Louisiana’s two state-licensed medical marijuana producers have both finalized their contracts with companies that will manage their respective operations.
Louisiana State University and Southern University, the only two entities approved by Louisiana to produce medical marijuana, have both announced that they’ve finalized their agreements with the companies that will operate their medical marijuana businesses. The significant step forward for Louisiana’s medical marijuana program means that qualified patients may finally get access to product sometime by the middle of next year.
“It is extremely important that we can provide patients with safe and consistent options to help improve their quality of life,” said Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture, in a statement announcing the finalized contract.
GB Sciences Louisiana LLC, a subsidiary of Las Vegas cannabis company GB Sciences, will operate the LSU AgCenter’s medical marijuana business. Under the contract, over a 5-year period the LSU AgCenter will receive $3.4 million or 10 percent of gross revenue, whichever is greater.
“We are excited about the opportunities this partnership with GB Sciences will allow,” said Richardson. “GB Sciences is as dedicated to the research and quality as we are, and their team will make this initiative successful.”
“GB Sciences has a first-class production and research facility,” he added. “Their model and meticulous attention to detail will be beneficial to the Louisiana program.”
GB Sciences will also support LSU AgCenter research by providing funding for personnel, laboratory research space, equipment, and additional monetary contributions associated with research initiatives. The company says it will begin renovating its production facility immediately and expects to begin production at an off-campus facility next year.
“We are extremely honored and excited to be working with LSU on this project,” said John Poss, chairman and CEO of GB Sciences. “This is another major step in taking cannabis out of the shadows and into the university research labs, where it has always rightfully belonged. This is a historic event, and we can’t wait to get started.”
For Southern University, Lafayette-based Advanced Biomedics, LLC will handle operations. The University’s Board of Supervisors selected Advanced Biomedics at a September 22 board meeting.
“Today, the board has voted to affirm the work invested by the Ag Center and the Medical Marijuana Review Committee to select a vendor for our historic medical marijuana initiative. We are excited about the opportunity to enter into this venture that has the potential to bring health benefits to improve lives and also to build into a successful enterprise for Southern University,” said chair of SU Board of Supervisors, Ann A. Smith.
Under their finalized contract, Southern University will receive more than $6 million over five years. Advanced Biomedics will also support research initiatives focused on enhancing knowledge on the potential therapeutic effects of plants through Southern University Ag Center’s Southern Institute of Medicinal Plants (SIMP).
“This is a great day for Southern University and HBCUs across the country,” said Dr. Bobby R. Phills, Chancellor-Dean of the Southern University Ag Center and College of Agriculture.
“The medical marijuana program is a great opportunity for Southern University to produce quality medicine that will help individuals who suffer from debilitating illnesses,” said Janana Snowden, Ph.D., Director of the Southern Institute of Medicinal Plants.
History of Medical Marijuana Legalization in Louisiana
It’s been more than two years since state lawmakers passed a law to implement medical marijuana in Louisiana. The Louisiana State Legislature, under Gov. Bobby Jindal, approved the Louisiana bill for marijuana, Senate Bill 143, in June 2015. The law change made Louisiana the first state in the Deep South with a policy permitting legal access to medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana in Louisiana was technically legalized twice before 2015, but neither of the projects ever came to fruition. In 1978, Louisiana passed its Therapeutic Cannabis Law (Act 725) to recognize medical marijuana as an effaceable treatment for glaucoma and chemotherapy and to establish a review board tasked with establishing contracts for product and distribution.
The state legislature amended the 1978 act in 1991 to include spastic quadriplegia to the list of conditions treatable by medical cannabis. It required that the Department of Health create a regulatory framework. The Department did, eventually, but failed to address other necessary components to provide real access to medical marijuana in Louisiana.
The passing of SB 143 law was meant to put an an end to the nearly 40 years of confusion and frustration over the legal state of medical marijuana in Louisiana by finally putting a system in place and spelling out how qualified patients would get access.
Since the passing of the Louisiana medical marijuana law, however, the program has been met with constant regulatory hurdles that have hindered its progress toward operation. The law was instantly criticized for being too restrictive and requiring potential supportive physicians to violate federal policy by making them prescribe medical marijuana. In response, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a pair of bills in May 2016 to expand the program to include more conditions and allow doctors to “recommend” rather than “prescribe” marijuana to patients.
The law as it stands is still being criticized for not providing patient protections or protections for transporters or pharmacy workers.
Looking Ahead at Louisiana’s Medical Marijuana Program
With both of Louisiana’s licensed medical cannabis producers now ready to move forward, patients and advocates are encouraged that their state’s medicinal cannabis program’s launch appears to be growing nearer.
At a recent board meeting, Louisiana’s Medical Marijuana Review Committee announced it expects there to be about 4,200 patients throughout the state that will qualify for medical marijuana. LSU and Southern University are expected to split the available market. Their medical cannabis products will be distributed by up to 10 medical marijuana dispensaries permitted under the Louisiana law.
The Louisiana medical marijuana program is being funded without tax dollars. Instead, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture charges the licensed growers $100,000 annually and 7 percent of gross sales received from selling product to dispensaries.
There are over 4.6 million people in the state and advocates believe that medical marijuana in Louisiana will add additional revenue and increased employment opportunities. A 2016 report from the Marijuana Policy Group estimates that patients are projected to consume 1.4 to 1.7 metric tons of medical marijuana in Louisiana each year and that the market will be worth an estimated $12.3 million and $14.8 million, generating $500,000 to $600,000 in tax revenue for the state per year.
Marijuana Business Daily’s projects the market for medical marijuana in Louisiana will be even higher. The cannabis news source estimates the market will grow to between $15 million and $30 million in annual sales three to five years after the first dispensaries open.
Louisiana’s Medical Marijuana Law
Louisiana was the 26th of what are now 29 U.S. states that have passed laws permitting the medical use of marijuana. Cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law, but the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prevents the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with the medical marijuana in Louisiana and throughout the U.S.
The Louisiana medical marijuana law allows qualified patients who have obtained a recommendation from a licensed physician to purchase and possess a 30-day supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, pills, sprays, transdermal patches, powders, gelatin-based chewables, suppositories, and topical products. Smokable and vaping marijuana products are not permitted.
The Louisiana medical marijuana program allows cannabis for patients diagnosed with cachexia or wasting syndrome, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorders, severe muscle spasms, and spasticity.
Louisiana could expand its list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. The law directs the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to submit recommendations to the legislature for other diseases, conditions, or symptoms that should qualify. A bill that would add chronic or intractable pain to the conditions list for medical marijuana in Louisiana is circulating. If passed, it would significantly boost the patient count and medical marijuana sales.
Consumers in Louisiana continue to have access to cannabidiol (CBD) hemp oil products, which are not listed under the Controlled Substances Act and available in most major markets in the U.S.
You can learn more about the Louisiana medical marijuana law, cannabis laws throughout the U.S., as well as what research has discovered so far about cannabis, through our research and education page.