“We’re going to make sure this is one of damn securest facilities there is in the state,” LSU Ag Center Chancellor Bill Richardson said Thursday, as he gave lawmakers a progress update on Louisiana’s medical marijuana program.
“We will grow this product indoors: it will not be out in fields,” he told the House Agriculture committee.“Every single plant will be, in essence, a piece of state property. It will be labeled. Every leaf, basically, will have to be accounted for. If a plant dies, we have to plan a funeral for it.”
Richardson said in the two years since the legislature okayed a medical marijuana program, there have been numerous hurdles.
“One of the things we had to figure out was how we were going to get it in the first place. It’s federally illegal. I had lots of volunteers to bring stuff by for me..” he said, eliciting appreciative chuckles from committee members, “But we’re probably going to start with tissue culture. Actually, it’s better than seed. You can turn this plant over every eight to ten weeks.”
Richardson said he and Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, along with Southern University Ag Center Chancellor Dr. Bobby Phills, have met with the DEA, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies to make sure they don't run afoul of federal law while producing or distributing marijuana oil or pills.
“One of my issues is how do I get it from my warehouse to a dispensary, when I’m hauling something that federally is illegal?” Richardson explained. “I can't take it through Mississippi to get the product from Baton Rouge to Monroe.
“We talked to State Police about providing courier-type service for us. They’ve decided they didn’t want to take possession, but they would provide escort service.”
LSU and Southern Ag Centers are preparing to contract with private partners to help run the facilities which will grow and refine the plants, and produce low THC oil and pills, which will available by prescription only for certain diseases. And, Richardson says, they now have a target date for making the medication available.
“We’ll try to get approval from your Joint Budget Committee and our Board of Supervisors for the partnership contracts before the session ends in June. The vendor can start immediately after that, and I would hope that we would have a product on the shelf sometime in early 2018.”
Richardson and Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain both warned that – unlike Colorado's financial from legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana -- this program isn’t going to help Louisiana’s fiscal problems.
“This is not something that’s a huge cash cow,” Richardson said.“This is not something that we’re going to turn out that can be smoked or vaped.”
“It’s a pharmaceutical,” Strain reminded lawmakers, “So it wouldn’t be taxed.”