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Bills filed in Louisiana legislature seek to expand state’s medical marijuana program

“I think there’s a direct correlation between inaccessibility and participation in the illicit market. I think the current system clearly enables the illicit market,” said Jeff Schmidtke, Executive Director of BioSciences Louisiana.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 10:47 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A slew of bills have been filed to expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program, from increasing the number of licenses for pharmacies and growers allowed by state law to giving nurse practitioners the ability to recommend medical marijuana for a patient.

Right now, Louisiana has one of the highest costs for medical marijuana in the country. Advocates said the high costs are tied to the fact that the state has just two growers.

“It definitely causes some issues with supply. It also causes some issue with contingency,” said Jeff Schmidtke, Executive Director of BioSciences Louisiana. “What is the backup? What is the population supposed to do when an entire harvest fails, either through failing tests, or spoilage, or contamination?”

Schmidtke said BioSciences is ready to hit the ground running as a cultivator of medical marijuana. But under current state law, he said his company can’t get a license.

He’s hoping the passage of a bill increasing the cap on the number of growers allowed to participate in the state’s medical marijuana market could change that.

“We are working towards an opportunity to participate. We will have to participate in any application process or any sealed bid process, just as anybody else,” Schmidtke said. “There have been testimony from various pharmacy owners that have stated, as early as 2021, they have had a hard time maintaining a consistent level of supply.”

The state’s two growers, Southern University and LSU, put their cultivation in the hands of two private companies: Ilera Holistic Healthcare and Good Day Farm.

Schmidtke said he wants to see the market open up to all companies willing to follow state guidelines.

“I think there’s a direct correlation between inaccessibility and participation in the illicit market. I think the current system clearly enables the illicit market,” he said.

But for those Louisianans who choose to get their medical marijuana legally, by receiving a recommendation from a participating physician, the cost barrier may prove to be too much.

“Awareness of my thoughts, my emotions, my body, it allowed me to be open to receive help,” said Joshua Moffett, a patient, and former Army Ranger.

Moffett did five tours overseas. When he returned, he brought scars home with him.

“I’m diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and then I’m diagnosed with arthritis,” he said. “I jumped out of planes, raided buildings, pretty much every day.”

Now working as a counselor, Moffett said he often speaks with other veterans about the state’s marijuana program. But the prices act as a deterrent for some.

“It’s basically been a pure monopoly in the past, so therefore you could say the State of Louisiana would be a hostile environment to most of the corporate marijuana industry,” said Robert Collins, a political analyst from Dillard University.

Collins said popular support for Louisiana’s medical marijuana program has been bipartisan, and the political tides are turning toward expanding the program.

“As long as you have a monopoly, there’s no competition,” Collins said. “So the prices are going to stay high because the two corporate partners and the two universities can basically charge whatever they want.”

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