BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Southern University and LSU's Ag Center are the only two institutions in the state of Louisiana to get the green light to grow medicinal cannabis for treatment purposes.
That's thanks to the Louisiana lawmakers who passed a law, Senate Bill 271, back in 2015.
The LSU AgCenter has selected the company GB Sciences Louisiana LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of GB Sciences, Inc., to produce medical cannabis products for qualifying patients in Louisiana.
Now that a company has been chosen and a contract has been signed, the next step is to find a facility to begin production.
"Logistically, we'll begin working on the facility," said Hampton Grunewald, LSU Ag Center Associate Vice President for Governmental Relations. "We'll have to work with GB Sciences to retrofit a facility that will be producing the product."
RELATED STORIES: Medical marijuana in Louisiana
The facility will not be on-campus and students will not be involved in the initiative.
Grunewald explained no one under the age of 21 will work at the facility.
Throughout the initial time of the institution's contract with GB Sciences, the LSU AgCenter is guaranteed $3.4 million or 10 percent of gross product sales, whichever is greater.
"In addition to that, GB Sciences, with their dedication to research, is also funding a research lab and giving the Ag Center funding to conduct our own research on the products," said Grunewald.
Across town, the Board of Supervisors for Southern University's Ag Center selected the company Advanced Biomedics, out of Lafayette. This institution is currently negotiating the terms of the contract with the company, which the Chancellor-Dean of Southern University's Land Grant campus Dr. Bobby Phills hopes will be done soon.
"It all depends on a number of different things," said Dr. Phills. "We're obviously heading into the negotiation stages for the contract. Hopefully that will take a month or less. Then we're talking about six and a half months for construction and another 120 days for the start up from growing to the actual selling of the product. But in between that, we're talking about background checks and things of this nature and that could last anywhere between 30 days and 90 days."
The proposed agreement states the Southern University Ag Center will receive more than $6 million over five years. Advanced Biomedics will also financially back research initiatives, like Southern University Ag Center's Medicinal Plant Institute.
"It's a wonderful opportunity," said Janana Snowden, Director of SU Ag Center's Medicinal Plant Institute. "For the past seven years, I have been doing anti-cancer research and this is just going to add to the knowledge base that I currently have, and we're actually moving towards the Alzheimer's and Autism areas as well. So this is going to be big for us, big for being able to partner with this company and collaborate the research efforts."
SU Ag Center officials say a site in Baker has been chosen for the production facility. Students will not be involved in this project.
The key purpose of this groundbreaking initiative at both SU and LSU is to create and study data on the effects of medicinal cannabis as a form of treatment.
Under the legal license to grow and distribute the product, patients interested in receiving it must have a qualifying condition listed below.
- Positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome
- Seizure disorders
- Crohn’s disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Multiple sclerosis
If and only if a patient has one of these conditions, he/she can go to a physician who is licensed to distribute the medicine for a recommendation, not a prescription.
From there, the patient can go to one of 10 pharmacies licensed to distribute.
Since this is a first-of-a-kind project, it will be highly regulated and monitored by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.
"Before any physician can recommend, they have to go to the Board of Medical Examiners website and take a course and receive an online certification, a license to actually recommend from the Board of Medical Examiners," explained Ashley Mullens, LSU Ag Center Coordinator for Governmental and External Affairs and the Program Coordinator for the Medical Marijuana Research Initiative. "So we hope to piggyback on their information and also provide just more of a broader outlook on cannabis in general and its uses for medical patients."
As both institutions move forward in process to grow medicinal cannabis, there are important things to note for patients as well.
The medicine will be not be distributed in a raw or inhalable form. The product will be distributed through limited methods: oils, pills, sprays, chewables, patches, and suppositories.
"The most important thing [is] we do want to remove the misconceptions of inhaling. Most people think that they will be able to just go and purchase the medical marijuana, and inhale as you do in states such as Colorado. Well that's not the case. You will have to have a recommendation from your physician and with that recommendation, you will take that to one of the 10 pharmacies that are licensed to dispense the medicine. So it's a process and we need people to know that this is a process and it's not like you can just go over-the-counter and purchase the medical marijuana," explained Snowden.
For more information on Southern University Ag Center's medical marijuana program, click HERE.
For more information on LSU AgCenter's medicinal cannabis initiative, click HERE.