One of Louisiana’s two medical marijuana growers is planning to do a “limited release” of the drug in May, a move aimed at getting treatments to those most in need amid demands from frustrated patients and pharmacy owners.
GB Sciences, the firm hired by LSU to run its marijuana-growing program, will take product it has already made in a temporary facility and release it to the state’s nine licensed pharmacies, GB Sciences Louisiana President John Davis said at a medical marijuana stakeholder meeting at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture offices in Baton Rouge.
After that, the company's first full harvest of plants in the main facility that it just moved into won’t happen until August. It will take about a month to turn that into tinctures for sale to patients, Davis said.
"We want to go forward with the pharmacies with a limited release so we can get medicine to the most critically in-need patients,” Davis said.
“In general we would like to aim for May,” Davis said. “We know there are a lot of things involved with that," he added. “We know it’s not going to supply the whole market.”
While GB Sciences is working to produce marijuana in its main facility, it will also be doing several harvests in the temporary pod, Davis said. After August, the company will be fully operating.
Patients and advocates packed the room Monday for the second meeting in a row to complain about repeated delays of the state’s medical marijuana program. Lawmakers passed legislation outlining the program in 2015, and set the program forward in 2016.
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The Louisiana Association of Therapeutic Alternatives, which represents the state’s marijuana pharmacies and some doctors and patients, demanded product hit the shelves by May 15.
“We need this medication,” said Doug Boudreaux, head of the association and owner of a north Louisiana marijuana pharmacy. “We’re desperate for this medication.”
The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy selected nine pharmacies to sell marijuana in different regions throughout the state last spring. The board has since issued five of nine permits, while four others are awaiting inspections, said Carlos Finalet, general counsel for the pharmacy board.
While GB Sciences said it will release the drug in May, it is not clear who will be eligible to get access to the drug if it does become available then, as Davis made clear the amount of product would not be enough meet the demands of the entire market. The company will know soon how much product it will have for the May release, Davis said in an interview.
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Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said he does not see a problem with meeting the May 15 deadline, but he did not promise the product will be available by then. The agriculture department also tests the drug, and it is not clear how long that will take.
The agriculture department on Friday granted GB Sciences approval for its suitability investigation, which looks at financial, criminal and civil backgrounds of the people involved in the company.
That was an abrupt turnaround from earlier this month, when Strain’s department accused GB Sciences and LSU of breaking the law by moving into the main facility without its permission.
The move from the temporary facility to the main production area represents a 400 percent increase in production capacity, Davis said. The company is operating in a former Pepsi distribution center off Highland Road in south Baton Rouge.
The agriculture department has been locked in a months-long feud with LSU and GB Sciences over the regulatory process.
Southern University is the other authorized grower of medical marijuana, and the university hired a company, Advanced Biomedics, that made little progress before another company bought the majority interest in it last fall.
That firm, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, has acquired a piece of property in north Baton Rouge off Plank Road where it is planning to build a temporary production facility this spring. Greg Rochlin, CEO of Ilera Holistic, said the company is aiming to have product “available for patients sometime this fall.”
"We’re moving at a very thoughtful and expedient pace," Rochlin said.