Patient Advocates Fear Medical Marijuana Expansion Won’t Help Most

Last week, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an expansion of Louisiana’s medical marijuana program into law. The expansion goes into effect on August 1, 2020, and allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for any debilitating condition that they see fit. They’ll no longer be confined to the 14 specific conditions that qualify under the state’s current program.

“This is common-sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines – many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis – the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.

However, some patient advocacy groups feel that the expansion doesn’t go far enough to help Louisiana patients in need, especially when it comes to affordability. Some patients have reported costs of nearly $400 for a month supply. Currently, cannabis product in Louisiana is only available as a concentrated liquid form and is limited to two state-licensed growers and dispensaries. In comparison, Arkansas, which began offering medical marijuana in May of 2019, has five licensed growers and more than 32 retail dispensaries.

“Whereas we are always happy to see this program expand with such large bipartisan support; we have concerns that this bill will not help current patients with the undue burden of the cost of therapeutic cannabis in Louisiana,” said Kevin Caldwell, founder of patient advocacy group CommonsenseNOLA.

“In my estimate, this may increase the patient base by possibly a few hundred to maybe one thousand patients. If we could get to 5,000 patients, we would still have only 10 percent of the patient base of Arkansas’ program. Quite simply, until we allow cannabis in its natural state, few will be able to afford to become patients. It is heartbreaking considering our neighboring state has helped tens of thousands of patients while we still wait for sheriffs and district attorneys to allow what 32 other states currently allow. Until then, patients will continue to utilize the underground economy to meet their health needs.”

Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans specializing in politics and social justice issues. In 2019, she was given the title of “Most Fearless” along with Big Easy Magazine by The Bayou Brief. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_

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