It’s been almost four years since medical cannabis was legalized in Louisiana, but patients are still waiting for it to hit the shelves.
In June 2015, then Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill that sets up a legal framework for dispensing medical cannabis. Everyone expected that it would take at least until 2018 for the structures to be put in place and for the drug to finally be dispensed to patients.
But we are well into 2019 and medical cannabis advocates are getting impatient. Patients with chronic medical conditions, including veterans, are forced to move to other states and become “cannabis refugees” just because they still do not have access to the drug they need. There is fear that many patients won’t be able to make it until medical cannabis finally becomes available.
Sales could launch in May
The state has already awarded nine pharmacies the license to distribute medical cannabis. But all of them are still waiting for the go-signal.
The Lousiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is reportedly holding off on authorizing the sales until they get the all-clear from testing laboratories.
They stated that while they are working to get the product out, testing will not be rushed and they won’t cut any corners.
According to Mike Strain, the department’s head, “everyone has a goal of May.”
“In other states, they had to go back and they found out that there were pesticides in there. We have to make sure none of that ever happens,” Strain explained. He added that they are very stringent but they want to make sure that the cannabis products released are free of contaminants and are absolutely clean and safe.
Strain said they are hoping testing will be finished by May 15. However, he pointed out that it is still not clear how long after that date it would take for sales to finally begin.
What’s taking lab tests so long?
The testing lab is jointly operated by the agriculture department and the Louisiana State University AgCenter, which has been authorized by the state — in partnership with a private firm — to produce non-smokable medical cannabis for a list of specific medical conditions.
The lab tests around 8,000 samples in a year to ensure that fertilizers, animal feeds, and pesticides meet the standard listed on their packaging.
Lab officials estimated that they spent less than $800,000 to purchase equipment in preparation for medical cannabis testing. However, they stressed out that none of the equipment will be used solely for testing just one product.
According to Mark LeBlanc, director of the AgCenter’s Agricultural Chemistry Department, even once the medical cannabis program is in full swing, testing for cannabis products will take up only 5 to 10 percent of the lab’s time and that it will be seasonal or when a batch of cannabis products arrives.
The only state-produced cannabis
Louisiana is the only state in the union producing medical cannabis products that will be sold to licensed patients. Unlike other states that have legalized medical cannabis, none of the pot products can be sold in smokable form.
Medical cannabis is required by state law to be in liquid form, such as spray or oil, as capsules or pills, as topical products, as gelatin-based chewables, as suppositories, and as transdermal patches.