Search underway at Southern, LSU for private marijuana producer

    Southern University, one of two licensed medical marijuana growers in Louisiana, held a town hall last night and announced a timeline for seeking out a private partner to grow and produce marijuana into chewables, oils, pills or powders.

    Southern Ag Center officials will issue a request for proposals in mid-March, with a 30 to 45 day application period. Much like LSU, the state’s only other licensed grower, Southern will contract with a vendor to produce the marijuana. The university has scoped out undeveloped land at the school’s Agriculture Research and Extension Center’s Experiment Station in Baker, according to a press release.

    The vendor will have to invest around $5 million to $7 million initially and conduct a seed-to-sale operation.

    LSU had a similar town hall last year, drawing hundreds of interested investors and members of the public. The LSU Ag Center sent out a solicitation for offers earlier this month, and will stop accepting offers March 21.

    LSU Agcenter spokeswoman Frankie Gould says the school will select the top two applicants and have them make a presentation. The tentative goal is to have medical marijuana available to patients by the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018, Gould says.

    The universities are in somewhat uncharted waters with regards to federal laws and funding. Federal law prohibits marijuana use, and while Congress has prevented any interference with state medical marijuana production, Southern and LSU will be the first universities to produce it.

    “So far I’m not sure of any cases where the federal government has denied funding based on medical marijuana,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Daily Report last month. “But I’m not sure. This is unprecedented.”

    Typically, O’Keefe said, programs are run entirely by private firms. While Louisiana will have private firms partnering with the universities, it’s venturing into “new territory” for medical marijuana policy.

    Some states that have legalized recreational marijuana use are reeling after Thursday’s comments by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that the federal government will crackdown on states that allow recreational use of the drug, USA Today reports.

    But that crackdown would still not apply to medical marijuana programs, and Louisiana is thought to be low on the list of priorities for a potential federal crackdown on marijuana.

    The Louisiana Legislature last year passed the final laws to set in motion the medical marijuana program, under considerably narrow circumstances. The drug, which cannot be produced in a smokeable form, will only be available to people with a handful of serious conditions, including cancer, HIV, AIDS and muscular dystrophy.

    In fact, the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana throughout the country and in Congress, does not even recognize Louisiana as a state that has a functioning medical marijuana program because the state has such sweeping restrictions.

    —Sam Karlin

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