Medical marijuana bills clear another hurdle, head to the Senate

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A group of Louisiana parents of children with severe autism had cause for celebration Wednesday (May 2) as a bill (HB 627) that expands medical marijuana as a treatment option for the condition cleared another hurdle through the legislature.

It was one of two medical marijuana medicals aimed at expanding the patient base in Louisiana that passed through the Senate Health and Welfare committee. The other bill (HB 579) authored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, adds glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and Parkinson's Disease to the roster of conditions already approved for treatment with medical marijuana. Both bills will head to the Senate for a full vote.

For some parents of children with severe autism, also known as low-functioning autism, medical marijuana is seen as a last-resort alternative to prescription medicines that come with a variety of serious side-effects.

Monica Stampley, testified in favor of (HB 627) on Wednesday and spoke about her 15-year-old son Judah a teenager living with low-functioning autism. Children with the condition are frequently non-verbal and unable to communicate which can cause violent behavior.

"I'm a battered woman -- there is not even a name for child on parent violence. But this is my son, who I love so much," she said.

When asked by the committee whether she can be sure that medical marijuana would help her son she said, "I know Abilify (one of two FDA approved drugs for autism) has not been beneficial -- I know what has not been beneficial," she said.

Both bills have met with some concern among opponents about the lack of medical research to support that medical marijuana could be beneficial in the treatment of conditions such as autism and PTSD.

Stephanie Haynes, with Save our Society from Drugs testified that the coalition has opposed the use of medical marijuana to treat certain conditions without enough evidence.

"It's too fast and too risky to move forward with this bill," she said speaking in regards, to the proposal expanding medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD, Parkinson's, chronic pain and glaucoma. "We support research, and it should be kept restricted until there have been clinical trials."

John Vanchiere, a pediatrician and professor at LSU Health Shreveport also has testified against expanding medical marijuana for the treatment of severe autism on behalf of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the lack of data available on the benefits of the medicine for young patients with the condition.

"It's a risk versus benefit argument," he said on Wednesday.

Federal prohibitions on marijuana have placed healthcare institutions as well as state lawmakers square in middle as patient demand for access to medical marijuana and public support continues to grow.

Research looking at the medical benefits of marijuana is restricted in the U.S. under federal law. Marijuana is classified as a controlled Schedule 1 substance, putting it in the same category as heroin. The Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2016 that it would not place it in a lower Schedule 2 category which would make it easier for health institutions to research.

Sen. Daniel Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, responded Haynes testimony, described on Wednesday how often he has had to hear testimony from parents and patients asking for access to medical marijuana over the years.

"Meanwhile I have just sat on my hands," he said. "We have not made any forward progress on this since the 70's. It has taken too much time--we have taken too much time."

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