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Status Update on Medical Marijuana

The first seed has yet to be planted, but state lawmakers are –- figuratively — tilling the fields to prepare for medical marijuana.

In the House Agriculture committee Thursday, Rayville Rep. Bubba Chaney questioned Ag Commissioner Mike Strain on where LSU and Southern Ag centers stand on starting production, in light of the state budget cutbacks.

“The facility build-out, the cost of that, is that going to be borne by the universities themselves, or the state?” Chaney asked. “What’s the opportunity there for a public private partnership?”

“My understanding is that LSU and Southern is talking to private entities about specifically that, to find funding and some mechanism to build these facilities, which could be 5 to 7 million, up to 15-million dollars,” Strain replied.

Larose representative truck gisclair is uncomfortable with the whole idea.

“I sort of have an issue with an education facility becoming an actual for-profit business,” Larose Rep. Truck Gisclair, a citrus farmer, commented.

“Giving the option to the Ag Centers, Rep. Gisclair, I think we intended and hoped that it might be a cash cow,” New Roads Rep. Major Thibaut responded, with a laugh.

And Strain noted the Ag Centers profiting from their work is nothing new.

“LSU Ag Center ranks 16th in the United States in the amount of royalties it receives for the research it does.”

Over in Senate Health & Welfare, Chairman Fred Mills was also discussing the Ag Centers’ options.

“Do they want to exercise their first right of refusal? Their thought process was, ‘Well, first we need to see what diseases are going to be added to the bill, because if it’s the three diseases that we presently have, the investment doesn’t pay off’.”

Mills was offering a bill to expand the diseases that would be eligible for medical marijuana treatment. In addition to glaucoma, chemotherapy and spastic peligia, Mills’ measure adds cancer, HIV, AIDS, any seizure disorders, epilepsy, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

That bill and another to prohibit prosecution for possession of medical marijuana are scheduled for full Senate debate Monday.  And a bill establishing regulations and fees for medical marijuana dispensaries is awaiting debate by the full House.