BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's first medical marijuana products are one step away from pharmacies, with final testing planned for this week.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, whose department oversees the therapeutic cannabis program, said that if the product collected Monday from GB Sciences is free of contaminants, medical marijuana could reach patients early next week.
Strain said he's hopeful the testing will clear the product for release.
"We hope to have the testing complete within seven days," he said in an interview. "We've got everybody on it."
But the agriculture department warned that if any problems are detected with the sample, that could extend the testing - and delay marijuana from reaching pharmacy shelves.
Patients have been waiting years for medical marijuana, after lawmakers created the regulatory framework for dispensing therapeutic cannabis in 2015. Only the LSU and Southern University agricultural centers are authorized to grow medicinal-grade pot.
Nine dispensing pharmacies across the state have been chosen by the pharmacy board and have readied their locations, waiting for a product.
Among the nine is The Apothecary Shoppe in Lafayette.
The pharmacy will be the only supplier in the city.
Co-founder and pharmacist Eric Vidrine tells KATC he's excited about the news because their patients have been waiting.
"We get calls from them every day as to when it's going to be ready," said Vidrine. "We've been ready for probably the last six months, so we're really excited to be able to provide that to the patients in Acadiana.
Regulatory disagreements slowed getting medical marijuana to pharmacies, and patients, their advocates and lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with the delays. GB Sciences, LSU's grower, and Strain's department have feuded over the rules regulating marijuana production and regulatory paperwork.
Strain has said his department had to start from scratch in developing the regulatory structure governing medical marijuana in Louisiana, and he said the rules aim to protect patient safety. But medical marijuana advocates and patients awaiting cannabis have suggested the agriculture agency is too rigid, making it unnecessarily difficult to grow and test the highly sought product.
Southern's grower Ilera Holistic Healthcare planted its first crop last week and has estimated its first product could be available by the fall at the earliest. Its relationship with the agriculture department has been smoother, without public sparring about oversight.
Vidrine believes the future for medical marijuana in the state looks bright.
"I think this program in Louisiana has so many positive things going for it. I know it's taken a long time to get up and running, and I think that's finally going to happen. But, we're one of the only states that has two state universities involved," said Vidrine.
Under the 2015 law and additional changes passed since then, Louisiana is allowing medical marijuana to treat a long list of diseases and disorders, such as cancer, seizure disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson's disease.
Marijuana can be available in medicinal oils, pills, liquids and topical applications. Under a change passed earlier this year, Louisiana's medical marijuana patients also will be allowed to use an inhaler, like asthma patients use. GB Sciences' first product to be released to pharmacies will be liquid tinctures, with a dropper for patients to use.