BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A simmering feud between one of Louisiana’s medical marijuana growers and the program’s regulator spilled into the Legislature on Tuesday, as lawmakers consider reworking oversight of therapeutic cannabis to end disagreements that have slowed release to patients.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Louisiana State University’s grower GB Sciences aired ongoing disputes in a contentious hearing of the House health committee that wrapped up with lawmakers voting 6-4 for a proposal to strip Strain’s agriculture department of regulatory authority and give that oversight job to the health department.
The measure by Rep. Dustin Miller moves to the House floor.
Miller, an Opelousas Democrat, is frustrated that four years have passed since lawmakers created the framework for dispensing therapeutic cannabis and marijuana still hasn’t reached patients.
“The current process is broken,” Miller said. “The current process is not working for the state and it’s not working for the patient.”
Strain said his department had to start from scratch in developing the regulatory structure governing medical marijuana in Louisiana. He said the rules aim to protect patient safety and he believes lawmakers put the regulatory oversight in his agency because they knew “I would not bend to political or public pressure, I would not shortcut anything.”
Medical marijuana advocates and patients awaiting cannabis have suggested the agriculture agency is too rigid, making it unnecessarily difficult to grow and test the highly sought product. The latest estimates are that medicinal-grade pot may reach pharmacy shelves by June, but even that timeline is tentative, relying on testing from the agriculture department.
John Davis, GB Sciences Louisiana president, described the relationship between the grower and Strain’s office as a “dysfunctional dance” that is “not in the best interest of patients.”
“The program reasonably has been set back six months as a result of regulatory delays,” said Davis, whose wife is a lawmaker in the House.
Providing yet another example of ongoing disputes, Strain revealed during Tuesday’s debate that a pesticide was found in GB Sciences’ medical marijuana during testing, which could again delay release to patients. But Davis said the company didn’t use the pesticide during its growing process, and he questioned whether the agriculture department’s lab contaminated the sample.
Rep. Larry Bagley, a Republican from Stonewall, voted against the oversight change. He questioned if shifting authority to the Department of Health would improve the situation or create new delays because the agency would have to set up its own regulatory infrastructure for medical marijuana.
“If time is the problem here, why would we want to waste more time?” Bagley said.
Under a law passed in 2015 and tweaked since then, Louisiana is allowing medical marijuana to treat a long list of diseases and disorders, such as cancer, seizure disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease. Marijuana can be available in medicinal oils, pills, liquids and topical applications, but cannot be sold in a form to be smoked.
Only the agricultural centers at LSU and Southern University are allowed to grow cannabis. Southern’s grower, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, is further behind in development.