Medical marijuana expansion bill passes La. House, heads back to Senate

Published: May. 11, 2016 at 11:27 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 12:07 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill that that would expand access to medical marijuana has one more hurdle before reaching the governor's desk.

The House passed SB 271, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, Wednesday night with a 62-31 vote. Before reaching the House floor, the bill advanced out of a House committee on May 3.

The bill would increases the number of diseases, including those that cause seizures, that can be legally treated by medical marijuana in Louisiana.

Importantly, SB 271 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.

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 when testifying in front of the House committee.

Mills said he thought the vote would be tight with LSA putting pressure on members to vote against the bill. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards said Donna Edwards called House members asking them to pass the measure.

Rep. Terry Landry, who was a former head of the Louisiana State Police, said talk of creep is "fear mongering" and called for members to vote in favor of the bill.

There were some amendments added to the bill in the House committee. 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.

Because of the amendments, the bill now heads back to the Senate for approval.

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