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Louisianna medical marijuana
Marijuana grown for medical purposes is shown inside a greenhouse at a farm in Potter Valley, Calif. Louisiana state Sen./Tim Morris, NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune

A bill that would have substantially expanded Louisiana’s medical marijuana laws and allowed patients to petition the state to add conditions qualified for treatment died in the House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday (April 27).

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, agreed to defer his bill after saying he was willing to work with the author of another medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate. But he delayed shelving the bill until after House members heard hours of testimony from medical marijuana advocates, as well as patients who pleaded with legislators to create access to the drug.

The testimony Wednesday sets the table for a debate expected next week in the same committee on Sen. Fred Mills’ Senate Bill 271, which also would expand conditions approved for medical marijuana treatment. Mills’ bill is not as expansive as James’ bill — it does not, for example, allow patients to petition for new conditions to be included — but it does go further than current law in allowing medical marijuana to be grown, dispensed and “recommended” by doctors.”

James withdrew his bill before any opposition could speak, and it’s likely the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association would have opposed the measure on grounds that it would have amounted to the legalization of marijuana. The bill contains broad language that would make conditions such as “debilitating pain” eligible for medical marijuana treatment, a move that some legislators said they thought could be used to justify a huge variety of ailments.

There also were questions raised about whether the drug could fall into the wrong hands. But Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said that’s already happening — with far more dangerous opioid narcotics.

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“There are a lot of prescription painkillers right now that are sold on the street corners,” Jackson said. “You’re always going to have bad actors.”

James said one reason he introduced his bill is because he’s frustrated with the progress the state has made toward making medical marijuana available, despite the fact that it’s been legal in Louisiana since the 1970s. Legislators have heard stories from families who have moved to other states to gain access to medical marijuana for children suffering from epilepsy.

“I’m not willing to accept not doing anything,” James said. “Not doing anything is unacceptable to me.”

But in the end, James said he believes Mills’ bill is adequate to achieve much of what his bill does. He said he’ll be in the House Health and Welfare committee to support Mills’ bill next week.

Kevin Litten is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. Reach him at klitten@nola.com or 225-436-2207. Follow him on Twitter @kevinlitten.

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