Senate committee OKs medical marijuana bill

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana law enforcement associations have previously blocked efforts to get medical marijuana to patients who suffer, despite a 1991 state law allowing its medicinal use.

That changed Wednesday.

Michael Ranatza, head of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association, suggested a Senate health committee should make good on the 1991 law and support a bill that would develop a framework to dispense marijuana to sufferers of cancer, glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy.

The committee approved the bill — sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks — without objection, sending it to the full Senate for debate, a year after overwhelmingly rejecting a similar proposal.

While district attorneys still object to the measure, Ranatza said he had a change of heart after a colleague's terminally ill daughter passionately advocated for medical marijuana last year, when the bill failed to gain support.

Testifying before the same committee last year, Alison Neustrom, the daughter of Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael Neustrom, had recently found out she had cancer. She told the committee that interaction with her 2-year-old was difficult because of chemotherapy side effects, a problem she said medical marijuana would have helped.

"One witness, who's not with us today, made a big difference on me," Ranatza said of Alison Neustrom, who has since died. "I think the move our sheriffs made (was) to be compassionate ... and provide relief."

Louisiana legalized medical marijuana in 1991 for people with certain conditions. But rules were not set up for dispensaries, so no prescriptions have been issued.

As written, Mills' proposal would have tight controls on the use and distribution of the drug. Only 10 pharmacies in the state could fill prescriptions. The Department of Agriculture and Forestry would oversee the state's sole cultivation facility. And patients prescribed the drug would be closely monitored.

There's also another major provision that's destined to disappoint certain medical marijuana supporters: users cannot smoke it. Under the bill, patients could only consume refined forms of marijuana, such as oils or flakes, said Mills, a pharmacist.

"I think this is a very cautious way to do it," Mills said. He said he wanted to get the drug "to people who really need it and not have this thing be a total scam."

Some on the committee still had reservations.

"It needs to be completely transparent so everybody sees what's going on," said Sen. Daniel Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. He pointed to California's exceptionally permissive medical marijuana law and said he did not want to be party to a "sham."

Pete Adams, the head of the Louisiana District Attorneys' Association, said his organization remains opposed. He questioned claims about marijuana's medicinal benefit.

"Our position is pretty simple: We believe that most of the arguments for it are anecdotal," Adams said.

Medical marijuana advocates also raised concerns, saying the bill leaves out many illnesses and conditions they believe should be eligible for the drug.



Senate Bill 143 can be found at

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