Senate approves expansion of medical marijuana

By Kathleen Peppo | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve a bill to make medical marijuana more widely available across the state.

The bill would lift regulations that require doctors to register with the state to recommend it and that limit its use in treating diseases.

Under the bill, any state-licensed physician could recommend medical marijuana for the treatment of debilitating health conditions. The Senate approved several amendments to the bill, which had already passed the House, so it will now go back to the House for final consideration.

Before the vote, Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, gave a personal anecdote about the legal use of marijuana making a positive impact on real Louisianans.

He said that a few months ago, he ran into a daughter of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in a small grocery store in Lafayette. “She was crying, and she told me that day was the first day that they could legally access medical marijuana,” he said.

“They thought that they were going to have to say goodbye to mom, but with her ability to use med marijuana, she was walking, playing cards, eating,” he said. Blanco later died from cancer.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to advance two other bills specifying other diseases suitable for medical marijuana treatments.

HB158, proposed by Rep. Joseph Marino, I-Gretna, would authorize physicians to recommend medical marijuana for the treatment of certain neurodegenerative diseases and conditions.

HB330, proposed by Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey, would let doctors recommend it for the treatment of the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Under current law, medical marijuana can be recommended but not prescribed by licensed physicians in Louisiana. A recommendation, however, acts as a prescription.

The Senate committee also voted in favor of a resolution to request an update from the Louisiana Department of Health on COVID-19 contact tracing plans. The resolution was sponsored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez.

Contact tracing has been a controversial topic among Republican legislators. Some say their constituents are concerned about privacy issues even though public health experts say the tracing is essential to controlling the virus.

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