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On Monday May 16th, a medical marijuana bill that enables previous legislation to become functional, was forwarded to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature. Three days later, the bill was signed into law.

Medical Marijuana in Louisiana has been slow to start. The program began last year, but there were no provisions for how the program would be regulated, how medical cannabis would be cultivated and who would oversee the growing operations. Republican Senator Fred Mills sponsored the bill in an effort to get Louisiana’s medical cannabis program up and running. In the meantime, patients have been waiting for years for safe access to medical marijuana.

“The wait was excruciating, but so worth it,” said medical marijuana advocate Katie Corkern, who wants to treat her son Connor’s epilepsy with the drug. “I woke up this morning and was thinking, it’s not going to pass because I’ve been doing so much research. There were people who I thought were definitely going to vote for it who changed their minds.”

The House offered no debate, and the bill passed 22-14.

The program will be limited and will take time to implement, requiring patients to wait an additional one to two years. That time will be spent selecting an official grower approved by the state and licensing up to ten distributors. Louisiana State University and Southern University have until September 1st to decide whether or not they want to participate as official growers. If neither choose to participate, the state will select a private company. A 7 percent tax based on the grower’s sales to the distributors will be paid to the Department of Agriculture, who will be responsible for regulation.

Along with cancer, spastic quadriplegia (a type of cerebral palsy) and glaucoma, qualifying conditions that are being added as a result of the new bill include epilepsy and other seizure disorders, HIV/AIDS, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, severe nausea, anorexia, Crohn’s disease, ALS, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. Smokable medical cannabis will not be allowed in Louisiana, but rather an oil or tincture form that can be administered and ingested orally.

A small but significant change was made to the bill’s language, based on concerns by physicians. The word “prescription” was changed to “recommendation” so that doctors could protect themselves from federal drug laws and maintain their DEA licensing.

Opposition to the bill came mostly from law enforcement, who feared that a medical marijuana would lead to rampant, unregulated use of marijuana within the state. These concerns were ultimately set aside when lawmakers and citizens described the suffering of their loved ones with debilitating medical conditions.

kristin kloc

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