It has been 20 years since California became the first state to legalize the sale of medical marijuana. Since then, nearly half of the states and Washington, D.C., have approved its use for seriously ill patients that meet criteria (that seems to vary state by state). Now, as New York establishes licenses for growers and dispensaries to sell theirs, Louisiana is poised and ready to be the first southeastern state to establish a legal mechanism to access medical marijuana.
The Louisiana Legislature approved a prescription pot dispensary system bill this week. After the Senate approves amendments added in the House to the measure they already passed, Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the legislation.
Louisiana actual legalized pot for medical uses years ago, but the catch was that they never established a way to buy marijuana legally. Yep, doctors could prescribe it and patients could use it legally, but buying and selling was still illegal. No licenses on means for growing or selling were established.
The Louisiana measure limits medical marijuana use to those with glaucoma, undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or those with spastic quadriplegia. But it does allow the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to recommend other conditions or disease that should qualify.
The state would have one cultivation site. First priority is being given to the Ag Centers at Louisiana State University and Southern University to grow the pot. This allows the state and schools to reap the profits and avoids the need to award a lucrative commercial contract to a private entity.
Those with a prescription could obtain the drug in non-smokable form — like oils or a pill — at one of 10 dispensaries scattered across the state. The Louisiana plan is to establish the dispensaries within existing pharmacies that are already use to tracking sales of other closing monitored medications, like pseudoephedrine.
A sunset clause will force the Legislature in five years to readopt the law. The five-year expiration is intended to give lawmakers the opportunity to explore the impact of legal access to medial marijuana and possibly re-evaluate the system.
Using government-owned school Ag Centers and existing pharmacies makes it easier for the state to enact one unusual aspect of the Louisiana legislation: A five-year sunset clause. The legislation and system expire in five-years unless lawmakers take action. The clause was intended to allow the state to evaluate how things are going.
Five years might now be enough, however. It is expected to take two years for Louisiana to set up legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, judging by the experience of NY as it gets ready to grow and sell pot for medicinal purposes next year.
Six months after enacting its legislation, New York is currently going through the process of establishing its systems. Friday was the deadline for applying for one of the five growing licenses in the state. They are also finalizing the locations of the 20 dispensaries to be spread throughout the state. The whole system is slated to be in place by January 2016 (an aggressive 18 months after the legislation became law).
New York established a wide range of conditions or diseases that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. They include cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as well as spinal cord injuries with spasticity. The law allows other conditions to be added by the state’s Commissioner of Health before the January implementation.
As NY gets it medical marijuana growers and dispensaries selected and their legalized system ready and Louisiana sets up theirs, other states are in various stages of implementing medical marijuana legislation. However, an ongoing issue for patients is the disparity between the laws, conditions and dosages by states and, for those awarded licenses to grow or sell the fact that it is still “illegal” at the federal level.
By Dyanne Weiss
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