BATON ROUGE, La. (Apr. 10, 2018) – Last week, two bills that would relax restrictions on medical marijuana for qualifying patients in the state moved forward in the legislature. One bill was approved by the House, another by a House committee. Final passage of these bills would further nullify federal drug laws in the Pelican State.
Rep. Rodney Lyons (D-Harvey) introduced House Bill 627 (HB627) with 27 bipartisan co-sponsors. The legislation would expand access to medical marijuana to individuals suffering from autism if they exhibit the following symptoms:
(aa) Repetitive or self-stimulatory behavior of such severity that the physical health of the person with autism is jeopardized.
(bb) Avoidance of others or inability to communicate of such severity that the physical health of the person with autism is jeopardized.
(cc) Self-injuring behavior.
(dd) Physically aggressive or destructive behavior.
HB627 passed the House by a 71-21 vote on Apr. 5
“The anecdotal evidence is wonderful and substantial and gives us all hope,” Katelyn Castleberry, a Louisiana resident with sons who suffer from autism, told WDSU 6 News. “There are children who speak after being on medical cannabis. There are children whose nervous system settle down and their entire system is improved.”
While HB627 passed the House, another bill moved forward out of committee.
Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) introduced House Bill 579 (HB579) to expand access to medical marijuana to individuals suffering from glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Intractable pain is defined as “pain so chronic and severe as to otherwise warrant an opiate prescription” in which “no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts.”
The House Committee on Health and Welfare by an 8-4 vote.
“This will help address a growing opioid crisis, prolong like, make life more enjoyable for some people and save some lives,” Rep. James said.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as HB579 and HB627 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Further legalization of medical marijuana in Louisiana would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Louisiana could sweep away some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Louisiana already legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but the program remains dormant years later. By further relaxing restrictions, Louisiana hopes to join other states that have significantly chipped away at cannabis prohibition.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.
With 29 states including Louisiana allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The move to expand medical marijuana laws in Louisiana demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. These two bills are a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB579 is scheduled for floor debate in the House on Apr. 12. Following debate, it will likely receive a full House vote. HB627 will head to the Senate where it will need to receive a committee assignment before it can proceed.