With our state dealing with the biggest budget crisis in 30 years, and possibly ever, the governor and legislators are scrambling to figure out where to find the funds. The state has to close a $943 million budget deficit by June 30 and next year we’ll be almost $2 billion short. Gov. John Bel Edwards already proposed making cuts to publicly funded hospitals and the TOPS program and has even warned that LSU football might be at stake. In this dire state of our state, can’t we turn to selling weed?

Louisiana is already one of the worst states when it comes to education. And with our lack of jobs, TOPS is one of the only things keeping college students in state. Why take away from an already broken system instead of trying to create taxes from something new with massive amounts of revenue potential?

Just last week the state Senate narrowly passed a bill to include more diseases that would be eligible for a medical marijuana prescription. People with cancer, Glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy will all be qualified to receive a consumable (not smokeable) version of marijuana. Senators voted 21-16 in favor of the proposal, which needed 20 votes to pass.

Come on, senators? Sixteen of you don’t believe in bringing relief to very sick people with a natural resource? Is your conservative vision so clouded that you can’t realize your fighting against something that has caused zero overdoses compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who have died from legal prescription medication? Marijuana’s not a gateway drug; pain pills are a gateway drug that often lead to heroin use.

Not to mention, marijuana is supposed to be legal in our state. In 1978, Louisiana became one of the first four states to recognize the medical value of cannabis but patients have no way to legally purchase it. Clearly, our pot laws need reform.

This week, the House will vote on a bill that would allow doctors to legally “recommend” marijuana and license private facilities to produce and expense the medicine. The bill also seeks to include even more diseases on the list like seizures, Crohn’s disease and intractable pain—an extreme form of chronic pain.

This last distinction can be what would make or break that budget issue. The current estimated market size of the medical marijuana industry would bring in somewhere between $12.3 million and $14.8 million. If chronic pain is approved the state could possibly make between $204 million and $334 million.

Plus, with heroin deaths rising dramatically in Louisiana, medical marijuana can only help things. State’s with medical marijuana systems found a 25% decrease in opiate related deaths.

This though, is all just theoretical talk since the state hasn’t started the process to sanction its one official grower yet. So, medical marijuana and the revenue it could create might be years away.

Lawmakers need to do more to push this issue and to resolve our faulty pot laws, now. If the Governor can hold a three-week special session to figure out budgetary issues than we should be able to expect some out of the box-thinking on how to get the pot-ball rolling.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if our Senators are personally against marijuana, they need to start looking at it as a financial investment for the state and not a moral issue.

In 1978 our state recognized the validity of marijuana for medical use; that’s not up for debate. So why did nearly half of our Senators vote against a very modest bill in 2016?

It’s our lawmakers job to fix faulty laws and instead they’re just trying to hold us back. Look, I know it’s kind of the “thing” for the South to be behind the times but this is getting embarrassing.

It’s been years since several states legalized marijuana recreationally meanwhile we’re over here debating if babies with seizures deserve some relief.

Come on Louisiana, let’s be on the right-side of history for once instead of dragging our heels on progress. There’s a viable natural option for people living with chronic illness and instead you’d rather stick with the status quo of throwing potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals at it.

With our current budgetary issues it’s clear we need to make some big changes otherwise our state will suffer the consequences for years to come. Marijuana is a big answer to our state’s big problem.

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