While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.

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"We don't want you to get marijuana if you stub your toe," says Sen. Fred Mills of his bill calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.  

The problem with that 1991 legislation is that it lacked any parameters governing distribution and production, thereby leaving the law dormant for over two decades.

“I’ve been getting calls since the late-90s about this,” says Republican Sen. Fred Mills of St. Martin Parish who served as executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy at the time.

Along with a companion bill from Democratic Rep. Dalton Honoré, Mills will introduce Senate Bill 541, which seeks to fill in the gaps left behind by the 1991 legislation.

“I worked with Rep. Honoré and we came up with a mechanism for anyone that would  be a distributor, manufacturer, prescriber and came up with a good way to regulate it and make it permissive for physicians to prescribe,” says Mills, who spoke by phone with The IND on Friday. “I think at first people will be leery of us opening this up for recreational use, but if anyone reads the bill they’ll see it’s well crafted as a last resort for treatment of specific disease states that can benefit from the use of medical marijuana. We don’t want you to get marijuana if you stub your toe.”

Prescriptions could only be written by certain types of physicians, including neurologists, oncologists and ophthalmologists, and would be eligible for individuals 21 and over who are suffering from cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, says Mills.

The legislation also calls for the creation of a Therapeutic Marijuana Utilization Review Board within the Department of Health and Hospitals. The regulatory side would be split up among various state boards and agencies, with the Board of Pharmacy overseeing dispensaries, the Department of Agriculture regulating growers and State Police handling quality control, ensuring the product met certain potency standards.

“The tricky part of all this will still be the physicians who are leery of it, because on the federal level it’s still considered a Schedule I narcotic, like heroine. We tried to write this from a state level, but because federal and state laws don’t comply it still leaves a lot of gray area,” explains Mills. “It will create a good standard for prescribing, but the part you can’t unwind is the federal piece, and that’s what makes this an imperfect piece of legislation.”

Mills says the bill will first go up for debate in the Health and Welfare Committee of the House, and should be on the agenda within the next few weeks.

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