Medical Marijuana Is Coming To Louisiana: Here’s When, And What You Should Know

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Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program has started falling into place. The nine dispensaries have been licensed. The Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners is in the process of licensing physicians interested in recommending medical cannabis. Lawmakers in the state senate just approved two bills that will widely expand the patient base who can use the medication to those with chronic pain, severe autism and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), among other conditions.

Meanwhile, New Orleans has just hosted the largest gathering of business owners in the marijuana industry this week.

Louisiana is one of 29 states who have legalized medical marijuana. Nine others have legalized recreational marijuana.

As the state’s medical marijuana program falls into place. here is what you need to know:

What are the qualifying medical conditions?

Doctors who have been licensed to recommend marijuana are only allowed to do so for patients with one of the following conditions:

– Cancer

– HIV/ AIDS

– Multiple Sclerosis

– Muscular Dystrophy

– Crohn’s Disease

– Cachexia (weakening or wasting away of the body due to chronic illness

– Epilepsy

Lawmakers could soon add severe autism, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, intractable (chronic) pain, and severe muscle spasm to the list. Two bills (HB 627) and HB (579) that cover these conditions were approved by the state Senate on Wednesday (May 9). The legislation still has to be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

How many doctors are licensed so far to recommend marijuana?

As of May, there are only 11 doctors licensed in Louisiana to recommend marijuana. A total of 15 have applied, according to the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiner’s registry.

Good news for interested patients in the New Orleans area is that four of the licensed doctors are located locally, including two in New Orleans, one in Slidell, and one in Covington.

For more information and updates, you can visit https://services.lsbme.org/verifications/index.asp and search for Therapeutic Marijuana Registration under practitioner type. The search results will provide an updated list of licensed physicians.

Where can I buy the medicine?

Nine licenses have been awarded for one dispensary in each of the nine regions designated by the Department of Health in Louisiana.

H&W Drug Store, LLC, which is owned and operated by Ruston Henry, a graduate of Xavier University’s pharmacy school, will serve Region 1, including Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. Patients are able to purchase medicine from any dispensary in the state, as long as they have a recommendation from a licensed physician.

H&W Pharmacy’s medical marijuana dispensary is set to be located in a leased space at 4718 Paris Avenue in the Oak Park Shopping Center. Henry said recently he anticipates opening early next year.

A full list of all nine dispensaries is available here.

What should a patient with a qualifying condition know before getting a medical marijuana recommendation?

Each licensed doctor will only be allowed to work with up to 100 patients. The patient won’t be able to get a recommendation for medicine for longer than three months. They are required by law to go back to their physician to renew the recommendation every 90 days.

Why is it called a recommendation?

Marijuana is considered a controlled substance under federal guidelines and is considered a Schedule I drug. This technically makes it illegal under federal law. So far, 29 states have legalized it for medicinal use and nine states have legalized it for recreational use. Doctors in states where it is legal are technically not allowed to “prescribe” it since it is a controlled substance. However, they are allowed to “recommend” it.

Where is Louisiana’s marijuana coming from, and how does it work?

Medical marijuana in Louisiana will be produced under the auspices of two universities, LSU and Southern University.

GB Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company based in Las Vegas, entered into an agreement with the LSU AG Center and is responsible for the cultivation, extraction, processing, and production of therapeutic marijuana for qualifying patients. Southern University’s Ag Center, meanwhile, picked Advanced Biomedics of Lafayette last September.

John Davis, the executive vice-president of GB Sciences Louisiana, said that part of their work will be to identify what levels of the two main compounds in cannabis, THC and CBD, are most effective in treating the conditions covered under Louisiana’s law.

He explained that the cannabis plant is composed of hundreds of different compounds. The two best known are THC, the compound which produces the high people associate with marijuana, and CBD, the compound which does not produce that effect but has been researched for its use in the treatment of different conditions such as pain and stress.

“We don’t want to give a patient a one-size fits all type of medicine,” Davis said. “We are working in the science space to find what levels of THC and CBD, or one of the hundreds of other compounds in cannabis, will work for symptoms of cancer pain, wasting disease.”

Davis added that LSU and GB Sciences are working together to grow plants that will be used in specific formulations of biopharmaceuticals.

“That’s what makes it so challenging, because it has been a Schedule 1 drug—research has been so prohibited—to open up this alternative medical treatment,” Davis said.

Ashley Mullens, the coordinator for LSU Ag Center’s Medical Marijuana initiative, said the compounds in the medicine are being engineered to treat each specific condition.

“There has been this misconception that our medicine won’t have THC. That is incorrect,” she said. “We plan to provide medication with THC but it depends on the disease state. For example, someone going through chemotherapy will have access to medication with higher levels of THC.”

How will doctors be trained?

Davis said that GB Sciences has partnered with the Curry Rockefeller Group- based in New York, to create a licensed continuing medical education program for healthcare providers licensed in Louisiana’s medical marijuana industry. This includes physicians as well as pharmacists.

Mullens added that the course will be offered online and that the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners will post a link to the course on their website.

“It will feature generic information about therapeutic medicine, down to our formulations about what may work best for our patients,” said Mullens. “We don’t envision this being ready until the end of summer.”

…and when will medicine be available in the dispensaries?

Mullens estimates that a small batch of medicine will be available from the LSU Ag Center by September. The Southern Ag Center has estimated its product will be available by early next year.

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