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VAHA’s Gary Hess to testify Thursday on Public Employee Job Discrimination

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Bill that would advance statewide patient protections
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New Orleans, LA – Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives Founder, Gary Hess, said today that public employees like firefighters and cops shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of being a legitimate medical cannabis patient.

At the hearing of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee regarding HB988, Hess said that basic protections for the patient must be put in place as part of removing the stigma of cannabis.

“Patients shouldn’t have to suffer in silence because of where they work. This step signals to the rest of the Louisiana business community that getting the right treatment is a good thing,” Hess said.

Along with Hess’ testimony, three first responders who serve the Baton Rouge community will also be testifying in support of the bill.  Each believe that patients who decide to integrate cannabis into their healthcare regimen should not be subjected to workplace discrimination because of it.  

These first responders saw an opportunity to set the standard and lead the way where other jurisdictions are wanting to go. 

“We are extremely grateful for their strong leadership in this matter and their selflessness in representing and fighting for all of those who serve within their ranks,” Hess said.  “As cannabis is now provided to patients under the supervision of a licensed physician and pharmacist, it should be treated as any other prescription medication within the workplace.”

Hess also took time today to discuss the broader outlook for cannabis reform in this session of the legislature. 

While the Louisiana legislature is poised to expand access, increase protections, and reduce costs for patients during this year’s legislative session, patients will still experience a lack of supply and low product quality unless key issues are addressed. 

“We need a patient-focused system that makes it easy and affordable to get the treatment that people need,” Hess said.

Hess referred to a series of cleanup bills which, among other things, would change the regulatory authority from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry to the Department of Health.  They would also open more testing centers, increase the number of pharmacies, and put the decision of more production in the hands of the Department of Health.

“Common sense tells us that it should be regulated by health officials.  And having a rational plan for expansion allows us to meet demands when and where they arise,” Hess said.

Hess also emphasized the Nurse Practitioners Bill, HB 190. It would expand the number of health care providers available to patients, but it would also lower costs, allowing patients to see a more affordable provider than a medical doctor. 

Hess also focused on the continuing problems with cultivation.  He said that patients are experiencing cultivation supply problems and high prices. 

“All of this adds up to a bad experience for patients. Access to affordable medicine is at the heart of the debate.  Medical cannabis has been legal in Louisiana for five years and we still cannot provide quality and variety on a consistent basis.  Patients are still not able to access the products they desire and deserve at this point.”

“What’s needed is a rational cultivation plan where we don’t rely on a duopoly or single source for supply. We need to unleash the power of the Louisiana farmer and small businessperson to meet the market conditions and step in to meet the growing demand.  Only then will the patients’ needs be met,” Hess said.

Finally, Hess applauded legislative efforts meant to reduce the societal harm of the War on Drugs, with the introduction of several bills aimed at expungement and harsh treatment of past offenders. 

“We have seen our program in Louisiana evolve and we can make substantial improvements this year, if we stay focused on what’s good for the patient. There are so many of us out there that could benefit from medical cannabis. Whether you are a veteran who came home with the scars of war or you suffer from a chronic health condition, affordable access to care is crucial. We applaud the work of the legislature so far and pledge our support for their efforts,” Hess concluded.