About 5,000 patients have sought out medical marijuana in Louisiana, and officials say they have enough of the medicine to meet demand, two weeks after the historic first batch of products was released to patients.
LSU’s marijuana growing partner, GB Sciences, began shipping the tincture bottles to pharmacies Aug. 6, ending years of delays for patients who have waited for access to the drug.
John Davis, president of GB Sciences Louisiana, said at a medical marijuana stakeholder meeting Monday about 5,000 patients appear to have gone through the system, which involves getting a recommendation from a licensed doctor and buying a bottle of the drug for between $80 and $200 from a pharmacy. Davis said the estimate comes from talking with pharmacies.
Davis later clarified 5,000 people had entered into the program, and only an estimated 1,500 had received the drug. The figures are anecdotal, he added.
“It appears the supply chain is working perfectly or as well as it can be,” Davis said.
Patients and advocates had worried whether enough product would be available initially to satisfy demand, especially as the state’s only other licensed grower, a company partnered with Southern University, is still months away from having medicine available. Davis said he ultimately expects Louisiana’s market for medical marijuana to reach between 100,000 and 150,000 patients, but that it is not clear how soon that will happen.
The state’s medical marijuana program was delayed repeatedly after being authorized by state lawmakers four years ago, until patients got access to the drug earlier this month.
Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said his agency has already cleared 9,000 bottles for release. The initial batches, which have varying levels of THC, the ingredient that elicits a high, are mixed with coconut oil and flavored mint or cherry.
Davis declined to say how many bottles the company has formulated so far but said it is working to produce more in the coming weeks. By the beginning of September, he said the company will have another batch of products ready for release.
The company is also working to educate more physicians throughout the state about the program, holding informational sessions at pharmacies.
“If we educate, the patients will learn, and it will stair-step up,” Davis said. “We don’t want everyone showing up at the same time.”
Medical marijuana in Louisiana is available to patients with intractable pain, cancer, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, PTSD, Parkinson's and certain people with autism spectrum disorder.
The state Board of Pharmacy licensed nine pharmacies in different regions throughout the state to dispense the drug, and the pharmacies in New Orleans and Monroe became the last to open to patients last week. A 10th marijuana pharmacy will be licensed at some point in an area with high demand.
About 100 doctors have received a license to recommend the drug, according to records maintained by the state Board of Medical Examiners.
Southern's vendor, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, is still tentatively planning to have products available in the fall, after beginning planting in recent weeks. The company was acquired earlier this month by TerrAscend Corp, a Toronto-based marijuana firm, for between $125 million and $225 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The company’s leadership, including CEO Greg Rochlin, will continue in management positions, according to a press release.
Ilera took over the operation after buying out the original vendor, Advanced Biomedics, which was run by a Carencro horse-breeder who failed to make any progress before selling his stake late last year.
The new firm began growing crops in late July at its facility off Plank Road.
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