Two of Louisiana’s Premier Universities Ponder Whether to Become Sole Growers of State’s Medical Marijuana

Louisiana State University and Southern University consider the costs and benefits of taking on the responsibility of cultivating and processing all of the state’s medical marijuana.

Although medical marijuana has been legal in Louisiana for decades (since 1991), there has been no mechanism in place for dispensing medical marijuana to those with a doctor’s prescription and not a single cannabis plant has been grown for patient consumption.

Now, after 25 years in limbo, Louisiana’s medical marijuana program has been revitalized by SB 143, which was signed into law back in June of 2015. This bill finally takes the necessary first steps to set up regulations and a legal framework for growing, processing, and distributing medical marijuana to qualifying patients so that those in need of cannabis can get their medication.

The agricultural centers of the state’s flagship school, LSU, and Southern University have been given the first right of refusal to grow all of Louisiana’s medical marijuana. According to the language presented in the new bill, if the schools accept the bid, they will be responsible for selecting a single, publicly disclosed location for the cultivation and processing of the medical marijuana to take place. The agricultural centers will also be tasked with converting the cannabis plants to extracted oil and ensuring the cannabis grown has the lowest possible concentrations of THC.

The schools could certainly use the revenue the sales from medical cannabis would likely earn them. However, the monopoly formed by allowing only a single cultivator doesn’t come free of charge, as prescribed in the follow up to SB 143, HB 1099. Early reports estimate it could cost up to $7 million to build the medical marijuana facility.  Additional costs would also be incurred for its upkeep, maintenance, and staffing, including security. On top of that, the cost of regulating the production of medical marijuana by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture (LDA) will require whoever grows the marijuana to pay the LDA $100,000 a year and 7 percent of gross sales.

Additionally, as publicly funded universities, the action of growing, processing, and selling marijuana could get LSU and Southern U. in hot water with the federal government, causing them to lose much needed federal funding to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year.

As LSU and Southern U. decide whether to take on this role in Louisiana’s medical marijuana program, they must carefully consider a number of still unanswered questions, like whether the number of people who will be able to enroll as patients will be enough to keep the system operational.

Those involved in Louisiana’s medical marijuana project estimate that it will probably still be a few years before any cannabis products make it into the hands of patients, especially considering it’s already been nearly a year since the bill has been signed and there has been little movement, so for now, Louisiana’s sickest patients must continue to wait.