Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jun 2016
Source: Courier, The (LA)
Copyright: 2016 Houma Today
Author: Tyler Bridges, The Advocate (Baton Rouge)


BATON ROUGE -- Growing up on a cotton farm in Missouri in the 1950s,
Bill Richardson didn't know a thing about marijuana. Nobody talked
about it, he never saw it and he certainly never smoked it.

"I didn't inhale," Richardson, LSU's 71-year-old vice president for
agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, said with a smile
in a recent interview.

Richardson has become the unlikely leader of an effort to get LSU into
the pot business.

Last month, the Louisiana Legislature approved a bill that legalizes
the use of marijuana for people suffering from a specific list of
debilitating diseases. The so-called medical marijuana legislation
authorizes LSU and Southern University to grow and produce cannabis to
be consumed in a liquid form. (Hold the "Cheech and Chong" jokes -- it
cannot be smoked, and no, they won't be offering samples.)

The boards of both universities appear likely to give the go-ahead for
pot cultivation. It's not clear yet, however, who will provide the $10
million to $20 million needed to produce the drug, which will be sold
at 10 standalone pharmacies designated by a state agency. None of the
people wanting to be treated by pot will have access to it for at
least 18 months.

When the Legislature legalized marijuana for patients suffering from
10 specific diseases, lawmakers told emotional stories about the
children and loved ones who stood to benefit. Opponents, meanwhile,
warned darkly that Louisiana was heading down a slippery slope toward
legalizing a dangerous drug.

Lost in the debate is what the measure will mean for LSU and Southern
- -- and the private companies that are now emerging to try to profit
from the new industry by partnering with the universities.

The legislation by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, gave LSU and
Southern no money to launch this new venture, meaning they will have
to rely on private companies to buy the seeds, hire scientists, rent
or build growing facilities and pay for all the other costs.

"All of the money would have to come from venture capitalists, or
you'd have to sell bonds," said Adell Brown, the point person at
Southern as the university's interim chancellor for its Agricultural
Research and Extension Center.

Neither Brown nor Richardson can say yet how much it will cost to get
the business running at full speed, but both agree that it probably
will take at least $10 million.

Brown and Richardson both report getting calls from representatives of
companies that want to rent or sell land or provide a growing
facility. Others are inquiring about financing the entire venture with
the expectation of earning a profit.

"It's a money-making venture," Brown said.

Neither he nor Richardson knows yet where they might grow the pot, but
the universities are not likely to do it together. (The Legislature
has authorized them to cultivate the marijuana because of federal laws
prohibiting the transport of marijuana across state lines.)

The University of Mississippi grows marijuana for research under a
special federal license on the edge of its campus, in a field
surrounded by two fences and armed guards, said an Ole Miss spokesman.

"My recommendation is that it not be grown on campus, for the PR,"
Richardson said.

He expects that LSU's Board of Supervisors will authorize the growing
of marijuana at its June 24 meeting.

"It's something we can do," Richardson said, adding that he sees this
as an opportunity for the university to duplicate its pioneering work
with rice and other crops. Besides, "over the past year, I've heard
enough testimonials of the medicinal effects to believe that the
benefits outweigh the negatives. Plus, there may be some opportunities
to create an income stream to help us balance our budget."

Brown said he expects Southern's board to approve the venture at
either its June or July meeting.

"It will be a highly sophisticated and self-controlled facility with
the proper protocols for security," he said. "We have faculty members
who have done work with a lot of different crops that are of the same

Louisiana is the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana, according
to NORML, a Washington, D.C.-based group that favors legalizing the

While LSU and Southern are gearing up, several state entities are
working to provide the regulatory framework for everyone who wants to
be involved.

The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners already has drafted its
rules for doctors who want to apply to treat patients suffering from
cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and seven other diseases,
including HIV and AIDS.

No doctor can treat more than 100 patients, said Eric Torres, the
executive director of the medical board. Mills' legislation, Senate
Bill 271, requires doctors to "recommend," not "prescribe," the drug,
to get around federal laws.

The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry is drafting rules
that will govern the growing and production of the medical marijuana.
The Legislature has authorized money for the agency to hire outside
labs to make sure the marijuana is free of pesticides and heavy metals
and has the least possible THC -- the active ingredient that makes
people high -- and to hire staff to regulate the new business.

"We have to make sure that end product is safe," Agriculture
Commissioner Mike Strain said in an interview.

The end product is what the patients actually will

"The marijuana cannot be inhaled," said Jesse McCormick, of the
Louisiana Cannabis Association, who lobbied to pass SB271. "It could
be a cream. It could be in liquid form -- tincture. It could be a gel
cap. It could be a vitamin gummy. If you're going to a dispensary to
find 'bud' -- well, you won't."

The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will decide on the drug's final form
and is leaning in favor of allowing LSU and Southern to make that decision.

"Let the producers be as creative as they wish," said Malcolm
Broussard, the executive director of the board.

The 17 members of this Baton Rouge-based board -- who are appointed by
the governor to six-year terms -- also will decide who will operate
the 10 pharmacies throughout Louisiana that will sell the medical
marijuana. Under state law, they cannot be part of a normal drugstore,
although Broussard said it's possible that the therapeutic drug could
be sold in a convenience store. That store could not also sell
prescription drugs, but it could offer over-the-counter drugs, he said.

Next year's licensing decision will put a spotlight on a board so
obscure that Broussard said he had never before been interviewed by an
Advocate reporter during 17 years as executive director.

He said he and board members are well aware of the shenanigans that
surrounded the awarding of 15 lucrative riverboat gambling licenses
and a single New Orleans land casino during Gov. Edwin Edwards' fourth
term in the 1990s. Edwards and several of his cohorts went to prison
for taking payoffs from companies wanting riverboat licenses.

"Our members are concerned about the controversy that surrounded the
gaming licenses," Broussard said. "They don't want to be part of that
kind of thing."
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