Medical marijuana patients

Pharmacist T.J. Woodard describes a medical marijuana product, a tincture applied under the tongue with a dropper, at Capitol Wellness Solutions in Baton Rouge on Aug. 6, 2019. Albert Anthony, center, and his wife Jeanette Anthony were among the first people in Louisiana to legally buy a therapeutic cannabis product.

(The Center Square) – A Louisiana Senate committee on Wednesday voted to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for any patient they believe it would help.

House Bill 819 by Rep. Larry Bagley, a Stonewall Republican, adds nine health conditions to the program. But it also lets doctors in good standing with state regulators recommend medical marijuana products for “any condition not otherwise specified.”

“Advocates and patients have basically said, ‘Why not me?’” said Sen. Fred Mills, the Parks Republican who chairs the state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee. “Why can’t I get medical marijuana, and why are you limiting the disease states?”

Mills, who carried legislation to establish medical marijuana in the state, said the program started slow with the idea that “we could crawl before we could walk before we could run.” Limiting the conditions was part of a compromise with sheriffs and district attorneys, he said.

No one spoke in opposition to the legislation Wednesday, and only Sen. J. Rodgers Pope, R-Denham Springs, voted against advancing it. The House of Representatives with little discussion voted 76-15 Friday to approve the changes.

Bagley said he has opposed medical marijuana in the past. But he said his constituents favor it, and said he wanted to improve access partly to give patients more options other than opioids to treat pain.

Mills said patients have experienced “good results” so far. Kathleen Blanco, the former Louisiana governor who died from cancer last year, used medical marijuana near the end of her life, he noted.

Bagley’s bill also would eliminate the requirement that doctors who recommend medical marijuana receive a separate certification from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

Because medical marijuana still is illegal under federal law, doctors technically can only “recommend” it, rather than prescribe it. Raw marijuana to be smoked is not available in Louisiana’s program.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.