BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Lawmakers pressed the Commissioner of Agriculture over the slow rollout of the medical marijuana program. While the state has high demand, there is a shortage of product and endless red tape delaying the program.
With the first medical marijuana products hitting the shelves in the state in 2019, it has been a challenge to keep them stocked. From few suppliers to endless regulations and limited resources on the bureaucratic level, the program is stalling.
“Nobody around the other 37 states that operate medical marijuana programs is looking to Louisiana as best practices,” said Rep. Joe Marino.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain sets the pace for the rollout. Every medical marijuana product has to be tested by one state lab. While some businesses have applied to do the testing, there are strict rules to approve any additional labs.
There have also been months-long delays in any rule changes for something as simple as changing a sticker on a beaker, as pointed out by Representative Debbie Villio. In January, the raw smokable marijuana will be made legal for medical use, but the application process to get the rules set up has been delayed by the office as they claimed to be short-staffed. All of those delays lead to products not getting into the hands of patients.
“There are reserves held at the suppliers that are not necessarily getting to the pharmacies. The pharmacists said we have people to buy it but we don’t have enough to sell,” Rep. Scott McKnight said.
LSU, Southern University and their growers are the only two suppliers of medical marijuana in the state. There are only nine dispensaries that have limited hours. Rep. Jack McFarland said his local doctor didn’t know if he was able to recommend medical marijuana to his patients, highlighting the need for education around the program and products.
With the supply and demand issues, it is also jacking up the prices. One woman with chronic pain testified that she spends over a thousand dollars a month on her medical marijuana products, which would only be a few hundred in other states.
“What patients are paying here is at least double if not more than what patients in Colorado are paying for similar products,” said Dr. James Moises of New Orleans. “We’re a poor state, it’s just hard. It really eliminates a large section of our patient population that could use these medicines.”
Legislators urged the commissioner for more answers on why there are so many delays. He said it is part of the safety process and the smaller budget given to the program.
Patients testified that they could go months without having their medication due to the short supply and dispensaries being inaccessible. The gelatine products, or gummies, have rarely been seen on shelves due to the rules around them being changed multiple times and long wait periods between each approval.
“We have an industry that we have approved that we have to allow to move smoothly and the end result is we have happy consumers that get a product that they need at a good price point to where we can move this forward,” Rep. McKnight said.
The commissioner said the budget for the program has been cut in half and there are limited resources to complete all the work. But he said the safety of the products must not be lost in the rush to get products out. He will be called back to the capitol next month to answer more questions about delays in the program.