In September 2017, research and biotechnical development company GB Sciences announced its partnership with the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center to produce medical cannabis. Last week, LSU’s Vice President of Agriculture Dr. Richardson said the university and GB Sciences were on track to submitting their final suitability study to state police by Jan. 21. If the crop clears all of its requirements for quality and safety, medical cannabis products could be available in Louisiana dispensaries this summer.
The state of Louisiana’s regulated medical cannabis program dates back to 2015. But due to a bevy of legislative setbacks, legal challenges, and other delays, real on-the-ground progress only began last year. In April, the Pharmacy Board awarded operating licenses to the nine dispensaries the state currently allows—one for each of nine “healthcare districts” across the state. GB Sciences planted its first crop in the summer of 2018. The crop is a small one, however, planted in a self-contained “pod” at the Louisiana State University AgCenter.
GB Sciences harvested that first “pod crop” in October of 2018 and gave samples to the Department of Agriculture and Forestry in November. Dr. Mike Strain, the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, said he’s responsible not only for making sure GB Sciences and the University follow the law, but also to ensure medical cannabis products do not contain any adulterants, chemicals, or pesticides. Last Monday, they submit samples of the crop for final approval with Louisiana State Police.
Dr. Bill Richardson, LSU’s Vice President of Agriculture, had hoped medical cannabis products would be ready for patients this past fall. While speaking with KNOE, Dr. Richardson said he didn’t realize how laborious the regulatory process would be. With so much work having gone into it already, Richardson said he was nervous about Monday’s assessment. “We’re nervous ’cause we’re close,” Richardson said. “But we think things are going well.”
For now, everything rides on GB Sciences’ and LSU’s final suitability study. GB’s LSU AgCenter facility, an entirely modular and self-contained cultivation habitat, is the only place in the state with cannabis in the ground (legally, anyway). There’s only one other facility that Louisiana’s medical cannabis law, the Alison Neustrom Act, authorizes to grow medical cannabis. And that’s Southern University’s agricultural center. Southern is growing medical cannabis in partnership with Advanced Biometrics, LLC. But their grow facility is still in the construction phase.
Despite the limited access to medical cannabis in the state, a recent expansion of Louisiana’s medical cannabis program means more patients will be eligible when products finally do become available. Patients still won’t be able to purchase raw or smokable medical cannabis products. But they will be able to choose from a variety of other forms, including oils, chewables, and concentrates.
This year, state lawmakers are working on legislation to legalize industrial hemp cultivation and hemp-derived products. Earlier this month, President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp at the federal level. Federal hemp legalization paves the way for USDA regulated cultivation programs in addition to FDA regulated cannabidiol (CBD)products.