The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy has handed out all nine initial licenses for medical marijuana pharmacies in different regions throughout the state, after awarding permits to pharmacies in the greater north shore, Alexandria, Monroe and Shreveport regions Wednesday.
The Pharmacy Board awarded the other five licenses — for Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma and Lake Charles — on Tuesday. The licensees are now set to open up in the coming months as the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program gets off the ground.
A 10th permit will be handed out sometime in the future in a high-demand area, though board members did not say exactly when that will be.
In the north shore region, Darren Martin, owner of the existing Willow Pharmacy, and David Brown, a longtime marijuana advocate, won the license Tuesday. They will open Willow Pharmacy as the area’s medical marijuana pharmacy in Madisonville at 1519 W. Highway 22, the site of Martin’s existing pharmacy, which will close.
Martin and Brown’s pharmacy was ranked first-place in the region by a selection committee composed of pharmacy board members, which spent months reviewing applications and interviewing applicants.
But over two days of hearings and votes this week, the pharmacy board bucked the selection committee’s recommendations multiple times. In five of the nine regions, the panel — made up of board members who weren’t on the selection committee — rejected the selection committee’s recommendation. The Baton Rouge and north shore permits were awarded to the first-place finishers, while the Lafayette licensee was tied for first. The Lake Charles permit went to the only remaining applicant there.
The Baton Rouge licensee, pharmacy owner Randy Mire and his partners, will open a pharmacy in the health district off Essen Lane.
On Tuesday, a New Orleans pharmacy owner, Ruston Henry, won the permit for that region despite being ranked below three other applicants that remained in the region. The Houma licensee ranked third but leapfrogged the first-place finisher.
Morris Rabb, the chair of the Board of Pharmacy hearing panel that voted on the licenses, said the board members spent hours reviewing applications and evidence and hearing testimony, and pointed to “a lot” of new evidence submitted after the selection committee rankings were made. He noted some applicants showed new education and presented new policies at hearings this week and in March.
“They introduced new evidence, we introduced new evidence, we listened to testimony,” Rabb said. “We’re all human. All we had to go on was what we saw.”
The board members who served on the selection committee recused themselves from further hearings after making their recommendations.
The first-place finisher in the New Orleans region, Sajal Roy, voiced his displeasure Tuesday after the board passed over his firm, asking why the applicants went through the selection committee process in the first place.
The committee had recommended a re-solicitation of bids in the greater Monroe and greater Alexandria regions, but board members instead awarded licenses for both those regions.
In Monroe, two north Louisiana businessmen — Greg Morrison and William Windham — won the permit with their Delta Medmar LLC. That pharmacy will open up at 111 McMillan Road in a former imaging center.
Morrison and Windham also applied, and were ranked first, for the Shreveport region, and would have cornered the entire north Louisiana market if selected there. However, the Pharmacy Board passed over the group for the Shreveport region.
“We weren’t trying to corner the market in north Louisiana,” Morrison said after the vote. “We were just trying to submit an application for something that was needed in north Louisiana.”
Morrison added he didn’t want there to be a lack of applicants in those two regions, and added he was a “little bit disappointed” his firm didn’t receive the license for the Shreveport area.
Instead, that permit went to Doug and Jennifer Boudreaux, longtime pharmacy owners in Lake Charles and Shreveport. Jennifer Boudreaux will serve as pharmacist-in-charge and Doug Boudreaux will be CEO.
Doug Boudreaux is also a former Board of Pharmacy member, spending six years on the board before leaving in 2010, he said. Boudreaux’s pharmacies do compounding and serve hospice patients, and he said it will be another “tool in the toolbox” to serve those patients.
In Alexandria, the Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy won the license and will open up at 403 Bolton Avenue in Alexandria. CEO Joe Williams and his wife Michelle Williams, a longtime pharmacist, also run three locations of Pill Box Pharmacy in the area.
Medical marijuana, under current Louisiana law, will be available to patients with a handful of serious conditions: cancer, HIV, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis. The drug will only be available in certain non-smokable forms.
The state’s medical marijuana program is tightly-regulated, and will include only two growers —the agricultural centers of LSU and Southern University.
Both those schools partnered with private firms to run the grow operations, and the plant is expected to be available sometime this year. The LSU AgCenter’s facility, run by GB Sciences Louisiana, a subsidiary of the Las Vegas-based company GB Sciences, recently got a permit to build out its facility off Highland Road in south Baton Rouge.