BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill that would make medical marijuana accessible in Louisiana is one step closer to becoming law.
The House Health and Welfare committee advanced SB 271, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, to the House floor with a vote of 8-6.
Another medical marijuana bill failed to get out of the same House committee last week. HB 1112, sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, would have provided a way to legally get the drugs in Louisiana and was considered broader compared to Mills' bill.
"I'm a mother, and my soul purpose on this earth is to fight for my son," said Katie Corkern.
Corkern, a Louisiana mother asking for help, told the House committee about her son, Connor, who suffers from severe epilepsy.
"I've forced this suppository medication into my son more times than I can count and called the ambulance and prayed this wasn't the seizure to take him," Corkern explained to the committee members.
Corkern believes marijuana could help cut back on his seizures in a way medicines have not.
SB 271 would increases the number of diseases that can be legally treated by medical marijuana in Louisiana, including those that cause seizures.
"And I promise you, every physician that calls me - this is the last ditch effort when nothing else is working," Parks said.
Importantly, the bill allows physicians to recommend the drug rather than prescribe it. Mills told lawmakers that because federal law still lists no medical use for marijuana, prescribing the Schedule I drug could put a doctor's license at risk.
Under the bill, LSU and Southern would have the right of first refusal to grow the state-sanctioned marijuana, and only 10 pharmacies could distribute it statewide. The universities would have to decide by September 1.
"There are a lot of stop-gaps to prevent abuse, to make ensure law enforcement can monitor it, along with the board of pharmacy," Mills said.
The Louisiana Sheriff's Association (LSA) objected to the bill, worrying it could open the door for illegal drug use and eventual decriminalization.
"Our association is concerned with creep, folks. Where do we go from here? We'll be back next year. Because next year we want the smokable marijuana to help these patients," said Mike Stone, with the LSA.
Some lawmakers questioned whether there was proof that marijuana indeed worked.
"It isn't easy, I know many people who suffer from many of these diseases, and I'm not heartless, I'm just cautious," said Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton.
"I don't need a scientist to tell me when a momma comes to meet me at the bank I work in at Breaux Bridge, and brings her child in and says 'I'm giving medical marijuana oral to my kid that has Tourette's syndrome. He's doing good, but I'm tired of breaking the law. I'm growing marijuana in my back yard,'" Mills said.
There were some amendments to the bill. One would eliminate Glaucoma as an accepted, treatable disease, while another said that if the FDA approves another drug for treatment, it would be given priority over marijuana by physicians.
The bill now heads to the House floor. Because of the amendments, it would then have to head back to the Senate for approval.