BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - As LSU edges closer toward growing and eventually manufacturing medical marijuana, a public meeting held Friday generated so much attention they had to move it to a larger facility.
Hundreds of people packed a hall on the LSU campus, many of them eager to learn how they might get involved in developing the drug. Dr. Bill Richardson, who heads LSU's Ag Center, said they need $11 million in private funding to get things started. The state is not providing any money for the project.
The drug may not be available for sale until at least the summer of 2018.
"We have to be successful, this project cannot fail," Richardson said. "We're looking for the best deal we can get for the patients of this state."
Under state law, both LSU and Southern are allowed to start growing and manufacturing medical pot. LSU wants to contract out much of that work, focusing instead on research.
"We will have significant oversight of the policies and all the plans they implement. It is our license. With us being liable, it's important that we have the ability to make sure they are not doing anything they shouldn't," said Hampton Grunewald, the government affairs liaison for LSU's Ag Center.
Many in the crowded hall hope to win the contracts. Some have already begun to study the industry elsewhere across the country.
"The best case scenario, what we saw in Colorado, is that some groups actually had the entire channel developed. They grew, they manufactured, and then they distributed," said Todd Villarrubia out of New Orleans. "The advantage of course to that is you can maintain quality control, not relying on third parties that might not be getting you what you need."
Richardson warned any potential contractors working with the AG department will not be profitable right away. In fact, the Ag Center estimates the marijuana venture may not be profitable until 2020.
"We want to caution people who are bidding on this, do your due diligence. This is not a cash cow that's going to generate a lot of income quickly," Richardson said.
Richardson said they will formally make a request for contract bids within the next 30 days. Across the state, LSU estimates more than 1,400 people with certain medical needs stand to benefit from the drug. Under state law, doctors can recommend medical marijuana to people who suffer from cancer, HIV, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and other serious diseases.
Jacob Irving, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was excited by the large turnout at Friday's meeting.
"For our next generation of people with cerebral palsy, this could really make all the difference between years of being separated into a disabled category and a totally normal life," Irving said.
Under the law, the pot will not be manufactured in a way that it can be smoked or vaped. Richardson also indicated that they do not intend to create baked goods. Instead, the drug may be sold in oil or other forms.
LSU hopes to grow the drug in a secure facility somewhere in East Baton Rouge Parish, though not on LSU's campus. LSU students will not be allowed to handle the marijuana or work at the site.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office has agreed to a contract, providing security at the facility. Talks are underway, meanwhile, to contract with Louisiana State Police to provide security when transporting the drug across the state.
Southern University, which also qualified for a license to grow and manufacture the drug, is so far not working together with LSU on their version of the project.