State of the State: A Roll-Out for Louisiana's Medical Marijuana Program
Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in Louisiana since 1971, but there’s never been enabling legislation or rules written to regulate growing, prescribing or dispensing it until 2015. In 2015, former Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, signed a measure allowing medical marijuana treatment for a specified variety of medical conditions. Then, in 2016, current Governor John Bel Edwards signed two bills expanding the medical marijuana program to include additional approved medical conditions. But, the program remained on paper only until August 17, 2018, when GB Sciences Louisiana LLC, a subsidiary of Las Vegas GB Sciences, Inc., received formal approval from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, led by Commissioner Mike Strain, to begin cultivating marijuana plants initiating the production of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals in Louisiana.
The program has faced intense scrutiny and is tightly focused on the scientific aspects of the cannabinoid ingredients in the marijuana plant. The authorizing legislation granted licenses to only the Louisiana State University AgCenter and Southern University AgCenter. After competitive public bid processes, each university AgCenter selected and contracted with private vendors for the cultivation, extraction, processing and production of medical marijuana in Louisiana. GB Sciences Louisiana was selected by the LSU AgCenter, and will grow cannabis and produce medical products as oil in pills, sprays, chewables, topical treatments, transdermal patches and suppositories. No smokable delivery system is permitted.
The program is administered by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry with 23 pages of strict and extensive state regulations. While the production is associated with the universities, production facilities cannot be on or adjacent to the campuses, nor can students work in the facilities. Other regulations include security camera locations, security personnel, transportation methods, testing, and back-up generators. Numerous other stipulations apply to facilities and production.
GB Sciences Louisiana is further ahead in production than the vendor chosen by Southern University AgCenter. A roughly 40,000 square foot warehouse in Baton Rouge was selected by GB Sciences Louisiana as the production site and is being renovated to specification by GB Sciences. An exterior pharma-grade clean room or pod includes cultivation, extraction, processing and production operations and is the site of the initial cannabis crop. The full interior production facility is anticipated to be completed by mid-September.
After cultivation and production are complete, the bio pharmaceuticals will be distributed to nine licensed pharmacies that were strategically and equitably located in different regions of the state by the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. A doctor with advance approval from the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners can recommend cannabis to a patient who satisfies one or more of the authorized medical conditions. Patients are eligible for non-smokable preparations of cannabis that are not currently covered by insurance. Individual physicians have been limited to 100 medical marijuana patients unless given an exemption from the State Board of Pharmacy. However, there are already efforts afoot to try to increase the number of patients per doctor because the prospective patient demand is so great and due to concerns over the unnecessary regulation of the physician-patient relationship.
Qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program now include wasting syndrome or cachexia, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders/spasticity, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and autism spectrum disorder. Observers hope that access to this program will lessen the problems of opioid misuse.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, under current restrictions the Louisiana medical marijuana market is estimated to reach $6-$12 million in sales in 2019 and $15-$30 million in sales in the five years after dispensaries open.
John Poss, GB Sciences CEO, has said, “Cannabis is a plant whose mysteries are just now being unlocked.” Louisiana is now poised to move ahead opening new scientific medical discoveries.
A marketing and publishing professional and the Director of Publicity at GB Sciences, Liz Bianco monitors media activity and the “State of the States” on cannabis in America.
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