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Compassion and Cannabis

A bill that would set up rules and the system for dispensing medical marijuana advanced out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Although law enforcement opposition has derailed similar bills in previous sessions, the difference with Fred Mills’ SB 143 was the support of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

“The move that our sheriffs made was to be compassionate; was to do things to provide relief,” Sheriffs’ Association director Mike Renatza testified, “And to hopefully not harm anyone.”

Renatza said each sheriff examined his own conscience, and asked themselves, “What would you do? What would you do for your son? What would you do for your daughter?”

The committee got an answer to just those questions, from Michelle Hall. The Vernon Parish mom has a 4-year-old daughter with severe epilepsy. Hall shared a picture of her girl, then pulled out a gallon-sized plastic bag filled with the medications her daughter now takes.

“We start with 500mg of Depakote this baby takes, twice a day,” Hall said, as she placed a bottle of the drug on the witness table. “Then we go to Trileptal: 10mg of this twice a day. Because of these two medicines, she has behavioral problems—a reaction to the meds. So then we have to go to Prozac. That’s not enough, so we have to go to Risperdal. That doesn’t fix her seizures. It just tones ‘em down a little bit.”

Hall said she and her husband have looked into brain surgery for their daughter, and have consulted with doctors in New Orleans.

“New Orleans says it’s a five year waiting list, so we’ll send you to Dallas,” Hall narrates tearfully. “We go to get authorization. Sorry, Medicaid says, no. We can do it here.”

Then she found out about cannabis oil, and went to Colorado to learn more.

“It can do away with this medicine and this medicine,” Hall said, lifting up each bottle in illustration. “That cannabis oil is going to work on those seizures.”

“And you can’t kill her on the cannabis oil. I could kill her on the cocktail I feed her twice a day,” Hall told the committee between sobs.

Unless Louisiana makes a way to dispense medical cannabis, Hall said she will have to move to Colorado to get help for her daughter.

“I have to take my 6-year-old son and my 4-year-old daughter, leave my husband and my parents — all my resources — and move to another state where I have nothing — just to take care of my baby.” Hall pleaded, “I’m begging you not to make me leave.”

The vote to advance the bill to the Senate floor was unanimous. If SB 143 makes it through the rest of the legislative process, it will let patients finally get access to the medical marijuana Louisiana lawmakers originally authorized physicians to prescribe in 1991.