BR.marijuanalsu.adv.003

Medical marijuana grown by LSU AgCenter partner GB Sciences at a facility in south Baton Rouge will be tested by the AgCenter and state agriculture department at a lab on the LSU campus.

The LSU AgCenter and its marijuana-growing partner questioned an “inexplicable” disparity in how the state agriculture department is regulating it compared to Southern University, as it outlined an 18-month regulatory process it has been through trying to win approval to produce medical marijuana.

In a four-page letter sent to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry on Wednesday, officials representing the LSU AgCenter and GB Sciences described a regulatory process that appears rife with miscommunication and delays. The officials said they were frustrated with the process they've faced trying to get “suitability” approval from Louisiana State Police, and suggested the agriculture department’s process for getting that approval is a “moving target.”

The letter, along with documents released by the agriculture department Thursday, sheds light on the extensive red tape in Louisiana’s medical marijuana program, which still doesn’t have product available after repeated false starts and delays. Lawmakers approved a medical marijuana program about 3½ years ago, and set it in motion with new legislation about 2½ years ago.

The correspondence also exposes growing tension between the leaders of LSU's marijuana operation and the state agency that regulates it. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain has said his department is working as fast as it can to move the process along, while patients have become increasingly frustrated with the delays. 

The agriculture department released a long list of documents and emails outlining the problems associated with GB Sciences' regulatory filings made over the past year and a half. The most recent information provided by GB Sciences and LSU had dozens of omissions, according to a letter sent earlier this month by Louisiana State Police. 

Agriculture department spokeswoman Veronica Mosgrove declined to comment further. 

But LSU and GB Sciences questioned why the deficiencies are being released in a "piece-meal manner that will slow down GBSL's ability to complete" the process, the letter said. 

LSU AgCenter coordinator Ashley Mullens and GB Sciences Louisiana President John Davis wrote their “frustration with LDAF’s process was further aggravated” when they found out the agriculture department and state police traveled out of state last month to help Southern University’s marijuana-growing partner, Pennsylvania-based Ilera Holistic Healthcare, to wade through the suitability process.

“LDAF’s announcement and this disparity in treatment are inexplicable,” the officials wrote.

Ilera Holistic Healthcare recently bought out the majority interest in Southern’s original partner, Advanced Biomedics, after that firm failed to make any progress. It is now lagging behind LSU’s program.

LSU and GB Sciences’ letter came in response to Louisiana State Police outlining “multiple errors and omitted persons” in the university and GB Sciences’ application. That letter represented the third “deficiency” letter sent by State Police outlining problems with the application.

The suitability process is an investigation by Louisiana State Police that looks into the background of a business and its major shareholders, and is traditionally done for casino operators. The state police gaming enforcement decision is in charge of the suitability process for the marijuana licensees in the state.

GB Sciences has for months cited regulatory delays at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which in turn said GB Sciences only recently turned in necessary paperwork to move the process forward. Mullens and Davis fired back against that notion this week. 

“It would be a misrepresentation of the documented history to suggest GBSL has only recently submitted suitability information,” they wrote.

GB Sciences received regulatory approvals for its planned facility in south Baton Rouge as well as its first batch of product, manufactured in a smaller, temporary pod while it waits for full approvals. The firm also won approval for its “standard operating procedures,” another step in the process. Still, the company can’t begin operations until it wins suitability approval.

Bill Richardson, LSU’s vice president for agriculture, said in a statement that the school finalized its contract with GB Sciences in September 2017 and has worked closely with the agriculture department since then to get approved to begin growing marijuana.

“We are looking forward to concluding this suitability process so we can provide a steady, uninterrupted supply of medicine for the patients of Louisiana,” he said in a statement.

Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.