Medical marijuana measure snuffed out

Advocate photo by MARK BALLARD -- A Senate committee was crowded Wednesday heard legislation that would set up a way to legally distribute and allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Show caption
Advocate photo by MARK BALLARD -- A Senate committee was crowded Wednesday heard legislation that would set up a way to legally distribute and allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

Legislation providing the legal framework for dispensing and distribution of medical marijuana died Wednesday in a state Senate committee.

The Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee voted 6-2 to defer action on the measure after the state’s top prosecutor and law enforcement officials lined up in opposition.

Louisiana law as far back as 1978 has allowed for medical marijuana use in the treatment of certain conditions but there are no guidelines that allow for its implementation.

State Sen. Fred Mills’ bill would set the rules and regulations for therapeutic marijuana dispensing and distribution.

Individuals with debilitating conditions pleaded for relief, saying they had tried all the other medicines available to them.

Prosecutors said marijuana is a controlled dangerous substance according to the federal Food and Drug Administration and its use in violation of federal law, they said.

“I’d rather study the issue and force the federal government to come to the table so our oath of office can be upheld,” said Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who added he had not read Mills’ bill.

He said the federal government needs to address the legal issues and provide the medical seal of approval.

“We know 21 states approved this,” Caldwell said. “It’s time for the FDA to do something and Congress get the issue straight so we are not violating our oath of office to uphold the constitution and laws.”

Mills said the decision needs to focus on patients with qualifying medical conditions who are “without therapeutic options.”

“Twenty-one states have decided it’s time to take care of the patient,” said Mills, R-New Iberia. He added Gov. Bobby Jindal supports medical marijuana use.

If Louisiana waits on the FDA, it will be waiting for a long time, said Mills, a licensed pharmacist.

“This is a state that is very proud of the independence we have enjoyed, states rights independence,” he said.

Louisiana laws allows patients suffering from glaucoma, chemotherapy treatments and spastic quadriplegia to receive marijuana for therapeutic use.

Alison Neustrom, a 42-year-old mother of a toddler, told the committee about her medical treatments since she was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. She said there has been weight loss and nausea.

“I ask you to consider this option. I believe people and doctors in Louisiana should have this option,” Neustrom said. “I think it’s important that those suffering not be denied the option.”

“Make the compassionate vote, the courageous vote and moral vote to pass this bill,” she pleaded.

Jacob Irving told of living with spastic quadriplegia — a condition where the muscles do not develop properly.

“It’s painful all the time,” he said.

Irving said he’s tried every pharmaceutical option. “They were not effective,” he said. “There are no other treatments available for people with cerebral palsy and spasticity. There’s nothing else but this.”

“I don’t want to be a freak my whole life. I want to be a real person,” Irving said.

But Dr. Ken Roy, an associate professor of psychiatry, said any effort at medical marijuana legislation is a euphemism for legalization. “Medical marijuana is not a legalization question. Medical marijuana is a scientific decision. It is a scientific issue,” said Roy. “The FDA determines whether drugs are safe or effective.”

Roy said there is only anecdotal evidence related to medical marijuana.

“It’s a harmful, addictive and unproven substance,” said Stephanie Haynes, a Save Our Society from Drugs board member.

Louisiana District Attorneys Association President Charles Scott said the FDA has not approved any medical use of marijuana.

“Until they do this is not a medicine. It is a controlled dangerous substance that has medical side effects,” said Scott, of Caddo Parish.

Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association director Mike Ranatza said law enforcement has to “act within the confines of the law.”

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, sought an amendment that would make Mills’ Senate Bill 541 effective when the medical marijuana issue is resolved at the federal level.

Mills objected and the panel rejected the idea with three senators voting for it and five against.

State Rep. Dalton Honoré , D-Baton Rouge, a co-sponsor of Mills bill, asked the committee to advance the bill. “We are not talking about wholesale marijuana,” Honoré said . “It’s severely restricted. It’s all restricted in the bill.”

Mills asked the committee to send the bill without action to the Senate floor. But Claitor moved to defer action — a move that effectively kills it — and the panel agreed.

Voting to defer the medical marijuana regulation bill (6): Sens. Bret Allain, R-Franklin; Sherri Buffington, R-Keithville; Claitor; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; and Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Voting against deferral of SB541 (2): Sens. Mills and Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge.