Medical marijuana expansion nears final passage in Louisiana

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LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 7: Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. A group of activists have submitted about 50,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum on a marijuana dispensary ban in Los Angeles to take effect next week. A minimum of 27,425 valid signatures from registered voters is needed to let voters decide on the issue in March, and until the number can be verified, the ban will not be enforced. . The ban would not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers are one step from removing most restrictions on which medical conditions are eligible for medical marijuana, allowing doctors to recommend the treatment for any patient they believe it would help.

The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday for the expansion proposal from Rep. Larry Bagley of Stonewall, the Republican chairman of the House health committee. One final vote is required from the House, which overwhelmingly backed the measure earlier this month, before the bill can reach the governor’s desk.

Under a 2015 law and additional changes passed since then, Louisiana allows cannabis to treat a long list of diseases and disorders, such as cancer, seizure disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

Bagley’s legislation would authorize therapeutic cannabis for any condition that a doctor “considers debilitating to an individual patient” — rather than requiring a person to have a specified condition.

“Many people have gotten good results with medical marijuana, really good results,” said Sen. Fred Mills of Parks, the Republican chairman of the Senate health committee.

He described Bagley’s expansion proposal as “just a natural progression of a process that has been working.”

Senate GOP leader Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, opposed the legislation as too expansive.

“It feels like we don’t have the same medical control,” she said.

In addition to expanding accessibility to patients, the bill also would loosen medical marijuana restrictions on doctors. Doctors would no longer need to register with and receive authorization from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to recommend cannabis for patients.

Louisiana is one of more than 30 other states that allow medical marijuana in some form.

Only the agricultural centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University are authorized to grow medical marijuana. LSU’s grower has been providing products to the state’s nine dispensaries since August. Southern’s grower hasn’t yet started selling medical marijuana.

Marijuana can be available in oils, pills, liquids, topical applications and in an inhaler, such as that used by asthma patients — but not in a smokeable form. LSU’s grower currently offers cannabis only in a flavored liquid tincture, a bottle containing a dropper to use, but the company is expected to expand that to also include dissolving strips taken by mouth.

The Senate added language to Bagley’s bill, which must be reviewed by the House, that requires anyone dispensing medical marijuana to participate in the state’s prescription monitoring program.

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House Bill 819: www.legis.la.gov

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

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