Louisiana’s medical marijuana market is poised to grow within the wake of latest laws that permits extra physicians to authorize the drug for added medical situations.

But the state’s nascent regulated hashish sector nonetheless faces vital challenges to its enterprise outlook, together with:

  • Low affected person numbers to date.
  • A restricted variety of shops, limiting entry by geography.
  • Comparatively excessive costs for obtainable product types.
  • Constraints on allowable types of MMJ that forestall the sale of hashish flower in plant kind.

Still, Louisiana medical hashish retailers and licensed growers advised Marijuana Business Daily they’re optimistic the program will enhance because it matures, attracting extra sufferers by decreasing costs, rising entry and ultimately allowing hashish flower.

Increase in affected person numbers expected

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program launched in August 2019, and the Marijuana Business Factbook estimated MMJ gross sales within the market final 12 months totaled solely $1 million-$1.5 million.

For 2020, the Factbook estimates gross sales between $15 million and $20 million.

Louisiana sufferers at the moment want a physician’s suggestion to purchase MMJ merchandise from dispensaries referred to as medical marijuana pharmacies.

But MMJ can be utilized just for particular medical situations – and it may be beneficial solely by physicians explicitly approved to achieve this by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

That will change when Louisiana House Bill 819, signed into regulation by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 15, takes impact in August.

The invoice permits any doctor in good standing with the board of medical examiners to suggest MMJ for any situation that a physician considers debilitating to the particular affected person.

“This essentially allows every doctor to practice medicine and participate in the program, and it allows every patient to have access to talking with their doctor about whether (medical marijuana) is appropriate for them,” mentioned John Davis, CEO of Louisiana hashish producer Wellcana.

For now, affected person numbers remain low.

Only 9 medical marijuana pharmacies are licensed to serve Louisiana’s inhabitants of round 4.7 million that’s scattered throughout 9 massive areas.

The most recent available figures from the state present these pharmacies served comparatively few clients on the outset: Just 4,350 whole sufferers accessed medical marijuana between the program’s launch in August 2019 and the tip of that 12 months.

Retailers constrained by regional demographics, excessive costs

Louisiana’s low affected person depend suggests “the lion’s share of cannabis medicine in Louisiana is being supplied by the black market,” mentioned David Brown, proprietor of Willow Pharmacy in Madisonville and former president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana.

Brown mentioned his pharmacy serves the very best variety of sufferers in Louisiana, which he attributes partially to the relative affluence of his area within the southeastern sector of the state, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

In different areas with much less wealth and fewer physicians recommending medical hashish, he added, a pharmacy’s enterprise outlook is perhaps much less rosy – within the state’s northeast area, he identified, the licensed medical marijuana pharmacy is open ony two days every week.

The sheer dimension of the areas served by every pharmacy additionally creates a barrier to success, mentioned Kevin Caldwell, co-president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana.

“There are many cases, specifically up in northern Louisiana, where a patient would have to take on the undue burden of really traveling a long distance to get to the dispensary,” he mentioned.

Joe Williams, CEO of The Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy within the central Louisiana metropolis of Alexandria, hopes the anticipated improve in physician suggestions “opens up a whole new market for us, with access – but we also know, obviously, that prices are too high.”

Williams’ pharmacy averages about 12 transactions per day for regulated merchandise containing THC.

He mentioned the enterprise is at the moment breaking even.

“It’s still very disappointing, don’t get me wrong, but I do feel some momentum, and I’ll tell you what’s really been good is (over-the-counter) CBD sales,” Williams mentioned.

“Why? It’s about a third of the price, but more importantly, you don’t have to go through the hassle of going to a doctor … We can’t keep it (in stock) – we’re making $12,000 to $15,000 in profit every month on CBD.”

Limited variety of producers

Two state universities maintain licenses to produce medical marijuana in Louisiana. Both have contracted operations to personal firms.

Wellcana, partnered with Louisiana State University, is the one producer at the moment promoting THC-containing merchandise to medical marijuana pharmacies.

CEO John Davis acknowledged wholesale costs for Wellcana’s tinctures have been excessive but mentioned his firm’s potential to decrease costs is constrained by its contract with the college.

Under that settlement, Wellcana’s wholesale costs are based mostly on the corporate’s price of products bought, Davis mentioned.

With low affected person numbers limiting the variety of accomplished gross sales in that equation, he defined, Wellcana’s price of products bought is increased than it will be in a mature market.

“We have not sold enough products to remotely get into the black,” Davis added.

“We’re working in the red, and this change in the law that would allow for greater patient access and greater physician participation, we’re anticipating that that is going to allow us to provide an even more affordable product, and array of products, and allow us and (LSU) to hopefully move from the red to the black.”

In truth, Davis advised Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate this week that Wellcana is cutting its wholesale prices.

Louisiana’s different hashish producer, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, is partnered with Southern University.

Ilera at the moment sells a hemp-derived, over-the-counter CBD product to shopper pharmacies, but CEO Chanda Macias mentioned the corporate’s upcoming THC line might be centered on affordability.

The flower query

Wellcana plans to introduce new marijuana product types, together with topicals and buccal strips, later this 12 months.

But Louisiana’s ongoing ban on dried hashish flower means the market is perhaps failing to seize some potential shoppers.

A invoice proposed this 12 months would have removed the restrictions on allowable types of medical marijuana to allow flower, but the measure didn’t make it via the legislative session.

“Until we get flower in the state of Louisiana for the patients, then we’re just nibbling around the edges at reform,” Willow Pharmacy’s Brown mentioned.

Ilera’s Macias mentioned she plans to maintain lobbying for removing of the flower restriction.

“The forms that we need to expand, to be comparable or, even at this point, surpass, any medical marijuana program in the nation would be vaporizables … and a flower market,” she mentioned.

Wellcana’s Davis mentioned any legislative change allowing hashish flower would depend upon “continued education of those governmental stakeholders,” together with law-enforcement teams and regulators.

“But it’s going to take time, because there has been a very effective campaign to thoroughly demonize and stigmatize medical cannabis and cannabis in general,” he mentioned.

Solomon Israel will be reached at [email protected]

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