Feb 26, 2014 8:32 PM by Alex Labat
Legislators are looking at the effects of decriminalizing marijuana, and comments by a prominent Louisiana politician have lit a fire under both those for and against it's medicinal use in the state. According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 63% of Acadiana area residents said they would be in favor of allowing seriously and terminally ill patients to consume marijuana for specific medical conditions. And while medical marijuana has some in the state seeing green, it has others worried about the side effects of legalization.
Colorado. Louisiana. Two states very far apart both geographically and legally when it comes to marijuana. But if Senator Elbert Guillory has his way, that could all change. "If and when it comes in any form, I want us to tax it, and to take half of those taxes and put them into our retirement systems. To make those systems more robust, and more able to compensate our retirees", says Guillory. While not for or against legalization, Guillory says he is for the tax revenue medical marijuana would bring in.
Medicinal marijuana is legal in twenty state and the District of Columbia. Colorado, with a population of 5.2 million, is actually the closest in size to Louisiana's 4.6 million residents.
Colorado took in $9.1 million in sales taxes on medical marijuana in 2013 alone, and even though no legalization legislation has been filed yet, Guillory has prefiled a bill that would allocate 50% of marijuana revenues to the retirement system. "I just want to make sure that if money is to be made, that Louisiana uses that money in a responsible fashion", says Guillory.
Comments from the governor last month surprised many, Jindal saying, "If there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients". What's even more surprising than Jindal's comments? Medical marijuana has been partially legal in this state for more than 20 years. Since 1991 it's been legal for physicians to prescribe it, but hinged on the State Department of Health and Hospitals setting rules for medical marijuana by 1992.
But that never happened. However, that job may be finished this legislative session and some worry it could become yet another legal substance to be abused. "It's not just going to be medicines. It's foods, something to drink as far as caffeine goes. Anything can alter our mood", says Katie Buller, Clinical Director at the Victory Addiction Recovery Center. She works with those struggling with substance abuse problems, pot being one of those substances. "While a person can't become physically addicted to marijuana, there can be an emotional and psychological dependence on it. The thought that, "I really have to have it", says Buller.
Marijuana is reported to have long term side effects, like impaired short term memory and attention, depression, severe anxiety and an increased risk of throat and lung cancer.
The benefits and consequences of marijuana are sure to be debated when this legislative session starts next month, but many in Acadiana agree on the same thing. Whether legal or illegal, substance abuse problems should still be addressed. "I would like to see any individual with substance abuse and addiction get the help that they need. It could help our state, it will help our families, it will help our communities and it will help that individual", says Buller.