Business people, doctors and pharmacists from throughout Louisiana are lining up to get 10 exclusive licenses to distribute medical marijuana to patients as the state narrows its list of applicants down to those most likely to win the right to take part in a new, tightly regulated industry.
Pharmacies throughout Louisiana could open in the coming months if the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy hands out licenses at its upcoming March meeting.
A selection committee in January interviewed the applicants for each of the nine regions that will have a medical marijuana pharmacy, and ranked the applicants in all but two of those regions. The board is slated to hand out nine permits — one for each of the designated regions throughout Louisiana — plus a 10th later in a high-demand area.
In the Capitol Region, which includes East Baton Rouge and several surrounding parishes, Capitol Wellness Solutions leads the pack of applicants. The firm is primarily owned by Randy Mire, the chief executive officer of Gem Drugs, which has locations in Gramercy and Reserve. T.J. Woodard, owner of downtown Baton Rouge pharmacy Prescriptions on the Geaux, is a partner and would be the pharmacist-in-charge.
Carl Dabadie, the former head of the Baton Rouge Police Department, is listed as the head of security for Capitol Wellness, according to records obtained from the pharmacy board.
Capitol Wellness Solutions has a lease on a 4,300-square-foot space in the Baton Rouge Health District, at 7941 Picardy Ave., for its proposed medical marijuana pharmacy.
There was a tie between Acadiana Therapeutic Remedies and The Apothecary Shoppe in the Acadiana region, which includes Lafayette, Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes.
Acadiana Therapeutic has partnered with people with backgrounds in medical marijuana, including Helen Cobb, who ran dispensaries in California, and Jacob Irving, founder of LSU Law’s Cannabis Law Society. The firm has a lease on a space in a retail center at 1015 Kaliste Saloom Road, which is centrally located to the several of the city’s medical centers.
A host of high-profile elected officials have vouched for the group of physicians behind the company. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and former Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom wrote letters in support of Dr. Kevin Duplechain, one of the firm’s principals. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, wrote a letter in support of co-owner Dr. Matt Mitchell.
The Apothecary Shoppe would be owned by Eric Vidrine, Brian Ruden, David Mayer and Dr. Brett Casey. Vidrine is the founder and CEO of Professional Arts Pharmacy, a specialty compounding pharmacy in Lafayette; founder and CEO of Palliative Pharmacy Solutions, a Lafayette pharmacy that treats hospice patients; and a principal owner of Institutional Pharmacies of Louisiana, which serve long-term care and institutionalized patients. Ruden is a pioneer in the legal marijuana industry in Colorado and founder of Starbuds, which has eight dispensaries in the state and three more under construction. Mayer is a pharmacist who is co-owner and CEO of Professional Arts Pharmacy, a founder and vice president with Palliative Pharmacy Solutions and co-owner of Institutional Pharmacy Solutions. Casey has been a physician with the Houma Orthopedic Clinic since 2004.
Kevin LaGrange, who has been a compounding pharmacist with Professional Arts since 2001, would be the pharmasist in charge of The Apothecary Shoppe.
The team has letters of support from Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Garber.
The Apothecary Shoppe has a lease on a space at 620 Guilbeau Road, which had once served as a pharmacy. They estimate it will take six months to build out the property to turn it into a medical marijuana clinic.
The leading candidate for the New Orleans area is Rx Greenhouse, whose majority owner and CEO, Dr. Sajal Roy, currently owns and operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Maryland. If approved by the pharmacy board, Roy hopes to open Rx Greenhouse at 3131 N I-10 Service Road E, Suite 100, Metairie, in a four-story office building currently home to a specialty pharmacy operated by Roy, among other businesses.
“If everything goes well, we hope to have finalized blueprints to submit to Jefferson Parish in two to three weeks,” he said.
David Brown, a longtime medical marijuana advocate in Louisiana, is part of top-rated north shore group Willow Pharmacy, which plans to turn the existing pharmacy in Madisonville into a medical marijuana dispensary, if approved. Brown co-owns the firm with a local pharmacist and a pharmacy owner.
Louisiana passed laws in 2015 and 2016 authorizing a highly-regulated medical marijuana program. Under the law, the LSU and Southern University agricultural centers are partnering with private firms to grow the plant for making medical products; the licensed pharmacies will dispense the drug in non-smokable forms. The LSU AgCenter has said its licensee could have medical marijuana products available in late summer.
The Board of Pharmacy is expected to receive more information from the applicants selected by the committee at two meetings later this month, and could end up awarding licenses then.
“Given the amount of information in some of the applications, it is possible the members may opt to recess in order to have time to review that information and then reconvene at a later date to deliberate and make their selection,” said Malcolm Broussard, executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy.
The board has not yet issued any licenses.
In the Lake Charles region, a group of pharmacists and doctors hope to open Calcasieu Therapeutics at a vacant office site at 4957 Big Lake Road.
A firm in the Teche region has plans for a pharmacy called Bayou Therapeutics at 106 LSTA CT in Schriever. The top applicant there is composed of two local pharmacists, a local CPA and a consultant who ran a dispensary in New Jersey.
In northwest Louisiana, two businessmen, William Windham and Gregory Morrison, are behind the top-ranked firm, and have plans for a dispensary called NorLa Pharm at 2700 E. 70th St. in Shreveport. A marijuana industry expert from New Mexico is listed as the security manager and industry consultant for the pair.
In Alexandria and Monroe, the selection committee recommended a second round of applications, Broussard said, delaying the selection of firms for those areas.