MEDICAL MARIJUANA COMING AS EARLY AS FALL
Medical marijuana could be available to Louisiana patients as early as September — 40 years after state lawmakers first approved marijuana for medical use.
Officials from Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University — the stewards of the state crops to be processed into cannabis-based medicines — presented rough timelines and budgets to the joint House and Senate agriculture committees April 18. Also last week, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy awarded competitive, potentially lucrative dispensary licenses to nine pharmacies across the state.
These moves follow 2015 and 2016 legislation that tasked several statewide agencies with devising rules for medical cannabis in Louisiana. Those laws followed a dead-end 1978 medical marijuana law that sat dormant on the books without any legal infrastructure to back it up.
Current law allows only for oil-, cream- and pill-based cannabidiol products, not smokable pot, to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Crohn's disease, cachexia and epilepsy. This year, Louisiana lawmakers are considering bills to allow medical marijuana to treat glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
LSU will grow plants in an undisclosed 27,000-square-foot building in Baton Rouge. "The thought of having 40 acres of weed growing out in the country does not exist," said Bill Richardson, LSU Vice President for Agriculture and Dean of the College of Agriculture. GB Sciences will build a 5,000-square-foot lab for research and production following the plants' eight- to ten-week growing cycle. GB Sciences will develop products from LSU's crop and Advance Biomedics will develop Southern University's crop. The goal is to produce a "plant that's very low in THC and very high in CBD," Richardson said. LSU's product could be made available as early as September.
Southern University anticipates construction "starting immediately" and lasting roughly six months. Production of the crop begins in October and processing — handled by Advance Biometrics — is likely to begin in December and January. Southern's product will be available to dispensaries in early February 2019, according to Bobby Phills, Chancellor of the Southern University Ag Center.
University officials faced scrutiny from several legislative committee members about potential legal conflicts with federal authorities, including how the state's program is funded, whether it conflicts with federal rules against marijuana and if the program could jeopardize the states' federal funding.
"We've made every possible precaution to deal with this," Richardson said. "I can't call the U.S. Attorney General and ask him to give us a ruling on this. ... We have tried to protect this project the best we possibly can. ... If you're asking for a written thing that can stand up in court, we don't have it."
"Are we standing on a conversation or are we standing on a legal document?" said state Sen. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro. "It's still against the law."
"I didn't need to come here today to understand that," Richardson said. "We're doing what the state and what you people asked us to do, and we're doing it damn well."
Quote of the week
"She was an incredible first lady who served alongside her husband with class, grace and dignity. Mrs. Bush lived a vibrant life based on her abiding faith and deep love for her family and friends. A staunch supporter of global literacy, she not only understood the immense value of knowing how to read and write but the true impact it could have on helping others lead a better life." — Gov. John Bel Edwards in a statement memorializing former first lady Barbara Bush, who died last week at 92 at her Texas home.
State Senate bill would ban abortions after 15 weeks
After a lengthy discussion, the Louisiana Senate's Judiciary C Committee last week voted to advance a bill that would ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, mirrors a recently passed Mississippi law that bans abortions 15 weeks after conception. Before the committee, Milkovich argued that the law would justify a certain legal battle over its constitutionality. "I cannot think of a better expenditure of money that Louisiana could make ... than to protect the life of the unborn," he said.
Early-term state-level abortion bans, including a six-week ban in North Dakota and a 12-week ban in Arkansas, consistently have been struck down by the courts. However, short-term bans keep appearing in state legislatures; just last week, an 11-week abortion ban was signed by Kentucky's governor. Abortion opponents have argued that jurisprudence related to these bans could eventually mount a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman's constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
In today's committee meeting, a vote hinged on whether language in the bill could inadvertently undercut a more stringent 2006 "trigger law" in Louisiana which would immediately outlaw abortion in almost all cases, should Roe be overturned and the power to ban abortions be returned to the states. Though there was apparent confusion and dissatisfaction over the Milkovich bill's specifics, senators seemed disinclined to vote against it and risk hurting their pro-life records. They voted 4-1 to advance the bill.
"I am 100 percent pro-life, as pro-life as you can get," state Sen. Jonathan "J.P." Perry said. "How will I look voting against this bill?"
The committee also moved forward, in modified forms, two other abortion-related bills by Milkovich. Senate Bill 325 would enhance the legal authority of the governor, district attorneys and the state attorney general to investigate and shutter clinics that provide abortion on suspicion of performing abortions on minors, performing partial-birth abortions, or destroying records. That bill was amended and will be referred to the Senate's Health and Welfare Committee. Another bill advanced by the committee defined first-, second- and third-degree feticide as "crimes of violence."
