“There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids.”

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana Senate gave final passage to a bill Wednesday that would protect state employees who legally use medical marijuana.

House Bill 988, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, protects state employees from negative consequences if they are diagnosed with conditions for which a doctor recommends medical marijuana used in accordance with state law.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 26-8 vote. It was opposed by Republican Sens. Mike Fesi of Houma, Beth Mizell of Franklinton, Cameron Henry of Metairie, Sharon Hewitt of Slidell, Jay Morris of Monroe, Barrow Peacock of Bossier City, Rogers Pope of Denham Springs and Bodi White of Central.

The law would protect state employees from being fired and would protect prospective hires from being discriminated against for use of medical marijuana.

The bill would not apply to law enforcement, firefighters or other public safety officials.

The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy reported that there are more than 43,000 medical marijuana patients in the state. The first medical marijuana dispensaries in the state began operating in 2019.

Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, carried the bill on the Senate floor. Cathey told senators the bill would help prevent state employees from being addicted to opioids, an argument previously used when the House passed the bill.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids,” Landry told a House committee last month. “This has proved to be a better option than them.”

Opponents of the bill, most notably Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, had argued then that the issue should be handled by the Division of Administration.

Jacques Berry, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Administration, pushed back on this notion. He clarified that the department has policies protecting its workers from discrimination based on medical marijuana use but cannot set policy for all agencies that employ state workers.

The House passed the bill 60-32. It now awaits signature from the governor.

This story was first published by Louisiana Illuminator.

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