A Louisiana House committee voted Thursday (April 5) in favor of a proposal to expand the use of medical marijuana to treat people with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma. The bill cleared committee with an 8-4 vote.
HB 579, sponsored by Rep. Edward James, D-Baton Rouge, met some debate before the vote. Opponents questioned whether there was enough medical research establishing medical marijuana as an effective treatment for people with chronic medical conditions.
A 2016 law allowed the use of medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, including HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. James’ bill would add glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain and PTSD to the list.
The proposal appears to offer medical marijuana use as a possible alternative to prescription pain killers. It makes reference to opiate use in defining what would be considered “intractable pain,” or a state in which the cause of the pain “cannot be removed or otherwise treated with the consent of the patient… it is a pain so chronic and severe as to otherwise warrant an opiate prescription,” according to the bill.
Speaking during Thursday’s committee meeting, proponents of the bill said adding chronic pain to the list of conditions covered by the state’s medical marijuana law would actively address opioid addiction rates in the state.
Tony Landry and Jonathan Brown, both veterans representing Louisiana Veterans for Medical Marijuana, said that the passage of this proposal could eventually benefit thousands of veterans who are dealing with chronic pain and PTSD. Landry described his struggle with chronic pain, noting he was prescribed muscle relaxers and opiates to manage it.
“I am here to advocate for other veterans who can get off of opioids,” he said.
An earlier version of James’ proposal also included expanding legally-sanctioned marijuana forms to include cannabidiols, or CBD oil, the compound from cannabis identified for its medical use. The bill would have approved CBD oil to be consumed in any form including through an inhaler or liquid form. That section was removed from the final version of the bill approved Wednesday by the committee.
Existing law allows for medical marijuana to be sold as a medicinal oil or in pill, spray or topical lotion form. It cannot currently be sold in a form that can be smoked.
Rep. Dodie Horton, one of four committee members who voted against the bill, told James she could not “support expanding a system, where we haven’t even begun testing the medications.”
“You can testify here, that this magic potion will work. I just don’t believe,” Horton said. “We don’t even have proof of the help it will give people.”
Supporters of expanding medical marijuana laws point out that the Drug Enforcement Administration still considered marijuana a Schedule I drug, the same category as heroin. The resulting limits and restrictions make research difficult, if not impossible, they say.
James, a cardiologist, spoke at a separate health and welfare committeeon March 29 in favor of HB 627, a bill that expands medical marijuana use for patients with autism. During that hearing, he explained federal guidelines limit what research doctors and health institutions can do on the effects of cannabis on patients.
“You can’t do clinical studies,” he told the panel, adding researchers risk losing funding if they do.
HB 627 cleared committee last week and heads to House Chamber on Thursday.
On Thursday, James said medical marijuana use to treat conditions like PTSD and glaucoma is “a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”
“This bill is an improvement, it’s not radical,” James said. “It’s about enhancements to an existing law.”