BATON ROUGE — A bill that would expand the number of diseases that could be treated legally with medical marijuana was approved in the Senate here Wednesday after falling one vote short Tuesday.
Senate Bill 271 by Sen. Freddie Mills, R-Parks, drew passionate debate from both sides over two days.
Mills, a pharmacist, said he cried while praying Tuesday night after receiving "email after email from parents who ask why they can't get this to help their children."
But opponents like Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said they were horrified that Louisiana would expand legalization of the drug in any form. Mills' bill allows only for doses in an oil form.
“I am going to tell you: I don’t want my children, my grandchildren or my great-grandchildren or anyone that comes after me taking marijuana,” Thompson said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 19-16 in favor of the bill, one vote short of the 20 votes needed for passage. But several members supporting the bill were absent Tuesday, so Mills brought the bill back for reconsideration Wednesday, where it was approved 21-16.
"I dragged (Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans) out of his sick bed today," Mills said.
Morrell confirmed, tweeting, "I crawled up here for this Mills' bill."
Alan Pesch of Baton Rouge said afterward his 12-year-old son John, who was in the Senate chamber during the vote, would benefit greatly from medical marijuana. John Pesch suffers from Crohn's disease.
"This is a big deal for us," said Pesch, who said the family of one of his son's friends has moved to Colorado so the child could receive treatment from medical marijuana. "John is home schooled. This could open up his life."
State law already allows the drug to be prescribed for glaucoma, to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy and for spastic quadriplegia. Mill's bill would add other illnesses like cancer, HIV, AIDS, cachexia, seizure disorders, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
The drug would have to be "recommended" by a doctor, which is also controversial among opponents. It's illegal for doctors to "prescribe" medical marijuana.
"If you had told me a year ago I would stand here in support of medical marijuana I would have bet against it," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell. "But I'll tell you what made the different to me — 84 emails from parents who said this will help their children. This is life-changing for them."
But even if the measure clears the House and is signed into law, medical marijuana won't be available until someone grows it in Louisiana. The right of first refusal belongs to the LSU and Southern agcenters. Administrators have until September to make their decision. After that, the right to grow marijuana will go out for public bid.