Medical marijuana now available near Avoyelles

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug and possession is punishable by fines and jail time. However, for those with certain specified medical conditions, the drug is now available with a recommendation from a qualified medical provider.

There are nine pharmacies across the state that have been authorized to dispense marijuana. The closest one to Avoyelles Parish is the Medicine Cabinet in Alexandria.

Technically, doctors cannot “prescribe” marijuana for their patients because it is still a federal crime to prescribe the substance. The correct term is to “recommend” their patient receive medical marijuana to treat their condition.

The difference may have legal ramifications, but for practical purposes they are the same and many people refer to “prescriptions” when talking about the process.

Dr. L.J. Mayeux, Avoyelles Parish coroner, said medicinal marijuana just became available in early August.

At this time, he said, there are no doctors in the parish certified to recommend marijuana to their patients. Local doctors would have to refer their patient to another provider if it was deemed marijuana would be beneficial for treating their condition.

“There are only certain conditions for which marijuana can be recommended for treatment,” Mayeux said. “Of those, I believe the treatment of seizure disorders in children has the most evidence to support it as beneficial.”

Mayeux said studies on the therapeutic value of marijuana for other conditions are mixed.

District Attorney Charles Riddle said it is still too early for any legal marijuana-related incidents to have occurred in Avoyelles. However, people need to be aware that possession of marijuana without a recommendation by a medical provider or in excess of the “prescribed” amount is against the law.

In short, marijuana is treated the same as other prescription drugs with criminal penalties for selling, buying and using the pharmaceutical drugs illegally. “Medicinal drugs” are Schedule II substances and include morphine and other opium derivatives, amphetamines and barbiturates.

Schedule I drugs, which also include heroin and LSD, are defined as “non-medicinal substances with high abuse potential and dependence liability” and are “not legally available for medicinal use by prescription.”

“We have not had any problems yet, but all you have to do is look at Colorado to see the possible problems that can come from legalizing medicinal marijuana,” Riddle said.

“This issue must absolutely be monitored closely,” Riddle continued. “Each year, someone will be trying to stretch the law. Next will be a proposal to allow possession of small amounts for personal use.”

COLORADO EXAMPLE

Riddle is not alone in pointing to Colorado as an example of the effects of legalized weed.

Those opposed to allowing the sale and use of “medicinal marijuana” point to Colorado -- whose state song is John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” -- as an example of how legal “medical” marijuana can soon became legal “personal use” marijuana.

The 1975 hit song was named the state’s “second” state song in 2007, seven years before recreational use of pot was legalized in the state. However, it has been noted that the song is even more appropriate now.

Another marijuana-related “high” in Colorado is tax revenue from the sale of the substance. A recent impact study on legalized marijuana in the Mile High State found sales totaled about $1.5 billion. Almost 80 percent of that was for “recreational” marijuana and 20 percent was for medical marijuana.

Colorado, which has approximately a million more residents than Louisiana, received $250 million in pot-related taxes in that recent year’s report. That represents about 1 percent of the state’s income.

If the state had stopped with medicinal marijuana, tax revenues would have only been about $50 million.

On the downside, marijuana-related DUI arrests were 3 percent higher than the year before legalization.

SPECIFIED CONDITIONS

Marijuana can only be recommended for the following medical conditions:
•Autism Spectrum Disorder
•Cancer
•Chronic Intractable Pain
•Crohn’s Disease
•Epilepsy/Seizure Disorders
•Glaucoma
•HIV/AIDS
•Multiple Sclerosis
•Muscular Dystrophy
•Parkinson’s Disease
•Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
•Spasticity/Severe muscle spasms
•Wasting Syndrome/ Cachexia

There is no “window-shopping” for the general public allowed in the dispensary. Only those with a valid recommendation for medical marijuana are allowed in that area. Not all doctors are able to “recommend” marijuana to their patients.

A medical service provider must be “marijuana-certified” by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners before they can recommend marijuana to treat a patient’s condition or illness. There are no physicians in Avoyelles Parish on the Board of Medical Examiners list of those certified in therapeutic marijuana. There are some in neighboring parishes.

Also, only residents of Louisiana can obtain marijuana within the state. Texans, Mississippians and Arkansans can’t jump across the state line to fill a medical marijuana prescription in the Bayou State.

A patient whose doctor is not certified to recommend medical pot can be recommended to a marijuana-certified doctor to discuss that option.

One check on the use of marijuana as a treatment is that it is not covered by health insurance plans. Those wishing to use it to treat their condition must be able to pay the full price for the product.

Patients planning to use marijuana for their treatment must go through a counseling session prior to receiving it. They are also encouraged to maintain a log of their usage so they can be aware of any negative side effects.

Medicine Cabinet CEO Joe Williams said the dispensary has round-the-clock security. Additional security measures were put in place to prepare for the marijuana program. Those entering the area must go through two locked doors and provide a valid ID before presenting a recommendation for marijuana. There is on-site security while orders are being filled and will be available to escort any customer from the building if they feel uneasy for any reason.

Pharmacy Tech Joey Williams -- son of the CEO -- said there have been “several customers from Avoyelles. They tell me they are tired of taking all these pills and this is a last resort for them to get some relief from their symptoms.”

The younger Williams said he has “received great feedback from the customers. They are amazing.”

He said there has not been a large number of people coming to the dispensary and there have been no pot-related problems.

“People have been following this issue and they know this is not a head shop,” he said. “People come in with questions about medicinal marijuana and the process for obtaining a recommendation. We try to answer their questions.”

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