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Medical marijuana products coming from a growing facility run by GB Sciences and the LSU AgCenter in south Baton Rouge are expected to hit the market by the summer after delays pushed it beyond original 2018 projections.

A New Orleans company is suing the Louisiana agriculture department for how it is handling the testing of medical marijuana, arguing the agency improperly rejected its bid to become the state’s independent testing lab.

New Orleans-based Reactwell LLC, doing business as Certified Cannabis, is asking a judge to stop the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry from testing the drug itself, and to award the testing contract to the company. The firm unsuccessfully bid to be the state’s independent testing lab in response to a request for proposals the agriculture department issued last year.

The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed in Louisiana’s nascent medical marijuana industry, which has experienced a series of delays and controversies since being legalized several years ago. Patients still don’t have access to the medicine, as the state’s two growers have not put product on the market.

The agriculture department is tasked with regulating the state’s two marijuana growers, which were hired by LSU and Southern University, respectively, to handle production of the drug. The agency last year issued an emergency rule allowing it to test medical marijuana itself after saying the department could not find any suitable companies to test the products. Late last year, the agency sent out a request for proposals but canceled it in December, saying none of the responses met the minimum qualifications.

The lawsuit by Certified Cannabis, filed in Baton Rouge, said the company was the only one of three proposals that met all the qualifications. Still, the agriculture department tossed the request for proposal and began testing itself, the suit said, and began buying the lab equipment before making the emergency rule or issuing the request for proposal.

By doing the testing itself, the agency has created an “irreconcilable conflict of interest with its role in supervising a third-party independent testing lab,” the lawsuit said.

“Unknown to the bidders, the LDAF had begun undertaking its own testing in the meantime, but without the expertise, the equipment, or the personnel,” Certified Cannabis owner Brandon Iglesias said in an email. “As a result, the testing has taken longer than expected, to the frustration of all interested parties.”

Veronica Mosgrove, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, said the agency has not been served with the petition yet. 

When asked about the issue in December, the department said the three companies all failed to meet specific qualifications outlined in the request for proposal, and said the department plans to issue another request for proposals sometime in the future.

“We anticipate as Louisiana's medical marijuana industry matures and volume increases more labs are likely to be prepared and more experienced resulting in successful proposals,” spokeswoman Laura Lindsay said at the time.

The testing of medical marijuana has become a contentious part of the state’s marijuana program. The only grower currently operating, LSU’s partner GB Sciences, has pointed to testing delays at the agriculture department as one of the reasons marijuana is still not on pharmacy shelves. Late last year, it also raised questions about the agriculture department doing the testing itself, citing potential conflicts of interest.

The agriculture department has said GB Sciences only recently submitted required information to move the regulatory process forward.

At a recent meeting of marijuana industry representatives and regulators, the agency said the first batch of product it tested took longer than expected because of the method GB Sciences used to extract the oil from the plant. The company used a more complicated method because it was operating in a smaller, temporary pod while it awaited approval for its full-scale facility. The product initially will be available only in a tincture mixed with coconut oil. 

GB Sciences said last week its first batch of product passed testing, but it is still not clear when patients will see the medicine. The company has previously said it will not sell the product to dispensaries before it has enough medicine coming behind it to create a steady supply stream. It has not begun growing in its permanent facility yet.

Under state laws originally passed in 2015 and refined several times since, marijuana is available to patients with a list of conditions including intractable pain, cancer, HIV, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms and several others.

Lawsuits also have been filed over Southern University’s handling of the marijuana growing contract and against the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy over that agency’s bid process for nine medical marijuana pharmacy permits throughout the state. The suit against the pharmacy board, over the New Orleans region’s pharmacy permit, is still pending.

Southern University’s marijuana partner, Advanced Biomedics, was acquired by Pennsylvania-based Ilera Holistic Healthcare late last year and is lagging behind GB Sciences, which said product should hit the shelves by summer. Advanced Biomedics’ two largest owners spent part of last year filing lawsuits against each other before the majority owner sold his stake in the firm.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.