Medicinal marijuana is coming to Houma.
The state’s Board of Pharmacy granted nine licenses in April to dispense medical marijuana to eligible patients. One of those permits went to Omar Pecantte’s Green Leaf Dispensary, which he plans to open in Houma early next year.
“My venture into this process began over a year and a half ago,” the New Iberia businessman said Wednesday during a phone interview. “I became intrigued by the legislation that was being pushed forward over three years ago to put the mechanisms in place for medical marijuana to be dispensed in Louisiana.”
According to state law that was passed in 2015, medical cannabis will be available to patients with a limited list of ailments such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, seizure disorders, epilepsy, wasting syndrome, spasticity, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Bills pending in the state Legislature could expand the list of ailments.
Medical marijuana could provide a safer treatment to those patients than other drugs, said state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma.
“I think there’s value in medical marijuana, especially with the opioid crisis we’re in right now,” Magee said. “This is a viable alternative to get people pain relief to treat ailments that opioids traditionally have done.”
Pecantte said he has a personal interest in medical marijuana because of his late grandmother.
“My grandmother experienced cancer when I was in middle school,” Pecantte said. “I saw first-hand what the effects the cancer treatment had on her. The side effects of the drugs were worse than the actual cancer itself. So I became interested to learn about something that would have better assisted her had it been available when she was alive.”
The state established a system for the medical cannabis program that includes two growers — the agricultural centers of LSU and Southern University. Both universities have partnered up with private firms to operate the operation.
The cannabis will be grown in modular clean rooms, said Ashley Mullens, LSU AgCenter coordinator for the medical marijuana initiative.
“They are in the process of renovating a 36,000-square-foot warehouse in East Baton Rouge Parish that will house multiple clean rooms,” Mullens said. “Plant growth takes 12-14 weeks. Then the oil from the plant will be extracted using an ethanol solvent. Oil will then be processed to create different formulations of medical cannabis products for patients.”
The products available at dispensaries like Green Leaf will consist of oils, extracts, pills, tinctures and sprays, Mullins said. Marijuana is not allowed to be smoked in Louisiana, according to state law.
“Our therapeutic cannabis products will look just like any other medications that you receive at a pharmacy,” Mullens said. “These products could be solid oral dosage forms like capsules, liquid oil dosage forms, topical applications or something like suppositories.”
When the facility is up and running by January, Green Leaf will function like a conventional pharmacy, Pecantte said.
“We want to make sure we’re compliant with the state to provide products that are very much needed,” Pecantte said. “Our dispensary will have plenty of security with a lot of video surveillance. It will be very user-friendly with a good atmosphere.”
The dispensary will be at 6048 W. Park Ave., which is an ideal location because it will be easily accessible from multiple areas, Pecantte said.
“It’s centrally located in Houma and is five miles from U.S. 90,” he said. “We’re also in a five-mile radius of 10 health care providers. We’re very well-positioned and are easily accessible to the highway. Houma is a great area. I used to do a lot of fishing there, so I’m pretty familiar with it. I love the atmosphere there.”
Although medical marijuana is becoming a reality in Louisiana, Magee doesn’t foresee legalized recreational pot anytime soon.
“We’re not interested in us becoming a recreation state,” Magee said. “With the way it is now you can’t get a joint or an edible. There’s nothing inhalable and the THC level is really low. If you can find a way to get high off this stuff you’re outsmarting the system by a lot. It’s really and truly for medicinal value. We can provide something less addictive with fewer consequences than opioids. There were no marijuana deaths reported last year at all.”