Louisiana’s first batch of medical marijuana won’t reach the shelves by the mid-May deadline demanded by pharmacists and patients. But June could be a possibility.
Louisiana State University’s agricultural center, which oversees one of two state-sanctioned growers, said Friday it expects to have a final therapeutic cannabis product to state regulators for testing by the end of May.
The release to dispensing pharmacies will depend on how long the agriculture department takes to do its testing — and on nothing disrupting production plans to get the product to the department.
“We’re moving as fast as we can,” Hampton Grunewald, with the LSU AgCenter, said at the latest public meeting to update medical marijuana supporters. “There are hurdles that we’re all trying to jump through.”
Even when LSU’s grower GB Sciences gets medicinal-grade pot to shelves, it’s expected to be a limited supply for patients with the most severe conditions. It’s unclear who would be on that list.
Pharmacists permitted to dispense medical marijuana and the patients clamoring for it called for a May 15 release for product, frustrated that four years have passed since lawmakers created the framework for dispensing therapeutic cannabis. Release timelines have been repeatedly delayed.
Regulatory disagreements between the LSU AgCenter and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain’s administration slowed product development, and even as the finish line seemed near, the two sides were bickering again Friday over the latest regulatory rules issued by Strain’s department.
Grunewald objected to the emergency regulatory process used, saying it provides no opportunity to voice concerns. He said the rules were vague about plant transport limits, and he bristled at requirements that the agriculture department be able to access the video surveillance system remotely. He described the regulations as “micromanagement of a business.”
“I just think they have overstepped,” Grunewald said.
Strain said the emergency process was used to protect public safety.
“We felt it was necessary for proper oversight,” he said.
Rep. Clay Schexnayder, the Republican who chairs the House agriculture committee, said he’ll call a hearing for lawmakers to review LSU’s concerns and discuss them with Strain.
“I think this is something we need to look at, because we don’t need anything else slowing us down,” Schexnayder said.
Medical marijuana advocates and patients awaiting cannabis have suggested the agriculture agency is too rigid, making it unnecessarily difficult to grow and test the highly sought product.
Under a law passed in 2015 and tweaked since then, Louisiana is allowing medical marijuana to treat a long list of diseases and disorders, such as cancer, seizure disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease. Marijuana can be available in medicinal oils, pills, liquids and topical applications, but cannot be sold in a form to be smoked.
Only the agricultural centers at LSU and Southern University are allowed to grow cannabis. Southern University’s grower, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, started its work after GB Sciences, so it doesn’t expect to provide medical marijuana to pharmacies until the fall.