Two Louisiana Universities have announced this week their intention to pursue licenses to grow and process the state’s supply of medical marijuana.
LSU and Southern U. were each given the right of first refusal earlier in the year to partner with the state, and both schools have opted in to be the exclusive cultivators for the Louisiana’s medical marijuana program. It was reported on the same day that both schools are moving forward to obtain licenses to grow from the state. It is unclear whether the schools will work separately or together, however, and they may set up separate facilities.
Having state universities cultivate their medical cannabis is a strong place to start for cannabis in Louisiana. These two agricultural research centers are uniquely able to select the best cannabis varieties for the state’s soils and climate and figure out the best methods to extract the beneficial components of cannabis.
This spring, Louisiana state legislators voted to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, including the authorization of approved cultivators and including additional qualifying medical conditions for access.
LSU’s planned grow facility could cost upwards of $10 million, with the funds raised from private donors. The secure facility will be built on private land that is not adjacent to the school itself. The schools will use the marijuana they grow to create cannabis oils for qualifying patients. If the schools had elected not to cultivate the state’s cannabis, private entities would have next been considered.
Although the University of Mississippi currently grows marijuana for the federal government to be distributed for research, currently no other schools are approved to cultivate marijuana. This will be the first instance of state colleges providing marijuana to the state medical marijuana program.
Bill Richardson, LSU’s vice president for agriculture, said the school has met with unnamed New Orleans and out-of-state investors who have expressed interest in partnering with the school to fund the new endeavor.
Richardson said processed cannabis oil, which will be sold to designated pharmacies across the state, is unlikely to be available in Louisiana until 2018. The law passed earlier this year does not contain a deadline for production, but lawmakers who supported the legislation have stated that they would like to see eligible patients get access as soon as possible.
Louisiana officials plan for cultivation and processing to be strictly controlled, with each plant bar-coded, inventoried, and weighed before production of the oil begins. Richardson said he intends to create an oversight committee, including sheriffs and district attorneys, and students younger than 21 will be forbidden from working at the facility.
“There will be no ‘shrinkage,’ ” he said. “We will account for every single thing that comes out of there.”
University officials hope that through the program LSU will become an innovator in research into the medicinal effects of cannabinoids and best cultivation practices for growing marijuana.
“I think it’s amazing that Louisiana has stepped forward to be a leader,” LSU Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister, Jr. said. “We are the right institution to be cultivating and growing this so it can be properly prescribed by medical professionals.”
When LSU and Southern U. were first named to produce medical marijuana, some questioned whether they would risk federal funding due to strict federal laws against marijuana. However, Richardson said he has been assured that funding won’t be at risk, though he remarked, “no one is going to put that in writing.” Ahead of a possible rescheduling of marijuana by the DEA this summer, this may not become an issue anyway.
The agricultural centers of the two schools are charged with growing raw marijuana and processing it into an extract or oil. The marijuana product must have the lowest possible concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component that creates a “high” for users, and will instead contain concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD is especially prevalent in the hemp plant.
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