Louisiana has rarely been reluctant to challenge edicts of the federal government, but just a few short months out from the initial distribution date for medical marijuana, some state lawmakers are running scared.
Louisiana’s history of defying federal rule is a long and proud one, after all. Under the rallying cry and doctrine of “states’ rights”, this state’s legislature and citizens believed they were empowered to nullify federal law and dissolve affiliation with the United States clear back in January 1861. From suppression of voter rights (Louisiana v. United States, 1965), flouting separation of church and state (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987), or as now, passing ever more stringent abortion laws in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, state lawmakers rarely shy away from rebellion or the ensuing confrontation.
When Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1986, Louisiana continued to debate the need to raise the age from 18 to 21 for another decade. It wasn’t until the state faced losing federal highway funding in 1996, that 21 became fully official – with some exceptions remaining. And there was a bill this session to drop the age to 19 by “training” younger drinkers. It died in committee.
Wednesday, members of the Joint Agriculture Committee were updated on the progress of Louisiana’s medical marijuana program.
“How long till this stuff is available?” asked Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield).
“They tell me we’re going to be ready for distribution in September,” LSU Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson replied.
“This is still a prohibited drug by the federal government. How do we reconcile that?” Senate Ag committee chairman Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) inquired.
“I have talked with Louisiana’s U.S. Attorneys, and they are all following the progress of our program,” Richardson explained. The USDOJ has given them lots of latitude, and they have all said they are not worried about us. They haven’t come right out and endorsed what we are doing, and they wouldn’t give me immunity, since marijuana in any form is still illegal.”
“If it’s illegal, it’s not right,” Thompson responded, adding, “I don’t have as much confidence in the federal government as I would like to on this issue.”
The authorizations to create medicinal marijuana products – pills and oils – were granted to LSU’s and Southern’s Ag Centers in 2015. Each has contracted with a bio-pharmaceutical firm to assist in the research and production: GB Sciences for LSU, and Advanced Bio Medical for Southern.
Thompson had questions for John Davis with GB Sciences, which has its main production facility in Las Vegas.
“How can this be legal if the feds say it is illegal? I know this state passed laws, but doesn’t federal law trump that?”
“DOJ says it will not prosecute medical cannabis states, that they won’t fund that type of prosecution,” Davis, a lawyer formerly with the Baker Donaldson firm, replied.
“I want to know more about GB Sciences,” Rep. Johnny Guinn (R-Jennings) said.
“We’re a publicly-traded company – not NASDAQ, but OTC – and we’re focused on cannabis research,” Davis told the committee. “We’ve got the white lab coats, and we have product patents in the pipeline. Similar to what LSU does with sweet potatoes, rice, and sugarcane research, we do—just with a different agricultural base.”
“But do you have any connections to recreational marijuana?”
“Yes,” Davis admitted. “In Nevada we have a revenue stream in the recreational market. It funds our research and the clinical trials needed to produce pharmaceuticals to treat specific disease conditions.”
Senator Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) had more questions for LSU.
“Are you going to do additional research on this?” he asked.
“Yes. We will reinvest the funds we receive from GB Sciences to fund our research on this and other agricultural products,” Chancellor Richardson replied.
“I’m concerned about the flow of the money, which will be crossing state lines and therefore subject to federal regulation,” Fannin said. “You say you’ve had conversations, but none of that will stand up in federal court. My concern is that there’s no law allowing this.”
“I have sat down with the U.S Attorneys…” Richardson began
“Can you get us a document about that?” Fannin interrupted.
“If you’re asking for some written thing that will stand up in court, we’re not going to get it,” Richardson replied.
“Are we standing on a legal document or conversations?” Fannin asked, indignantly. “Why haven’t our congress members done something about this? Let’s get them in here and ask why they haven’t filed laws to protect us!. I’m concerned about co-mingling much-needed research dollars!”
Through clenched teeth, Richardson replied, “I have met with the Department of Justice here and in Washington, D.C. I have met with the DEA. We are doing what you asked us to do, and doing it damn well!”
Fannin, looking over the top of his glasses at Richardson, said, “I don’t think you need to take that tone.”
With a heavy sigh, Richardson said, “I apologize if I gave offense. It’s just that I’ve worked very hard on all of this, and I’m sensitive to criticism.”
“I don’t know of anything else we do in this state without having a federal document authorizing it. I am concerned that we don’t in this case,” Fannin insisted.
Of course, concerns about possible federal ramifications haven’t stopped the Louisiana’s legislature from moving ahead with bills to require “In God We Trust” be posted in every public school building, or a bill to ban abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, or a bill to begin prosecuting government benefits recipients criminally for fraud.