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Cannabis Flower Sales Begin in Louisiana

Legal sales of smokable cannabis flower began in Louisiana over the long holiday weekend, giving patients registered with the state’s medical cannabis program a new option for accessing their medication of choice.

Louisiana lawmakers legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 2015. The dispensary sale of medically regulated cannabis products will start in 2019. Under the state’s program, patients with one or more qualifying medical conditions could receive a recommendation from their doctors to use cannabis medicinally.

However, critics raised concerns about the program’s limitations. Louisiana had strict regulations regarding medical marijuana. Only three licensed cultivators were allowed to plant medical cannabis. The state allowed nine dispensaries to provide medicinal cannabis to patients.

Additionally, inhalable medical cannabis products including vapes and flower were prohibited under Louisiana’s medical cannabis program, which only allowed forms of cannabis including tinctures, topicals and gummies. Patients were still unable to use smokable marijuana, but metered-dose vapes were allowed in 2019.

The Democratic Governor. John Bel Edwards approved legislation to expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program that included the addition of raw forms of cannabis to the menu of allowable products. On January 1, legal sales of medicinal cannabis smokable began in Louisiana.

“It’s an exciting day; it feels like the first day again from August 2019 when the first products became available,” said John Davis of Good Day Farms, the private partner and grower for the Louisiana State University AgCenter.

Patient Choices Expanded

Advocates for including smokable cannabis flower in Louisiana’s medical marijuana program argued that the processed forms of cannabis available to patients are more expensive than dried forms of the plant. Ruston Henry, owner and pharmacist at New Orleans licensed dispensary H&W Drug Store, told local media that permitting lower-cost cannabis flower will benefit the state’s medical marijuana patients.

“That cost saving is passed onto the customers,” Henry said. “If you decrease the cost, it’s one less barrier that’s an impediment to the patients. More people should be able to participate in this program.”

But patients say that the cost of their cannabis has not decreased. Corbet King uses medical marijuana to manage chronic pain and bipolar disorder. He drove an hour from West Monroe to Delta MedMar in Northeast Louisiana to see the dispensary. He said he was disappointed at the high prices for cannabis flowers, but he pointed out that illicit marijuana can be purchased much cheaper.

“They said it would be cheaper, but it’s not,” said King. “I’ve been waiting on the flower option, but this more than double the street price” of unregulated cannabis.

“I feel like we were lied to,” King added.

With Saturday’s launch of legal sales, prices for one-eighth of an ounce of cannabis flower at Louisiana’s nine licensed dispensaries ranged from $35 in St. Charles up to $80 in New Orleans, according to media reports. Co-owner at Delta MedMar Greg Morrison said prices will likely fall as more people join the medical marijuana program and more suppliers offer more cannabis products.

“When there are more patients and more products, prices are going to be more affordable,” Morrison said.

Davis indicated that Good Day Farms had increased its cultivation in order to supply the market for potable marijuana. They now have two varieties of marijuana and are adding more.

“They’re stocked up right now, and there is more flower in the department of agriculture and forestry’s testing pipeline that will be available (we are) anticipating (in) mid-January,” he said.

“So over time, we’re going to be releasing additional strains to the market so that patients will have an ever-increasing strain selection,” Davis added.

Republican state Representative Tanner Magee (speaker pro-tem of Louisiana House of Representatives) told reporters that he is concerned by early reports of excessively high prices for newly available cannabis flowers.

“It’s the first day, but I’m going to monitor it and see if there needs to be adjustments moving forward,” said Magee. “One of the primary reasons to expand the options in the program was to make the medicine more affordable and accessible.”

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain said that the addition of cannabis flower to the state’s medical marijuana program is likely to change how patients take their medicine.

“I think there’s going to be a shift in consumption patterns,” Strain said. “We will probably have some overall increase in utilization, but it will remain to be seen. We’ll know in about six months.”