After legal hurdles, medical pot may be available in La. in 2017

Concerns raised about medical marijuana laws

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Five months after the Louisiana Legislature approved medical marijuana, a state agency has taken a first step toward implementing new rules. But while many want it, there are still some big hurdles and major concerns for doctors.

It has been over a year since a mugger broke the jaw of Amite musician Kerry Boone. When asked about the pain, he said it's always "a 10."

Boone said the pain medication he has been given only lasts about an hour, and he believes medical marijuana would help.

"I've seen people with cancer and I've seen what they go through, and they move to places like Arizona," he said.

In Louisiana, medical marijuana remains illegal until new rules can be drawn up by three state agencies, including the board of medical examiners.  Those rules spell out qualifying medical conditions like glaucoma, cancer and spastic quadriplegia. But the rules come with a disclaimer, warning doctors that "prescribing marijuana is illegal under federal law, and physicians who do so may be subject to criminal, civil and administrative consequences."

But one of the bill's co-authors said 23 states have successfully worked through those concerns.

"If the state has made the law, and the governor has signed it, that will give physicians a level of protection when this does come about," said State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.

The state pharmacy and agriculture boards have until Dec. 20 to draw up their rules, then Southern and LSU must decide if they will actually grow cannabis.

"There's some question as to if they grow it they might lose out on federal funding," said Badon.

The bill's sponsor admits this is a time-consuming process that still has a long way to go, which means medical marijuana might not be available in Louisiana until 2017.

"I don't think people will be able to see medical marijuana until 2017 to 2018. We just have to make sure we get it right," said Badon.

Medical shuttle drivers say a lot of folks are waiting.

"A lot of them are having severe pain, and the pain they have is incurable," said driver Ricky Terrasse.

If LSU and Southern University decide not to grow medical marijuana, the contract will be put out to public bid, and security will be a major concern, Badon said.  He said it will have to be grown indoors, likely under armed guard.

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