Tuesday, December 18News That Matters

Medical marijuana plants are ready for harvest, but lack of a testing lab could lead to delays


Louisiana’s first legal crop of medical marijuana is being harvested on Tuesday (Oct. 17). By next week GB Sciences, the licensed grower working with the LSU Ag Center, will start the drying process before they extract the compounds used in medical marijuana.

The company said that they could potentially have product packaged and ready to get shipped out to the state’s nine licensed dispensaries by Nov. 14. However, regulatory hurdles have slowed the process, making it unclear when medical cannabis will actually be commercially available in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the agency which regulates the program, has not yet identified an independent, third-party laboratory to test the product before it gets shipped to the dispensaries. This is a requirement that has been part of the agency’s rules since the inception of Louisiana’s medical marijuana program. It wasn’t until Sept. 20 that the agency issued a revised Request for Proposals to identify an independent lab that would conduct the testing and analysis of the product. Proposals are due back on Oct. 25.

Veronica Mosgrove, the press secretary for the LDAF said in an email that the agency has been looking for a lab that could handle all testing at one location in the state.

“When we could not find a lab capable of doing this, a RFP was initiated in the attempt to find a lab. The purpose of finding a lab that can do everything limits the amount of samples that must be securely transported (logistics issues) and cuts down on cost,” she said.

John Davis, the vice-president of GB Sciences Louisiana said they are feeling the pressure from patients to have product tested and ready for commerce, but a lack of protocol has slowed the process.

“We don’t know at what point of the process they (LDAF) want to test, who is going to do it, what they are looking for,” Davis said. “We are trying to work with the department to resolve these issues. All we are looking for is information and cooperation.”

Mosgrove said that the agency is taking “every measure to ensure that the end product to the consumer is safe and free of adulterants. We are moving as quickly as possible to accomplish this. With that said, we have not received any concentrate or product to begin testing.”

Independent testing of medical grade marijuana has not always been a requirement, according to Karen O’Keefe, the director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national non-profit organization advocating for marijuana policy reform. Some of the states that were the earliest to legalize marijuana for medical use such as California were limited in their ability to regulate and require testing of products, she explained. California only passed a law requiring outside testing in 2015 and didn’t start doing testing product until July of this year, she said.

“Requiring testing is important especially for patients who want to know what materials are being used to grow the plant or even the potency of the medication,” she said.

In testing medical cannabis, labs are testing for contaminants such as mold, pesticides, the presence of heavy metals in the plant, microbials as well as THC and CBD levels.

In a handful of other states the requirement for independent testing has slowed the commercial availability of medical cannabis by years. Hawaii was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 2000. However, dispensaries weren’t legalized until 2015, because the state had not certified any labs to conduct the required testing. This left patients to grow or obtain the product on their own.

Louisiana patients wouldn’t have that option. LSU Ag Center and Southern University Ag Center are the only entities legally allowed to grow marijuana in the state. 

Davis said that GB Sciences is scheduled to meet with the LSU Ag Center and LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain on Monday (Oct. 22) to discuss some of these issues that have led to the delay.

Maria Clark writes about immigration, health, doctors, patients and health care in Louisiana for NOLA.com | The Times Picayune and NOLA Mundo. Reach her at mclark@nola.com . Or follow her on Twitter at @MariaPClark1 .

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