Medical marijuana debate lights up Louisiana



FILE - This Sept. 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Organizations like CommonSenseNOLA want marijuana to be legalized in Louisiana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Christian Willbern

Cannabis was the key that unlocked the shackles of addiction for former New Orleans Police Department Officer Jerry Kaczmarek.

“It saved me from contemplation of suicide on three separate occasions,” Kaczmarek said.

Kaczmarek, who’s three years sober from alcohol and opiates, wants the green rush to make its way down to the Cajun country.

“It’s time for the South, not just Louisiana, but all of the other states to swallow your pride, okay? It’s a new era. It’s time for a rebirth of the new America,” Kaczmarek said.

Lobbyists and lawmakers are deciding Louisiana’s future with cannabis this month.

“It’s time that we’ve had this discussion in Louisiana,” CEO of CommonSenseNOLA Kevin Caldwell said.

A former counter-terrorism teacher to Louisiana and Mississippi law enforcement, Caldwell created CommonSenseNOLA to bring criminal justice reform and equitable cannabis industry to Louisiana.

“I just realized this is what I had to do, and six years later, I still believe I’m fighting the right fight,” Caldwell said.

According to experts, although lawmakers instituted a new cannabis program in 2016, patients are unable to get the medicine they need due to legislative gridlock.

“The limited methods of delivery that the state allows makes it so that we are not recognized as having a real therapeutic cannabis program,” Caldwell said.

That’s why some lawmakers are pushing multiple cannabis bills forward during this legislative session.

“There is a plethora of bills on the table. There are some tax regulation bills, a decriminalization bill, some hemp bills and tax bills associated with cannabis,” Caldwell said.

Despite the uphill battle he faces, Caldwell continues to fight for a future with a cannabis industry in Louisiana.

“There are not a lot of industries that are going to be able to come into the city of New Orleans, create several thousand well-paying jobs, that could contribute that kind of money to the city’s general fund and not be concerned with our infrastructural woes,” Caldwell said.

Kaczmarek believes the cannabis industry can not only help veterans like himself, but also future generations of Louisianans.

“That’s why we need dispensaries here ASAP because the same thing that happened to me and my ex-wife can happen to anybody. I know I’m not the first, and I know I won’t be the last,” Kaczmarek said, “Here’s the thing too. I met too many families in Colorado, who if it wouldn’t have been for cannabis, I mean there’s no telling. Between epilepsy, seizures, and other debilitating diseases, their kids have a great quality of life and that’s why I’m in this movement. It’s for the kids.”