Louisiana House votes to expand medical marijuana program

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Friday was a busy day at the Louisiana House of Representatives, though most of the bills lawmakers sent to the state Senate were approved without controversy.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the vigorous debate on the subject during past sessions, a measure to expand the state’s medical marijuana program was swiftly approved by a 76-15 vote. House Bill 819 by Rep. Larry Bagley, a Stonewall Republican, adds nine conditions for which doctors can recommend medical marijuana products; Louisiana’s program does not include raw marijuana that can be smoked.

The bill also gives doctors discretion to recommend medical marijuana products for any condition a doctor “considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his medical education and training to treat.” Bagley said Friday he wanted to give patients options other than opioids to treat pain.

Representatives also voted 80-15 to advance Bagley’s House Bill 792, which requires the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to adopt rules allowing delivery of medical marijuana to patients by employees or agents of the pharmacy.

Other measures House members asked their Senate colleagues to consider include:

House Bill 689: Would extend for three years the ability of public colleges and universities to set their own fees.

Louisiana is one of a few states that require legislative approval before public universities can raise tuition. That isn’t changing, but supporters say having control over other fees is a way to let college leaders have some autonomy over fiscal affairs and run their school more like a business.

Still, some lawmakers say they want to protect their constituents from paying higher prices for higher education. An amendment was added to House Bill 689 that would require college leaders who raise fees to come to the legislature’s joint House and Senate budget committee to explain why.

House Bill 676: Would prohibit public colleges and universities from withholding a student’s transcript because the student has an outstanding debt with the institution or a federal loan in default.

House Bill 469: Would change how state government calculates its expenditure limit. Spending growth would be limited to 5 percent per year. The change would require voters to approve a state constitutional amendment.

House Bill 269: Authorizes the use of the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, better known as the “rainy day” fund, for state costs associated with a federally declared disaster. This change also would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment.

House Bill 592: Authorizes the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to incur debt and issue bonds with approval from the State Bond Commission.

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