Alford: What’s up with Louisiana’s medical marijuana?

If you follow health care news or if you’re interested in government’s intersection with commerce and the importance of states’ rights, then turn your attention to Louisiana’s medical marijuana issue. The matter of growing it in our state and the regulatory framework that’s evolving to bring the product to the market are making for one hell of a story.

If you’ve lost track of the policy topic or simply cannot find a comfortable access point with which to begin your reading or research, try these seven steps to get into—and back out of—the weeds.

Step One: An overview

The birth of Louisiana’s medical marijuana industry is almost as controversial as the introduction of gambling during the 1990s. There’s big money behind the joint venture and major league personalities are being pulled into the haze, but there’s a human side to this story as well as patients await their alternative healing.

Step Two: The headlines

State Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who regulates the growing side, said he’s taking the LSU Ag Center to court for bucking regulations. “They’ve fought the law every step of the way,” Strain told USA Today’s Greg Hilburn. LSU officials, however, believe that’s a dopey interpretation. “The allegations made by Commissioner Strain are simply untrue,” Bill Richardson, LSU’s vice president for agriculture, said in a statement provided to The Advocate.

Step Three: The surface politics

All of this smoke could invite a challenger to take on Strain this fall. The Abita Springs Republican is making a bid for his fourth term and has nearly $700,000 in his campaign stash.

Luckily for him, we’ve yet to see a contender emerge for the statewide office. The issue of potent herbal medicine may have caught on, but the candidates who really, really dig the concept have not.

Step Four: The real politics

Strain deserves to take Mary Jane to the prom; Louisiana needs a weed czar and weeds are his job. The commissioner’s rule-making efforts and regulatory role have shown he wants more of a say in the process. The time has come, however, for the Legislature to step up. A joint oversight hearing is in order to determine if Strain has the policies in place to do his job and to hear what others have to say about his department’s performance.

Step Five: From the policy perspective

After four sessions of tough votes, lawmakers have become gun-shy about carrying bills for green medicine. But many supporters would like to see clean-up legislation introduced this go-around. A text asking if Strain was pursuing legislation of his own didn’t yield any answers prior to deadline, but rural lawmakers expect some hemp-related measures could make it to the table. On the recreational front, a handful of our state’s Black Caucus members are working on taxation bills for the regular session that convenes in less than four weeks.

Step Six: The big picture, man

This time last year, Louisiana was positioned to be a leader on the medicinal issue in the Deep South. Today, our neighbors are scrambling to catch up, and they’re gaining traction. Texas lawmakers are positioned to pass a medicinal use bill during their next session and counterparts in Georgia have steadily expanded their program that was enacted four years ago. The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus has also been holding hearings about opening the state up for medicinal applications. Alabama officials, meanwhile, have been more muted, but key politicos are slowly warming to the idea. None of these other states, however, have the pharmaceutical, university and banking partners that Louisiana enjoys. So what’s the problem? The problem is we’ve seen this before.

Step Seven: What’s past is prologue

At one time, in the not-so-distant past, the Bayou State was perfectly situated to lead the casino gaming charge along the Gulf Coast. All of the right politicos had been sweet-talked, some that couldn’t otherwise be tricked and the dominoes of fate were all facing in the same direction.

Then we fell behind Mississippi, for a variety of reasons. They pushed forward with the enactment and put boots on the ground and we did not—at least not right away.

So, are we about to witness the same kind of economic defeat again?

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, atLaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.