In a statement following the hearing, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast called SB 181 "extreme and heartless," pointing out that some health risks and fetal anomalies don't occur until after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Bywater hotel decision deferred to May
Less than a week before the inauguration of its new members, the New Orleans City Council will decide whether to approve zoning changes that allow a 37-room hotel on St. Claude Avenue in Bywater.
District C Councilmember Nadine Ramsey deferred a vote to May 3, the last meeting of the current City Council before the new council and new mayor take office on May 7. It'll be Ramsey's last meeting on the current council — voters elected former District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer to replace Ramsey last October.
In March, the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) unanimously recommended the City Council deny the project its zoning request, a decision that followed several City Hall hearings and neighborhood meetings. Opponents of the rezoning expressed concerns about the project's scale and its potential impact on nearby residents and housing costs. Debate of the request echoed concerns about the changing character of downtown New Orleans and how housing and development policies have contributed to a recent wave of gentrification and cultural concerns.
Developers behind The Sun Yard propose a hotel on the 3000 block of St. Claude Avenue at Montegut Street on a 28,000-square-foot lot that formerly housed events space The Truck Farm and several homes. Ramsey introduced more than 30 provisos to address CPC and neighborhood concerns. "I'm very aware of the growing pains of Bywater," Ramsey said. "[But] Bywater historically is a mixed-use neighborhood. ... It hasn't ever been a quiet sleepy suburb."
Council President Jason Williams said the provisos don't change the fact that the development is immediately adjacent to residents who "have the right to enjoy their home whether it's in morning, middle of the day, their day off."
Williams also warned of "unintended consequences" with zoning changes, pointing to recent City Council legislation permitting short-term rentals enabling "international companies buying up whole blocks and driving up the cost to rent, the cost to buy."
Harry Anderson, former New Orleans resident
and TV star, dies at 65
Harry Anderson — one-time New Orleans resident, professional magician and star of the 1980s hit TV series Night Court — was found dead at his home in Asheville, North Carolina last week. He was 65.
After moving to New Orleans in 2000, Anderson opened a magic shop called Sideshow on Chartres Street and took over the Matador Club at the corner of Decatur Street and Esplanade Avenue, which he renamed Oswald's Speakeasy and where he performed a one-man show. He became a French Quarter fixture, walking the streets in his trademark garb of fedora, tie and suspenders.
Anderson and his wife rode out Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, but he grew increasingly outspoken about the direction of the city, which he saw as a difficult place to live and work before the storm and nearly impossible afterward — particularly after the reelection of Ray Nagin as mayor in 2006. In a then-infamous New York Times profile, he lambasted New Orleans, saying, "This city hasn't evolved. I just feel this place is stuck on stupid." He subsequently moved to Asheville and lived there until his death.
Free STD, HIV screenings April 25
The Louisiana Department of Health will offer free STD and HIV screenings at its Orleans Parish Health Unit (517 N. Rampart St.) April 25.
The event, which is scheduled to coincide with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD Awareness Month, includes free testing at clinics across the state. Clinics will test for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis as well as HIV.
Among states, several studies ranked Louisiana second-highest for incidence of gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV. There were more than 300 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Orleans and Jefferson parishes in 2015.
Low-cost STD and HIV testing also is available any time at CrescentCare's Sexual Health Center (3308 Tulane Ave.) and some St. Thomas Community Health Center locations.
- Photo by Barry Brecheisen
Ms. Lauryn Hill, Neko Case announce local tour dates
Ms. Lauryn Hill (pictured) will head to New Orleans on a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of her landmark 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She performs at the UNO Lakefront Arena Oct. 3. Tickets are $47.50-$197.99.
Hill performed at the Saenger Theatre in 2016 and was late, twice, to her Voodoo Experience performances in 2014.
Despite her erratic live shows and break from the music industry, Miseducation inspired a generation of hip-hop artists who grew up under its undeniable influence. This month, Hill's voice rings out in two massive singles, Drake's "Nice for What" and Cardi B's "Be Careful," both pulling from Miseducation's "Ex-Factor."
Singer-songwriter Neko Case also returns to New Orleans this fall. She headlines the Civic Theater on Sept. 11 on the heels of June's Hell-On, her first solo album since 2013. Thao Nguyen of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down opens. Tickets are $30-$45.