“I didn’t expect to be the poster boy for medical marijuana in Louisiana I was just trying to do the right thing.” Representative Larry Bagley explained in an interview about the law he authored, Act 286, which will vastly widen access to medical marijuana for Louisiana citizens.
Bagley, a Republican representative who had always voted against marijuana bills in the past was an unlikely ally to the medical marijuana movement. The fact that he not only supported this bill, but authored it, showcases a huge turn-around in personal opinion.
Bagley even voted “Nay” on Act 96 in 2016 which set the groundwork for this law, allowing marijuana to be recommended by physicians for a limited set of conditions including, “Cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders. epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis.”
So what changed?
Bagley witnessed the effects of the opioid crisis while working as the chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee. Between seeing the horrific effects of opioids being regularly prescribed as pain killers and hearing personal stories from people who said that medical marijuana had helped with pain, seizures, regaining an appetite in chemo, and more, he decided it was something worth supporting.
He explained that he wasn’t going to be “hard-headed” about it.” If it was a possible answer to the opioid crisis then, “I thought, let’s try. Maybe we can make things better. I really do believe that this is going to be a breakthrough for the citizens of Louisiana, in an effort to get relief from pain without having to use an addictive substance, you know, I’m pretty excited about that.”
He was the only Republicans to sponsor the bill but he thinks it should be a non-partisan issue. “I don’t think it’s a party decision, I think it’s about pain management, I think it’s about trying to help the people of the state of Louisiana… I was just trying to make life easier for people in pain and I know that a lot of them are and they take opioids, and as of August 1 they will have another way to do it.”
Bagley’s initial draft of the bill widened the list of conditions established in Act 96 to include individuals with “traumatic brain injuries or concussions.” He explained, “the original reason for the bill was to put members from the Traumatic Head and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund on medical marijuana because they had listed certain diseases or illnesses that could get it.”
As Bagley’s bill moved through Congress the scope of diseases it included vastly widened to, “Any condition… that a physician, in his medical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his medical education and training to treat.” Meaning that medical marijuana will be accessible to all patients with conditions that their doctors believe it can help.
Bagley was proud of the turn the bill took, commenting, “If a doctor thought a patient needed that why should the law stop them?”
The bill will also widen the scope of who can recommend medical marijuana.
Previously, doctors had to register with the Board of Medical Examiners and receive authorization to recommend marijuana to patients.
Now, physicians merely have to be “licensed by and in good standing with the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to practice medicine in the state” to recommend marijuana.
Of course, there are some stipulations.
The doctor prescribing the marijuana must have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship with the patient, and they must genuinely believe that marijuana will have physical and therapeutic benefits. Doctors can still only “recommend” marijuana instead of officially prescribing it, but that’s enough to get access to it at a dispensary.
With issues like this and problems like having a limited amount of patients who could legally access marijuana, only having two facilities growing it and 9 dispensaries selling it, and insurance not covering it, the medical marijuana program has encountered numerous difficulties in its fledgling state.
Namely that although marijuana access opened up, it still wasn’t financially accessible to most patients.
Patients came to Bagley complaining that they “were paying as much as $700-$800 a month to get the marijuana. Plus, they were having to pay a $70 – $80 fee every month just to have the medicine prescribed to them.”
Recently, one of Louisiana’s two suppliers, Wellcana, dropped its prices dramatically which helped New Orleans dispensary, H&W Drug Store to drop prices, slashing them to nearly half their previous cost. H&W reported that they hope to make prices under $100 the new norm especially now that with Act 286 their client base will be greatly expanded.
Bagley also commented that they hope to get new suppliers, and new dispensaries running so that prices can stay low.
Still, the issue of insurance not paying for medical marijuana remains.
Bagley commented, “Well, hey, if they will pay for oxycontin, why will they not pay for something that is not habit forming and won’t kill you.” He is currently working on new medical marijuana legislation. “I’m trying to get it added to the list that private insurances will pay for medical marijuana” further widening medical marijuana’s accessibility.