Medical marijuana treatments were being delivered to all nine state-approved pharmacies in Louisiana Tuesday, the head of one of the two state producers said.
“Today is a great start,” said John Davis, president of GB Sciences Louisiana. “We’re so happy for the patients. It gives me great pleasure to know we’re providing some hope and some symptom relief for patients.”
That includes Jeanette Anthony, who on Tuesday visited Capitol Wellness Solutions in Baton Rouge where the state’s first legal medical marijuana transactions were conducted. Her husband Albert Anthony said she has glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.
He said he hopes the drug will help her feel better and regain her appetite. He also has read reports describing preliminary research that suggests THC, the psychoactive component found in cannabis, might be able to shrink tumors.
Raw, smokeable marijuana is still illegal for any use in Louisiana. The first products legally available in the state are extracts delivered with a dropper under the tongue. Three different varieties are available: one with high THC content, one that is low THC but high in CBD, and one that is a balance of the two.
Pharmacist Randy Mire, founder and CEO of Capitol Wellness, said 80 percent of the recommendations he had received were for the high-THC product.
“We’re counseling each patient and explaining to them to treat this like they would any new medication,” he said. “You don’t want to take this and just go start driving right away.”
Mire said he started reaching out to lobbyists and lawmakers six years ago when he first heard medical marijuana was a possibility in Louisiana. He said complying with the regulations necessary to become one of the state-approved pharmacies was not difficult.
Getting products grown, developed and approved has been more arduous. While medical marijuana technically has been legal in Louisiana for many years, lawmakers didn’t begin the process to make it available until 2015.
The framework for the current system was established in 2016. The agricultural research centers of LSU and Southern University are the state’s only approved growers.
GB Sciences, with a parent company based in Nevada, is LSU’s subcontractor. Davis has sometimes chafed at the regulatory oversight of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, though he said Tuesday the two sides now were working well together.
“Business moves faster than government,” Davis said. “But I’ve also got to balance that because [Mike Strain, the state’s agriculture and forestry commissioner] has got to do a job, and his job is to protect the public.”
State Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat and longtime medical marijuana proponent, said bringing his colleagues in the legislature around was mostly a matter of “dispelling a lot of the myths.”
“There has been a lot of fear,” he said. “Too many of my colleagues made this debate about recreational marijuana. The last two years, we had a lot of doctors [testify], so it was based on science.”
Hearing personal stories from parents and veterans changed a lot of “hearts and minds,” James said.
Davis said he expects between 5,000 and 10,000 patients around the state in the early days of medical marijuana being available, though he plans to ramp up to meet demand from as many as 150,000 people.
Future products likely will include thin films that dissolve on the patient’s tongue, similar to those used for breath fresheners, lozenges and pills, he said. Legislation approved this year allows for metered inhalers, though rules governing their use haven’t been written yet.
The federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, which limits the medical marijuana business and research in the United States. If that changes, Baton Rouge, with two university-affiliated growers and a large health care sector capable of holding clinical trials, could be a research leader, Davis said.
“There’s no reason that this should not be the epicenter for therapeutic cannabis,” he said.