The long-anticipated rollout of Louisiana’s therapeutic cannabis program happened two months ago. So many advocates did everything in their power to influence state legislators to create a program that met the needs of the patients in Louisiana and have been hamstrung by opponents every step of the way. Had the Governor not personally known a child who could benefit from therapeutic cannabis we may not have a program at all. So, what Louisiana got was a miniature version of what a Big Pharma control over cannabis would look like. By no means does it meet the needs of our patient base, nor was it meant to by fiat of the legislature. Will the program help some patients? Yes, if they have the financial wherewithal to afford the process to get a recommendation and get the product that the legislature has deemed is suitable for the citizens of our state.
Advocates have informed our legislators since 2015 that the limited methods of delivery would stymie the program. States such as New York and Connecticut started off with limited delivery systems and hemorrhaged money until they updated their programs to, at least, include vaporization as a method of delivery. The response we received was this was the only version of the program that could get the approval of the Sheriffs and District Attorneys. Those stakeholders did not include one patient or advocate. The state of Louisiana decided who were the stakeholders.
The only method of delivery that was rolled out was a tincture. Some patients respond well to a tincture but there were just three varieties available: THC rich, CBD rich and a 1:1 THC/CBD. Not the variety that a healthy program offers. There will be further delivery methods available in the future including topicals, oil pills, suppositories and “tightly metered “inhalation devices like an asthmatic inhaler. The stakeholders are terrified that actual cannabis, in its natural form, could become available to the unsuspecting masses of patients in Louisiana. Quite simply, patients in more robust states often must experiment with several varieties of strains to achieve satisfactory results. GB Science (the subcontracted grower at LSU) does not even give strain or a list of cannabinoids in their tincture claiming it is proprietary. This business model does not build trust within the patient community. Many patients are already familiar with cannabis and know what varieties work best for them. The state legislature created a duopoly with the intent to make sure that the methods of delivery would keep the patient base low and put parameters in place to make Louisiana have the most expensive cannabis in the United States if not the world.
But you do not have to just believe advocates in this argument. Economics rarely takes politics into consideration. Since GB Science is the only producer with products on the market, we would expect that their stocks would reflect they’re being first on the market. Actually, their stock prices are hovering around $0.09 a share. Illera Holistic (Southern University subcontracted grower) was recently purchased by a Canadian cannabis company but the press releases only talked about their operations in Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. It appears to many that the financial markets have little to no faith in Louisiana’s program becoming profitable in its current form.
We can look at neighboring states with more robust therapeutic cannabis programs to see what we must do to create a viable and stable program for the patients of Louisiana. Florida, Arkansas, and Oklahoma allow vaporization and raw flower in their programs. These are conservative states with legislatures to match, but they brought about change with ballot initiatives (which Louisiana does not have). Oklahoma has over 100,000 registered patients and Florida has 225,000. GB Science states there five thousand patients registered. Social media posts show that patients in Louisiana do not like the methods of delivery nor do they find the price of products to be affordable. Many in the industry are concerned about how many of those five thousand patients will return for more medicine. These are viable concerns and when the underground economy is better meeting the needs of patients than the state-sanctioned program anyone who invested in the program should be concerned as well. As we have heard about the latest storylines about counterfeit cartridges causing health issues, the underground economy is solely about profit not the health of the consumer.
There is no easy fix to the situation we find the state of Louisiana currently in. The law was designed to be the most restrictive program in the country. Both the two sanctioned grows and the pharmacies have invested millions of dollars to participate. The irony is not lost on advocates that so many legislators who normally talk free-market economic principals only would sign off on bills that created the current mess we find ourselves in. Luckily for our neighbors, with ballot initiatives, programs are set up that meet the needs of patients as well as create economic opportunities in those states. By capping grows at two and nine pharmacies (one more to be added after a year) the state created a program that is doomed to disappoint patients and stifle opportunity in the fastest-growing sector of the American economy. When patients in Louisiana are paying almost double (for low THC/high CBD tincture) and up to five times (THC rich tincture) what free-market economies (but still regulated) can provide patients we have to ask if this was intentional? Knowing that poor and working-class/middle-class patients would not be able to afford to participate in the program may have been an intended consequence. Advocates were vocal about concerns in these tangibles throughout the legislative process, so ignorance is not an excuse for legislators.
In the end, the stakeholders the state took input from their chosen stakeholders and decided that this is what Louisiana would have in terms of therapeutic cannabis. The Sheriffs and District Attorneys obviously value their power and finances trump the needs of thousands of patients of our state. They feel the need to continue to put 15000 people a year into the criminal justice system for possessing this plant rather than let qualified patients participate in a program that meets their needs. It appears they fear how many adult-use consumers would be viable patients in a robust system. These organizations hold rural Louisiana in a stranglehold with no end in sight, curbing their machine’s insatiable appetite for mass incarceration. Sadly, the patients of Louisiana will suffer due to their hubris, and once again we find ourselves at the bottom of lists.