BATON ROUGE–Advanced Biometrics LLC of Lafayette, La., has won the contract to curate marijuana for the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center following a Sept. 22 decision by the Southern University System Board of Directors. Earlier this month, LSU’s Board of Supervisors approved a partnership with Nevada-based GB Sciences Inc. Last year, Senate Bill 271 (Act 96) by Senator Fred Mills gave the Southern’s and LSU’s agricultural centers the right of first refusal to be licensed, separately, as production facilities. The state’s medical marijuana program will be regulated by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. No taxpayer dollars will be spent on the program.
The program provides a unique opportunity for the two schools to conduct research on the drug and its medical uses. Officials from both universities said they will use the marijuana cultivation licenses to develop treatments for debilitating disease. Cancer, HIV/AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis can be legally treated with medical marijuana in the state of Louisiana.
“Quality medicine is the goal of the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s medical marijuana program. We will develop medicines that can alleviate some of the pain associated with these debilitating illnesses,” said Bobby R. Phills, Ph.D., chancellor-dean of the SU Ag Center and SU College of Agricultural, Family, and Consumer Sciences. Southern accepted the five-year, $6 million agreement with Advanced Biometrics who will support research through the Southern Institute of Medicinal Plants (SIMP).
“We’re really excited about the research and intellectual property opportunities in the future,” said Hampton Grunewald with the LSU AgCenter. “There’s been very limited research done across the country.” LSU and Southern are the first public universities to grow marijuana. Both facilities will also be located in East Baton Rouge Parish, although specific sites haven’t been chosen. The crops will be grown in an enclosed building with lighting, humidity, nutrition and temperature that are controlled.
Janana Snowden, Ph.D., SIMP director, said research will focus on natural product development and usage to address the major health issues that face today’s society. The university-grow marijuana can’t be distributed raw. It must be delivered in pill, capsule, oil, powders, gelatin-based chewables, or ointments. Southern’s research will focus on therapeutic effects and medical uses on human health, Snowden said.
Both schools will partner with a private firm to handle the seed-to-sale operation. According to The Southern Digest, SU’s System Foundation will now begin to contract a third party, to help finance and implement this operation. This third party financer would then help the university pay for the hiring of qualified personnel, facility construction, cultivation, extraction, processing, quality assurance and quality control, formulation, distribution and transportation.
To both universities’ excitement, the crops can begin growing as early as next year if curators quickly identify property. And Louisiana patients with chronic illnesses who can benefit from the medicinal herb are anxiously looking forward to some respite from diseases, although state and federal law currently prohibits all forms of marijuana consumption in Louisiana.
“(Marijuana) isn’t a panacea,” said Dr. Ronald Andrews, an internist in Baton Rouge. “It is an adjunct solution where traditional medicine has not provided full relief or has been wholly ineffective in improving quality of life for patients with terminal or debilitating diseases.”
Twenty-nine states—including Louisiana—have active laws or are in the process of legalizing some form of marijuana, Andrews said. “A collaboration between SU and LSU would offer a controlled academic setting to grow and provide a natural remedy to residents in our state.”
For Domonique Joseph, the medicinal marijuana would be a better remedy than opioids and chemotherapy which are currently used to treat systemic lupus erythematosus. Joseph is director of Dymonz Corporation and member of the Louisiana Lupus Foundation, two nonprofit organizations that support people with lupus and other autoimmune diseases offering them tips for disease management, new treatments, research, and emotional support. She has lived with the disease for nine years and said she may just be nearing remission but the side effects from drug treatments over the years have been as detrimental to her health as the disease itself. “We need as many natural remedies as possible,” said the New Orleans native.