The lucrative nature of marijuana sales was at the center Thursday of a House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture and Rural Development discussion of a law that puts the state into the marijuana distribution business.
Representatives of Louisiana State University and Southern University, the two schools that plan to grow marijuana at separate facilities for use as medical treatments authorized under legislation approved last spring that legalizes and regulates such distribution, were present.
LSU’s operation alone is estimated to cost between $10 million and $15 million, and lawmakers were warned it will take seven to eight years for the operation to become lucrative.
LSU Vice President for Agriculture and Dean of the College of Agriculture Bill Richardson said a contractor will be selected within the next three to four weeks.
The operation will provide 10 to 20 new jobs, he said, but that the number could grow as the research project grows. The marijuana itself will not be taxed because it is a pharmaceutical and currently exempt from sales tax.
The law requires the product, which cannot be shipped outside Louisiana, be grown indoors and away from LSU’s campus in an undisclosed, non-LSU operated building, a facility that Richardson predicted will be “one of the most secure facilities, probably, in the state of Louisiana.”
The law also prohibits LSU students or persons under 21 years old from working at the facility.
Richardson said the product will not be used “for just anything” — in other words, the marijuana will not be sold to be smoked or vaped for recreational purposes.
Richardson said if they can engineer the plants to produce none of the natural “high drug” compound, also known as THC, but rather high amounts of the compound responsible for the drug’s medical benefits (CBD), a child who suffers from seizures can have a safe and regulated medicine that mitigates those afflictions.
Richardson noted that in states where marijuana is legalized in some form, opioid use and beer sales decline significantly.
Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, was a co-sponsor on the original medical marijuana bill. He said the program could benefit “a lot of people who are suffering. We have a lot of drugs on the market derived from plants already.”
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, creating obstacles for acquiring the materials to grow the product in the first place. But Richardson said he hopes to have a product on the pharmacy shelves before the end of 2018. The contract sunsets in 2020.