Louisiana Finally Gets a Medical Cannabis Program after Two Years of Delay
Louisiana Finally Gets a Medical Cannabis Program after Two Years of Delay

Louisiana Finally Gets a Medical Cannabis Program after Two Years of Delay

Patients in Louisiana to receive Marijuana supply in May following the resolution of the longstanding friction between the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) and LSU.

After more than a year of a standoff between the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the two medical marijuana license holders in the state, it seems that patients will receive a limited supply of flower in May. However, the broader roll-out of the program that was formerly approved in 2016 by the legislators will have to wait at least until August.

The two holders of medical marijuana license in Louisiana include Southern University and Louisiana State University, which are both based in Baton Rouge. These two holders are required to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana products by the state law in collaboration with a private partner. In 2017, Louisiana State University ( LSU) partnered with GB Sciences, which is based in Nevada while Southern University contracted with Advanced Biomedics, a company in Louisiana. However, Southern University later scrapped the partnership and contracted Ilera Holistic Healthcare, which is based in Pennsylvania.

The two universities have not had an easy ride in becoming a cannabis cultivator, as the process was full of challenges. For LSU, the process was particularly bumpy as Louisiana Agricultural Commissioner Mike Strain publicly and repeatedly referenced administrative delays between the university and the required paperwork from the business partner and regulatory timeline of the state. However, on March 22 GB Sciences was allowed to begin the cultivation of cannabis in its main facility at Louisiana State University

“Since the selection of GB in September 2017, the GB Sciences Louisiana and LSU AgCenter have diligently worked on this initiative,” said William Richardson (LSU Vice President for Agriculture) in a public statement. “We are delighted to have completed this milestone, and we also look forward to ensuring that patients in Louisiana receive the much-needed product.”

According to Medical marijuana patients advocates, the product should be widely available to patients in Louisiana by mid-May.

GB Sciences had harvested two cannabis crops in a small modular facility on Louisiana State University before moving into the main facility last week. However, the sole lab-testing authority in the state is solely held by the LDAF, which has not yet completed final testing on the concentrate products from the company intended for sale. The LDAF canceled the independent testing lab license applications earlier this year and took on the task itself, a move that lead to another public outcry.

“Each contested result is handled on a case-by-case basis since every circumstance is different. Thus we do not have a particular policy in place,” said Laura Lindsay, LDAF spokeswoman in her statement to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “This means that the contested results of medical marijuana will be treated in the same manner as other contested results of any other substance under the department’s regulation. Usually, we will contract with an independent lab to confirm the specific contest result if a result is contested.”

The state is currently working on completing the final testing on batches of cannabis concentrates at the modular facility at GB Sciences. “We will do everything that it takes to ensure that we meet the deadline,” said Louisiana GB Sciences president in his statement at “stakeholders meeting” held on 25th March. This was in response to the questions raised on whether cannabis products will be available to patients by May 15.

Long-term Delays

The LSU and the department have had publicly derided relationship that led to yearlong delays, before the mood became more optimistic just three weeks ago. “In every step of the way, they have fought, thus publicly deriding their relationship,” said John Davis while talking to USA Today Network in early March.” This was when he was describing the regulatory obligations at the school. “We have sent a notice to the school informing them that they have violated the law and we intend to proceed to court.”

However, public records give a very different story.

Three weeks before Strain’s accusations on Feb. 13, the LSU AgCenter coordinator, Dr. Ashley Mullens had sent a letter to the director of the medical marijuana program in the state in an attempt to ensure that LSU records meet state demands. The letter captures months of endless disputes and long stretches of radio silence among state agencies, including the Gaming Enforcement Division of the Louisiana State Police, which is responsible for “suitability” checks for those who apply for medical marijuana licenses.

Mullen’s letter chronicles series of contradictions and miscommunications that leave GB Sciences in the resubmitting paperwork as well as amending “deficiencies” that were not well explained. “From August 2017, GB Sciences and its partners have been working towards compliance with suitability process requested by LDAF,” Mullens wrote. The firm has responded to each request and supplemental request. Therefore, suggesting that GB Sciences has only submitted suitability information recently would be a misrepresentation of the documented history.”

GB submitted several new suitability applications to the state applications for people who had been identified by the state’s police for the first in December 2018, leading to more confusing into 2019. “Consequently, GB Sciences was required to start a process over what it attempted to begin in the past.”

However, it is only in February that the obstacles began to clear.

The state’s director of the medical marijuana program, Tabitha Irvin responded to Mullens and said. “In an effort to avail products to the pharmacies for the citizens of Louisiana and after careful consideration, the commissioner of agriculture and forestry has decided to give LSU AgCenter the authority to move plant material into requested rooms (Vegetation room and Mother room) in the main facility.”

Nevertheless, once GB Sciences did this, the state insisted that the company had violated the state’s medical marijuana law, rules and regulations. This initiated the public duel that took place in March.

As of now, patients may soon receive cannabis products after nearly three years since the legalization of the medical marijuana industry in the state. But, Ilera Holistic Healthcare (Southern University’s partner) is yet to start growing cannabis plants.

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