The Louisiana Senate has voted to expand the list of conditions that qualify a patient to use medicinal cannabis. The state’s new medical marijuana program will be launching this summer. The Senate passed two measures adding additional serious medical conditions that qualify a patient for the program on Wednesday.

The first, House Bill 579, passed in the Senate by a margin of 25-9. It adds glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Parkinson’s disease to the list of qualifying conditions.

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in March by Rep. Ted James and Rep. Kenny Cox. The House approved the bill by a vote of 60-40 in April and then referred it to the Senate.

The Senate also passed another measure, House Bill 627, on Wednesday, by a vote of 21-10. That bill by Rep. Rodney Lyons adds autism spectrum conditions to the list. It also was introduced in the House in March and passed by a vote of 71-21 in April.

The House will hold a concurrence vote on both bills on May 16 to approve amendments added in the Senate. The measures will then head to Governor John Bel Edwards for his signature.

MMJ Law Passed in 2016

The State of Louisiana first passed medical marijuana legislation back in 1978. But that law required doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis, which would jeopardize their licenses from the federal government to prescribe other drugs. Consequently, the law had no benefit for patients.

So in 2016, lawmakers set out to rectify the situation and passed Senate Bill 271 (SB271).  That law authorizes patients with at least one specific “debilitating medical condition” access to medical marijuana. The original list included cancer, HIV and AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis as qualifying conditions.

The Lousiana medical marijuana program only allows for the use CBD oil products including pills and topicals. The law does not permit smoking cannabis or for patients to cultivate their own medicine. The medicines must also have little or no THC.

Katie Corkern is a cannabis activist who lobbied for the passage of SB271. She sought access to medical marijuana in order to treat her son Connor, who has epilepsy.

After lawmakers passed the law in 2016, she told the press that she had been anxious about the outcome.

“The wait was excruciating but so worth it,” said Corkern. “I woke up this morning and was thinking, it’s not going to pass because I’ve been doing so much research. There were people who I thought were definitely going to vote for it who changed their minds.”

MMJ Program Set to Launch This Summer

Patients have had to wait even longer to access their medicine. Officials believe the first medicinal cannabis products will be available late this summer.

Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University have taken on the responsibility of growing the state’s marijuana crop. LSU is currently cultivating in a 27,000 square foot facility and expects products produced by GB Sciences to be ready by September.

Southern is currently constructing its cultivation site and expects to be growing cannabis by October. Its crop will be processed by Advance Biomedics and products should be available in early 2019.

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