Louisiana’s landmark medical marijuana program, under the auspices of the LSU AgCenter and with the assistance of Nevada-based growing partner GB Sciences, appears to be stalled for the time being.
A letter written by Dr. Ashley Mullens, Coordinator of the Therapeutic Cannabis Program at LSU Ag (and January 2019 Comp in Focus speaker) to Tabitha Irvin at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) dated March 1st questions LDAF’s legal authority to determine suitability of GB Sciences and to restrict the movement of the marijuana plants to the main growing facility at LSU. GB Sciences was selected through a public bid process.
Dr. Mullens’ letter responds to Irvin’s February 28th letter approving the movement of plant material (see documents below) and an attached Memorandum of Understanding from LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain. “The LSU AgCenter is unable to enter into the requested memorandum of understanding,” Dr. Mullens wrote. “We believe the proposed MOU exceeds the authority of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and obligates the licensee to rules outside of those promulgated by the (agency) for this program.”
Dr. Mullens further questions LDAF’s authority later in the letter, writing that: “We have every reason to believe that [GB Sciences] will continue to voluntarily submit to LDAF’s requested suitability process out of the spirit of cooperation, notwithstanding the legal question whether LDAF has the statutory authority…to subject a non-licensee to suitability.” The licensee in this case is LSU AgCenter whereas the non-licensee is GB Sciences.
Frankie Gould, head of Communications at the LSU AgCenter responded to a request for comment by saying that “based on recent comments by the Commissioner of Agriculture, we have engaged the LSU Office of General Counsel to provide oversight. At this time we have no additional information.”
LDAF listed a Notice of Emergency Rule on March 6th on its website amending laboratory approval and testing rules. The Notice adds language that gives it authority to test samples of medical marijuana from LSU Ag in its own lab, rather than GB Sciences.
The Louisiana Department of Health lists the eligible conditions, as well as other pertinent information about the medical marijuana program on its website. It also still states that the projected availability date is May 2019, despite this conflict.
Act 261 of the 2015 Legislative Session approved the list of debilitating conditions that will be eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. These conditions include cancer, positive status for HIV, AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. Act 708 of the 2018 Legislative Session added glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain and post traumatic stress disorder to the list of debilitating conditions eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. Finally, Act 496 of the 2018 Legislative Session added four conditions associated with autism spectrum disorder as an eligible condition.
As of now, workers’ compensation patients are excluded from medical marijuana eligibility, however, some local stakeholders have voiced concern that such an exclusion is a violation of the equal protection clause of both the Louisiana and U.S. Constitution. It is unclear at this point whether legislation will be introduced in the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session to reverse the exclusion, especially given that the upcoming Session is fiscal-only.