LA: House Keeps Medical Marijuana Monopolies Intact

Photo Credit: Nick Wooten

Louisiana’s medical marijuana monopoly pharmacies will remain protected from competition for now, even as the Legislature seems open to expanding the conditions to be treated by the drug.

This week the House killed a bill by Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, that would have allowed any Louisiana-based pharmacist to open a medical cannabis dispensary, leaving each of the state’s nine regions with a single pharmacy.

“If we leave it as it is it says we’re OK with a monopoly situation that I believe can lead to corruption,” Hunter said in an interview with USA Today Network.

But House Bill 826 suffered a decisive 39-58 defeat Thursday, losing momentum on reconsideration.

The week before the bill was a mere three votes from passage on its first try with a 50-38 majority in favor. Passage requires 53 votes in the 105-member House.

Opponents said the state should move carefully with any expansion of the fledgling industry, which hasn’t written first prescription.

“One of the reasons for the restrictions was to bring a high level of comfort that this will be tightly regulated, not to create a monopoly,” said Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge. “Changing now would be a mistake.”

But that hasn’t been the sentiment with the medical conditions eligible to be treated by the medicine, which will only be available in pill or oil form.

The House has already passed two measures (House Bill 579 and House Bill 627) that would add Parkinson’s, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain, PTSD and autism to the 10 conditions currently qualifying for medical marijuana.

Both bills also received a favorable reception in their first Senate hearing this week.

“If you’re going to expand the list of people who are eligible for medical marijuana why wouldn’t you expand the ability to serve those people,” said Hunter, who said a single pharmacy per region will limit access to patients who need the medicine.

But those who secured the original nine pharmacies after an expensive year-long application and approval process said it wouldn’t be fair to open it up with no financial requirements or restrictions on the number of pharmacies.

Greg Morrison, a partner in the group that secured the license for the northeastern Louisiana pharmacy in West Monroe, also rejected the monopoly characterization, saying, “It’s about controlling the quality and roll out.”

“We’ve all followed the law in good faith and taken a financial risk,” he said. “To open it up before we even get to first base would be a slap in the face of the process.

“And it would do exactly what law enforcement doesn’t want — turn it into the wild west.”

So for now the pharmacies will be limited to the nine current licenses and a 10th in reserve that could be issued once demand it determined.

Following are the nine regional licenses as chosen by current law:

► Michelle and Joe Williams, who have practiced pharmacy in Alexandria for more than 30 years, were awarded the medical marijuana license for central Louisiana. Their marijuana pharmacy, The Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy, will be located at 403 Bolton Ave.

► Darren Martin was awarded the southeastern Louisiana license. It will be located at 1519 W. Highway 22.

► Jennifer and Doug Boudreaux and their partner Chris Whittington were awarded the license for the Shreveport Region. They will locate Hope Pharmacy at 1410 E. Kings Highway in Shreveport.

► Partners Greg Morrison and William Windham were awarded the license for the Monroe region. Their pharmacy, Delta Medmar, will be located at 111 McMillan Road in West Monroe.

► The Apothecary Shoppe edged out Acadiana Therapeutic Remedies to earn the license for Lafayette. It will be located at 620 Guilbeau Road in Lafayette.

► H&W Drug Store was awarded the New Orleans Region pharmacy. It will be located at 4718 Paris Ave. in Gentilly. It had been ranked fourth among applicants by the grading committee in the New Orleans region.

► Capitol Wellness Solutions was awarded the Capitol Region pharmacy. It will be located at 7941 Picardy Ave. It was ranked first among applicants in its region.

► Green Leaf Dispensary was awarded the Teche Region pharmacy and will be located 6048 W. Park Ave. in Houma. Green Leaf was ranked second among applicants in the region.

► Medicis, the only remaining applicant for the southwestern Louisiana region, was awarded that region’s license and will be located at 1727 Imperial Blvd. in Lake Charles.