Southern University has signed a contract for the school’s medical marijuana program with Advanced Biomedics on assurances the two biggest owners of the Lafayette company are working to resolve their feud over the negotiation process and ownership structure of the firm.
Southern said Thursday its top officials signed a contract with the two owners of Advanced Biomedics, who have been battling each other in a Lafayette court over the past few weeks. The contract will be presented to the Southern University Board of Supervisors for approval at its meeting May 25, the statement said.
"The owners have reached a resolution in principle and they are working on the details," Southern spokeswoman Lakeeshia Giddens Lusk said in an email. "The university advised the owners that if they could not resolve their dispute, the university would select another vendor."
Lusk said the attorney for Advanced Biomedics told the school that all hearings had been removed from court dockets as the two owners work to reach a resolution of their dispute.
A spokesman for Carrol Castille, the majority owner of Advanced Biomedics, declined to comment until "further notice." The attorney representing Chad Bodin, the founder and minority owner, deferred comment to Southern.
Last week, Southern extended a deadline to this Thursday for the company to resolve its dispute and sign a contract.
Filings were being made in the dispute as recently as Tuesday, court records show. A Thursday hearing in the case was canceled.
The power struggle for Advanced Biomedics had cast a cloud of uncertainty over the partnership when a fundamental question emerged last week out of the litigation: Who owns the company?
Castille, a Carencro businessman involved in the horse racing and breeding industry, agreed to invest several million dollars in Advanced Biomedics shortly before the firm applied to be Southern’s exclusive partner in the medical marijuana project. At stake was virtually half of the market for marijuana production in Louisiana, as state law authorized the agricultural centers at Southern and LSU as the only growers.
After Castille became the key investor in the project, committing to nearly two-thirds of the company’s funding, Advanced Biomedics won the contract, despite a review committee at Southern recommending the school select a different firm.
Last month, Castille filed suit against Bodin, the founder of Advanced Biomedics who also is its largest minority owner.
According to the Castille's suit filed in Lafayette court, Bodin secretly and “fraudulently” negotiated the contract for the partnership with Southern without permission from Castille. The contract Bodin negotiated was “materially worse” than the initial proposal, the suit said.
In response, Bodin called into question Castille’s ownership stake in the company, arguing in court filings that Castille never put up the $12 million he promised, and therefore was not even a rightful owner in the company.
Attorneys for Castille argued in court filings Tuesday that Bodin, in fact, does not have the authority to act on behalf of the company because he is not majority owner.
Bodin's move questioning Castille's ownership interest was part of a "scheme to usurp control" of the company, according to Castille.
Southern University has lagged by months behind LSU's marijuana program. The LSU AgCenter has partnered with Nevada-based GB Sciences, which is building a grow facility in south Baton Rouge off Highland Road.
The Board of Pharmacy handed out nine initial medical marijuana pharmacy permits last month for regions throughout the state. LSU has said it will have its product ready later this year. And a handful of doctors have signed up to recommend the drug for patients.
Lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards moved forward with medical marijuana in the state in 2016, authorizing a handful of serious conditions and implementing tight restrictions on the recommending, dispensing and growing of the drug. It will only be allowed in certain nonsmokable forms.
Efforts to expand the diseases that would qualify for treatment under the program, including a bill that would authorize patients with intractable pain to seek the drug, have gained steam in the Legislature in recent weeks.