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Medical marijuana sparks hot debate in Louisiana - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Medical marijuana sparks hot debate in Louisiana

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SHREVEPORT, La -

Will Louisiana join 20 other states that have approved medicinal use of marijuana? Actually Louisiana already did that more than 20 years ago, but did not allow it to be dispensed to patients.

That could change this year when the legislature meets.

Labs are turning weed into oil and pill form for patients in states that have approved medicinal use of marijuana. But the plant's active ingredient -- THC -- has long been available by prescription under the name Marinol. The problem for patients?

"Cost is a big deal," says, Dr. Jay Marion, an associate professor of medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center.

He says Marinol may cost patients $300 a week. And he says marijuana works much more efficiently in the body the ol' fashioned way -- by smoking it. It's also cheaper that way, which he says is another good reason to sell it in licensed shops to those with prescriptions.

"If it's legal for medicinal purposes, then maybe you don't have people having to buy the drug in a back ally somewhere where maybe they are going to be talking to the wrong person who decides to hold them up," Dr. Marion says.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming has a different view of medical marijuana.

"All it is is just an excuse to get past the laws so that people can use it recreationally," the Republican from Minden says.

As a physician and former director of rehab centers, Fleming fears fraud and abuse of medicinal marijuana.

"We have plenty of other good drugs, some of them controlled, some of them non-controlled, that treat everything that marijuana is reportedly designed for for medicinal purposes,." Fleming says.

But patients, ranging from those with cancer suffering from nausea caused by chemo, to AIDS patients with low or no appetite, to people afflicted by seizure disorders, say marijuana works best, and has the least side affects.

Says Dr. Marion, "To have a person say to me I would rather die of my cancer than go through another round of chemo because all the nausea medicines you prescribe do not work. And I've elected, doctor to go home and just be comfortable. That's kind of sad when I know there's something else I could try that legally I could get into trouble if I recommended."

The Louisiana legislature may look at the argument when they convene next month. Shreveport Representative Roy Burrell, who's on the criminal justice committee, heard from patients and families desperate to use marijuana.

"If it is being said and proven that it can help them, and I understand that it can, and from a natural form, then who am I to stand in the way of bringing about relief to those families?" Burrell says.

Dr. Marion says if medical marijuana is not allowed, then why has morphine long been allowed? Heroin is derived from the painkiller morphine, which is found in the opium poppy plant.

But Rep. Fleming counters that heroin is not a beginner drug, like marijuana. And he opposes making a third addictive substance available in American homes -- in addition to alcohol and tobacco -- saying it that would be especially bad for young people.

Gov. Bobby Jindal says he's open to the idea of medical marijuana. No bill to dispense medical marijuana in Louisiana has been filed yet, but that's expected to change. So far, there's just a bill from a New Orleans lawmaker to reduce penalties for simple possession.

Rep. Burrell says medical marijuana would have to be tightly controlled. A bill proposed in Pennsylvania -- one of 13 more states that may approve medical marijuana this year -- may be an example.

Pennsylvania's bill calls for non-profit care centers to work with non-profit commercial medical cannabis farms or manufacturers

to grow and dispense a strain of marijuana with strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but weak levels of THC -- the psychoactive ingredient for getting high. The drug could be consumed in pill or oil form, or it could be inhaled.

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