LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson said Monday the school is still deciding whether they will accept the responsibility of being the growers of the state’s medical marijuana supply. But he said some bills making their way through the Louisiana Legislature that would continue to spell out regulations could help firm up their decision.
Both LSU and Southern University’s agricultural centers were granted the first right of refusal to hold a state-sanctioned monopoly on the production of legal medical marijuana in legislation passed last year.
Richardson said Monday to the Baton Rouge Press Club he thinks Louisiana is still one or two years away from seeing pharmacies that dispense marijuana-based treatments to the public. One question looming over the state institutions was whether they would lose their federal funding if they agreed to cultivate the plant, which is still seen as a Schedule I narcotic in the eyes of the federal government.
Richardson said his staff now believes they would still qualify for federal funding.
But there are still many concerns, such as who would pay for a new facility to grow and potentially conduct research on medical marijuana.
Richardson estimated a site for growing marijuana could be $10 million to $15 million and would require security costs. He said it’s unclear where it would be located, but staff is exploring the possibility of growing indoors, as opposed to a field.
“We will have to have some source funds, whether from the state or third-party financing,” he said. “I do not have money in my budget for that now.”
Richardson said he’s had some interest from third-party investors but would not name them.
It’s also unclear whether there would be enough prescriptions written to even sustain the market in Louisiana.
“The general feeling (of the public) is that this is a huge cash cow and therefore I can just invest millions of dollars into it,” Richardson said. But under current law, medical marijuana can only be prescribed for glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and symptoms that arise from chemotherapy as a cancer treatment.
State Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-Parks, who authored the bill last year to legalize the sale of medical marijuana through pharmacies, is sponsoring an amendment that would allow medical marijuana to also be prescribed for a wider range of medical illnesses including HIV, seizures, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Mills also filed a bill that would clean up the laws and ensure people who are lawfully prescribed medical marijuana cannot be prosecuted for possession of the drug.
Dr. Rani Whitfield, who is the committee chairman for medical marijuana on the Southern University Board of Supervisors, said Southern University AgCenter is also waiting on legislation to clear up some of the gray issues.
“There’s definitely a strong interest on our side,” he said. “But there’s still so much you have to tease out.”
Whitfield said the current legislation would still need to be amended, ideally, to allow for research, which would put the production more in line with the mission statements of the AgCenters.
“It’s currently just a seed to sale situation,” Whitfield said.
Medical marijuana is typically consumed in the form of an oil that is taken orally, rather than being smoked like it is in its recreational use.
Richardson said the AgCenters were selected in the original legislation as the producers because there was a desire to keep the production out of the private sector.
He also noted that their scientists and staff are best qualified to be the growers.
“Not that we’ve done it before,” he joked.