METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - One of the 10 medical marijuana dispensaries allowed by state law could set up shop in the heart of Metairie, but multiple Jefferson Parish leaders say they were left in the dark about the project.
"It's surprising to me that there hasn't been any discussion yet with parish government, with officials to let us know that this business is potentially locating here, especially because it does have some controversy attached," Councilwoman-At-Large Jennifer Van Vrancken said.
Van Vrancken, Parish President Mike Yenni and State Representative Polly Thomas, who represents the district where the dispensary would go, all said they were unaware of ongoing process to open a dispensary near I-10 and Causeway Blvd.
The medical marijuana to be sold can only be in pill or oil form. It cannot be smoked.
At this time, the potential Metairie business is following all state guidelines, and it is ranked number one by the state pharmacy board as a potential location.
"We were excited to find out we were ranked number one by the board subcommittee, and now we're just waiting for the final board approval so we can go ahead and start construction," Dr. Sajal Roy told Fox 8 during a tour of the facility Wednesday. "Every unit piece has to be accounted for from seed to sale."
"I know there are people who have told me they have been helped, children with epilepsy, parents that I've spoken to that have certainly said they see a use for some of these products," Van Vrancken said. "We're not opposed, but we have a lot of questions and I think it's time to have some discussions this moment before it proceeds further."
"We're going cautiously into the wrong direction," Metairie resident and former DEA agent Harold Patin said.
Patin fought against Louisiana's legalization of medical marijuana.
Once the program is up and running, only doctors with state approval can prescribe it for ten specific illnesses, including HIV and cancer.
"California had medical marijuana for more than 20 years...you might as well just sell it on the street," Patin said. He is concerned the state program will lead to full legalization of the marijuana.
"Our interest is just in the medical side. We are not interested in the recreational side," Coordinator of LSU Ag Center's Therapeutic Cannabis Program Ashley Mullens said.
Mullens said lawmakers approved the program in 2015. She said often times local political leaders and physicians are surprised to learn LSU and Southern University are both permitted by the state to grow and sell medical marijuana in pill or oil form to certified dispensaries.
"I think a lot of people are in need and hurting and hopefully this is something they can benefit from and we want to be the ones that figure out what works and what doesn't work and really help the ailing patients of Louisiana," Mullens said. "We are working very closely with the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. We are all just trying to stay in touch about our timeliness to make sure pharmacies are ready to go when we have product available and also that there are doctors there that can recommend the product to patients."
After speaking with Fox 8, Representative Thomas reached out to the State Board of Pharmacy. She said members of the board informed her potential dispensary owners have more interviews with the state at the end of March before earning a certification. .
Van Vrancken said she believes the dispensary must be approved for permits before it could open for business.
"Our code department doesn't know anything about this yet. So there's still a lot of unanswered questions and there hasn't been any communication," Van Vrancken said.