Expand access to medical marijuana

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 6, 2016

This week, state lawmakers begin considering a bill that could expand access to medical marijuana.

This makes sense, and I hope the bill, which passed a House committee, can pass the full house soon.

Last year, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law legislation that made Louisiana the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana. This did not legalizing smoking marijuana and it limited marijuana-based medicines for use in just three illnesses, but that law didn’t set up any framework for distribution.

This law, which has passed the Senate, would set up that framework and it would expand the approved diseases to 10. However, the proposed legislation still imposes strict limitations on use.

The Advocate reported that, “…only physicians who have no more than 100 patients using medical marijuana and who see patients using the drug every 90 days are allowed to recommend its use.”

In short, the law isn’t going to suddenly allow drug abuse or recreational use. What the law will do is allow people who are sick with AIDS, cancer or suffer from debilitating seizures to find some measure of comfort from a drug which, ideally, will be cheaper, safer and work better than other drugs. These are noble goals and, given that the law seems to have bi-partisan support, I am hopeful of its passage even in the face of opposition by the state’s sheriffs’ and district attorneys’ associations.

It is strange that law enforcement groups would oppose medical policy generally, and especially ironic they would oppose marijuana as medicine. I haven’t seen much opposition to the controlled, medical use of, say, meth, coke and opium. Those are all fairly serious drugs, and yet they’re used legally every day in hospitals and homes across the U.S. for conditions far less serious than AIDS and cancer.

Fun fact: Desoxyn is the brand name of methamphetamine. It’s used for weight control and attention deficit disorder.

Opium, too, is a perfectly legal medicine in the United States in the form codeine. It’s used for pain medicine, as are its many legal derivatives, known collectively as opioids.

And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids “killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.”

That same year, no one overdosed on medical marijuana.

I am not suggesting that marijuana — or any drug — ought to be freely available to any and all. But I am suggesting that the unique total prohibition on marijuana needs to be reconsidered. The fact is, marijuana is not as addictive or as medically risk as meth and opium. To the contrary, decades of research have shown marijuana is a safe drug with numerous effective medical benefits that could be a cheaper and safer alternative to existing legal drugs.

To deny patients such benefits due to outdated drug policy is to ignore science and basic compassion.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at jesse.wright@bogalusadailynews.com.