smokeable forms of the plant will be legalized, but products will not be restricted to cannabidiol (CBD) only. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid known for producing the feeling of being high, and all other cannabinoids in whole plant therapy will be legal.
Following a 30-6 vote by the Senate on June 8, Louisiana’s medical marijuana legislation, SB 143, will await the signature of Governor Bobby Jindal. The vote was the last necessary step on the part of the Louisiana Legislature, as it had already previously been approved by the House.
The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, has received public interest from Gov. Jindal. Gov. Jindal reviewed the bill before it was voted on by the Senate, and he reported:
“If it got to our desk we’d sign it. Our view on medical marijuana was, it had to be supervised and had to be a legitimate medical purpose and his bill meets that criteria.”
Louisiana Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia (right) listens as Senate Health and Welfare chairman David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans (left) reads support cards on Mills’ legislation to legalize medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana was previously legalized by the Louisiana Legislature in 1978 and again in 1991, but they never established a way to legally dispense it. It has been legal for patients suffering from certain conditions to use it, and it has been legal for physicians to prescribe it. They are simply missing a way to produce and dispense it.
Once Gov. Jindal signs the bill, 3 state boards will be given regulatory control. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture will regulate and control cultivation. The Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners will be responsible for drafting prescription regulations, and the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will control the dispensing of medical marijuana.
The Legislature will be forced to readopt the law in five years due to a sunset clause, giving lawmakers an opportunity to research the positives of legalization and re-evaluate the system.
photo credit: Emily Lane, Nola.com
Following a 27-12 vote on May 25th, the Louisiana Senate was in favor of advancing legislation that will reduce penalties for non-violent marijuana possession arrests in the Pelican State.
The current law in Louisiana allows first time offenders to be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison with a maximum fine of $500. A second offense can lead to a sentence of up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A person arrested for a third marijuana possession charge can be sentenced to 20 years in prison with a fine of up $5,000.
The max penalty for marijuana possession is under one year of jail time in most of the United States. This bill, SB 241, would lower Louisiana’s maximum prison sentence from 20 years to 8 years — reducing it from 20 times the normal sentence to just 8 times.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. J.P. Morrell (photo below), D-New Orleans, says that this bill will bring Louisiana state marijuana laws closer to other states “in a way that is more humane.” It has been estimate that if this legislation passes, it could save the sate $17 million in just 5 years.
The bill will not impact the current punishment for first-time marijuana offenders caught in possession of amounts between 14 grams and 2.5 pounds.
If made into law, this legislation will make possession of 14 grams or less punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine. A second offense will lead to a misdemeanor charge with punishments of up to $1,000 in fines and 6 months in prison. Third time offenders will face a felony charge with up to $2,500 in fines and two years in prison. A fourth or subsequent marijuana possession charges will result in felony charges, a $5,000 fine and 8 years of incarceration.
Sen. Morrell believes the support of this bill has increased significantly compared to past years, largely because the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorney Association are not opposing the legislation. Morrell has worked with these groups to design the bill to be a compromise on which all sides can agree. The negotiations must have been successful because this year’s bill has advanced without any opposition from the panel of lawmakers.
SB 241 will now be presented to the House for consideration.