Louisiana patients and pharmacists permitted to dispense medical marijuana set a deadline of May 15, 2019, at the end of March to state regulators to ensure that medicinal cannabis finally becomes available.
The move comes four years since legislation was passed in the state allowing the use of medical marijuana to treat a range of diseases and disorders, including cancer, seizures, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Parkinson’s disease.
The demand was made at a meeting to inform on the progress of the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program.
One of the two state-sanctioned growers, GB Sciences, said it hopes to have a “limited” supply by the deadline, reserved for those patients with the most severe conditions. It is not altogether clear though how this would be determined and who would be prioritized to receive the first limited batch of the drug.
Patients continue to suffer
“We are on the front line watching our patients suffer, and they’re asking us, ‘When?’” said Doug Boudreaux, a pharmacist and co-owner of the Shreveport medical marijuana dispensary. “We’re desperate for this medication.”
Boudreaux, who also represents the Louisiana Association for Therapeutic Alternatives, left agriculture department officials and the marijuana growers in no doubt as to where he believes the blame lies.
“We think that after May 15th, if there are any adverse events affecting any patient, qualifying medical marijuana patient in Louisiana, it will be the responsibility of the people in this room,” he said.
John Davis, GB Sciences Louisiana president, responded that the company will do all they can to meet the deadline.
“We’re going to do everything that’s under our roof to aim for that date,” he said.
Further setbacks possible
Davis went on to say that he expects GB Sciences to have medical marijuana available for all eligible patients come August, though this is conditional on completed background checks that will allow the grower to relocate to a larger facility and ramp up production.
The other state-sanctioned grower, Ilera Holistic Healthcare – which is affiliated with Southern University – is yet to begin growing the plants, so is not anticipating having products to provide dispensaries with until the fall.
The availability of medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries is also dependent on approved lab testing, as well as other regulatory requirements, overseen by the state agriculture department which is responsible for the safety of medical cannabis.
Mike Strain, the Commissioner of Agriculture, also expressed his intention to meet the May 15 deadline but refused to commit to it due to the need to ensure the product’s safety for consumption.
“We’re going to do everything we can to try to get it out as quickly as we can,” Strain said.
One of the attendees at the meeting, Katie Corkern, is one of many frustrated at the lack of progress and has lobbied lawmakers for years to make medical marijuana available to help control her son’s seizures. She recounted a story about another child who was also waiting for medical marijuana treatment for her seizures, but who died a month ago from the effects of her epilepsy disorder.
“Do we know if (medical marijuana) would have saved her life? No, but it would have been great for her to have had a chance to see if it would have,” Corkern said.
One of the reasons cited for the slow progress is a dispute between GB Sciences and the Department of Agriculture over the interpretation of the latter’s rules regarding marijuana production.
Medical marijuana supporters have also claimed that Strain’s lab has been slow in arranging initial product testing.
When the product finally comes to market in Louisiana, it will be available in medicinal oils, pills, liquids and topical applications. Under the provisions of the legislation passed in 2015, it cannot be sold in a smokable form.