BATON ROUGE — Louisianians who could benefit from medical marijuana may want to use the drug soon now that lawmakers have passed a pot proposal, which Gov. Bobby Jindal promises to sign.
But the unfortunate reality is that they will have to wait — years.
Passing the bill was the first step toward making good on Louisiana’s 1991 medical marijuana law, which legalized medical use of the plant but did not address growing and prescribing the drug to patients with cancer, glaucoma and a severe form of cerebral palsy.
Once Jindal signs the bill into law, state officials will begin writing administrative rules for growing and distributing marijuana, while hewing to the stringent regulations state law enforcement associations insisted on. Officials must also develop a process for selecting and licensing the 10 medical marijuana pharmacies and the one cultivator allowed under the bill.
“This is all new ground,” said Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, whose office is developing cultivation rules. “We’re going to follow every rule, every regulation with a great care.”
A team of policy experts with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry has begun researching the process already, Strain said.
Malcolm Broussard, executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, said his office is waiting until the bill is signed before it starts drafting rules about how medical marijuana pharmacies will be licensed and how prescriptions will be filled.
By January, Strain and Broussard’s offices, as well as the Board of Medical Examiners, must submit proposed rules to the public and the Legislature. If lawmakers reject the rules, they would be sent back to the drawing board.
There’s another important matter: Someone has to actually grow the crop. Not only that, but the raw crop must also be refined into a consumable form because the bill forbids patients from smoking the drug.
All said and done, state officials predict it will take at least two years before patients can begin to use medical marijuana.
Another complicating matter is the potential for a public bidding process to determine who will grow the state’s medical pot supply.
LSU and Southern University get first right of refusal. But if both schools decline to become a cultivator, the state must formally request bids from the private sector.
When debating the bill, lawmakers were on edge because of the possibility that the contract could be awarded to political benefactors.
“This will probably be one of the most scrutinized contracts in Louisiana history,” Strain said. “We intend to be very, very open and cautions.”