Medical marijuana final product

A sample of a medical marijuana product is bagged before being transported for final testing. 

Regulators have begun the final stage of testing of Louisiana’s first batch of medical marijuana, announcing Monday the medicine could be made available to patients in a week.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the main regulator of marijuana growers in Louisiana, on Monday received a random sample of the final product created by LSU and its contractor, GB Sciences.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said the agency will test the product for homogeneity, potency and to be deemed free of contaminants. The agency also warned any problems with the sample could delay its release, which would be the latest in a string of delays for the program.

“We expect and we hope unless there’s any unforeseen problem that testing should be done in seven days,” Strain said in a radio interview with Jim Engster on Talk Louisiana.

The release of medical marijuana to patients has been repeatedly pushed back since lawmakers authorized the drug for medicinal use in 2015 and tweaked it again in 2016, setting the program forward.

John Davis, head of GB Sciences Louisiana, which was hired by LSU to spearhead the growing operation, said he’s confident the testing will not reveal any problems and that the product will be released in the coming days.

He anticipates between 5,000 and 10,000 patients will initially seek out the drug, though in the coming years he said he expects the state’s market to mature to between 100,000 and 150,000 patients. He said he will hold back some inventory initially to make sure he can replenish the supplies of pharmacies that run out.

“We’re confident the testing that’s being conducted will result in a release of the products,” Davis said. “All the final products are packaged, labeled and boxed and they’re ready to be delivered to the pharmacies.”

The product will be sold in tincture form, with three formulations of the drug sold in 30ML bottles. The prices at Capitol Wellness Solutions, the Baton Rouge-area marijuana pharmacy, will be in the $90s for one formulation, around $130 for another and nearly $200 for a bottle of the “THC rich” formulation, said owner Randy Mire. The most expensive formulation will include the highest level of THC, the compound in marijuana that elicits psychoactive effects.

A medical cannabis dosing paper distributed by GB Sciences recommends “naive patients” receiving the THC rich formulation take 0.25mL of the tincture once a day for a week, ramping up dosing if the desired relief is not achieved.

According to the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners, 84 doctors have active therapeutic marijuana licenses, allowing them to “recommend” the drug to patients.

Patients with intractable pain, cancer, AIDS, cachexia, seizure disorders, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, severe muscle spasms, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, PTSD, autism spectrum disorder, Crohn’s disease and muscular dystrophy will have access to the drug.

Last year, GB Sciences set a September deadline for having the product available, but blew past it, setting off nearly a year of false starts and delays. The firm has warred publicly with the Agriculture Department, which is tasked with regulating it, and the two disagree over who is to blame for the delays.

If the product passes testing in the coming week as expected, pharmacies will receive the tincture bottles from GB Sciences and say they are ready to dole them out to patients who have waited years for access to the drug. The Agriculture Department said it will take seven business days to test the product.

Mire said he has a “long list” of patients who are waiting, and he hoped to begin handing out the first doses Thursday, as had previously been speculated as the release date.

“We have many waiting,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the product.”

Patients and some pharmacy owners have become frustrated in recent months as GB Sciences and LSU experienced multiple delays.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com