Capitol Access
3:00 am
Thu May 1, 2014

Medical Marijuana Bill Snuffed Out

Former state senator Tony Guarisco testifies on medical marijuana bill.
Credit Sue Lincoln

Louisiana’s legislature approved medical marijuana for certain diseases in 1991. Twenty-three years later, a bill that would finally set up a prescription system for dispensing the drug was heard in Senate Health and Welfare Wednesday.

Since the topic was marijuana, there were a few moments of levity during the debate.

“As an E-R doc, never did I see a case of acute stonedness,” said one witness.

And former state senator Tony Guarisco, who has been diagnosed with glaucoma, got a few chuckles when he told the committee, “You can’t smoke enough marijuana to help with glaucoma. I found that out.”

But State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell warned lawmakers that since the U.S. government still outlaws marijuana, voting for the bill would be breaking their oaths of office.

“We have taken an oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States,” Caldwell reminded them.

Dr. Mark Alain Dery, who runs Tulane’s HIV clinic, told legislators that should not be the basis for their votes.

“The House just recently passed a bill that legalized the sale and consumption of raw milk. The FDA does not support this,” Dery said. “And as an infectious disease doctor, I do not support this, as Listeria monocytogenes, a gram-positive bacteria, kills! Why are we passing a bill that can hurt people in Louisiana, yet have to argue to get a bill passed that actually can help?”

But Tulane professor of psychiatry, Dr. Ken Roy, had a different opinion. He said smoking plant parts is not an acceptable method of delivering medication.

“Make no mistake—any effort at medical marijuana legislation is a euphemism for legalization,” Dr. Roy warned.

Others, with illnesses covered in Senator Fred Mills’ bill, pleaded for the help medical marijuana could provide.

Jacob Irving, an LSU student with spastic quadriplegia, says he’s tried every medication available for his disease.

“They were not effective,” he told the committee. “There’s nothing else but this.”

Alison Neustrom, a 42-year-old mother from Lafayette, has been battling pancreatic cancer. She said medical marijuana would bring relief from the nausea she’s been experiencing, due to chemotherapy.

“Make the compassionate vote, the courageous vote, and the moral vote to support this bill,” she pleaded.

Mills asked his fellow lawmakers to put themselves in the places of Irving and Neustrom.

“What would you do, if it was you?”

At the end of the debate, a request for a motion was met with long silence. The committee ultimately voted 6 to 2 to snuff the bill out.

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