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 the medical use of cannabis in 2015, with dispensary sales of regulated medical cannabis products beginning 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.
But limitations of the program drew criticism from medical marijuana advocates. The supply of medical cannabis in Louisiana was strictly regulated, with only three cultivators affiliated with state university programs authorized to grow medical cannabis in the state. Only nine dispensaries distributed throughout the state were permitted to dispense 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. Metered-dose vaporizers were authorized in 2019, but smokable forms of marijuana remained unavailable to patients.
Last year, Democratic Gov. 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. Legal sales of smokable medical cannabis began in the state on January 1.
“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.
More Choice for Patients
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.”
Patients, however, say they have not seen a reduction in the price they are paying. Corbet King, who uses medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and bipolar disorder, drove for an hour to West Monroe to visit Delta MedMar, a licensed cannabis dispensary in northeastern Louisiana. But he said that he was disappointed by the prices of cannabis flower, which he noted can be bought far less expensively from illicit sources.
“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. Greg Morrison, a co-owner of Delta MedMar, said that prices would likely come down as more patients join the medical cannabis program and suppliers make more products available.
“When there are more patients and more products, prices are going to be more affordable,” Morrison said.
Davis said that Good Day Farms has ramped up its cultivation to meet the demand for smokable forms of marijuana, with two cannabis strains available now and additional varietals in production.
“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, the speaker pro-tem of the Louisiana House of Representatives and the sponsor of the medical cannabis expansion bill, told reporters that he was concerned about early reports of high prices on newly available cannabis flower.
“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.”