Speaker Schexnayder – 2020 Session District Survey

Hello supporters and friends-

Incoming Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, Clay Schexnaydre has posted a survey to his page that would take you maybe 2 or 3 minutes to complete and it has a question about a core issue for SMPL on there, decriminalization or a fine rather than arrest for possession of a small amount of Cannabis. We hope you’ll both take the time to go visit the page yourself to complete the survey and also to share it with your online network of friends, family and associates. It’s a few minutes critically well-spent.

Here it is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Schexnayder?fbclid=IwAR1-_CKhQ7WE34rj3jZcUUEyAcP3MxBPrUqkCfiFIAuRfKE-YSRPzF4x_U4

Thanks!
SMPL


What Percentage of Americans Smoke Marijuana?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a July 2019 Gallup poll, 12% of U.S. adults said they smoke marijuana, a percentage that is essentially unchanged since 2015.

The July 2019 Gallup survey found that the likelihood to smoke marijuana varies significantly by gender, age, and political ideology.

  • Men (15%) are more likely to smoke marijuana than women (9%).
  • At 22%, 18- to 29-year-olds are the most likely age group to smoke marijuana — about twice as likely as those between the ages of 30 and 64, and seven times as likely as adults older than 65.
  • Liberals (24%) are six times more likely to smoke marijuana than conservatives (4%), and twice as likely as moderates (12%).

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act that would federally decriminalize marijuana passed the House Judiciary Committee in November 2019, but, with that bill yet to make it to the House floor and facing an uncertain future in the Senate, the use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized marijuana in some way for adults — whether for medicinal or recreational use; however, only one of those states, Florida, is in the South, which is reflected in that region’s lower rate of marijuana users.

  • Between 13% and 16% of adults across the East, Midwest and West smoke marijuana, versus 7% in the South.

Read the entire article here


Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.

This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.

The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.

The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.

The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.

An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.

This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.

The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.

The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.

The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.

Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.

While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.

Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.

Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.

“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”

There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.

A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.

Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Read the entire article here


This Ohio county may need a second morgue to handle the number of fentanyl overdoses

If overdose deaths don’t slow down in Franklin County, Ohio, a temporary morgue may be needed to store the bodies.

The county has seen 23 overdose deaths from January 31 to February 7, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, the county’s coroner, said in a statement on her Facebook page. The next day, the county had five more.
Most of the deaths were likely due to fentanyl, Ortiz said.
Morgue techs are “constantly working [and] don’t take lunch” to keep up with the overdose deaths, the county coroner told CNN affiliate WSYX. If the overdose rate stays at the same pace or worsens, the county may have to bring in a temporary morgue for storage of bodies, Ortiz said.
Ortiz urged those in need of treatment to visit the city of Columbus’ opiate crisis information website.
Read the whole article here

400 pounds of marijuana seized after drugs mailed to Elmwood business, authorities say

A Harvey man told authorities the four packages he received through the mail at an Elmwood business contained hemp and that he had the paperwork to document their legality.

But he was arrested and jailed because federal authorities said the packages contained marijuana that was illegally mailed through the U.S. postal system.

Agents ended up seizing about 400 pounds of marijuana after searching Urban Nola LLC, a business in the 900 block of Edwards Avenue in Elmwood, on Feb. 6, according to an arrest report.

Anthony Le, 35, whom state records list as a managing member of Urban Nola, was booked with felony possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service opened the investigation on Feb. 4 after local staffers intercepted three packages that smelled like marijuana, authorities said. The parcels were addressed to Urban Nola and had been mailed from Watsonville, California.

Boyca, a drug-sniffing State Police dog, “alerted” to marijuana in the packages, the arrest report said. Investigators opened the boxes and found vacuum-sealed bags that tested positive for marijuana.

A day later, a fourth box addressed to Urban Nola came through the postal system.

The post office delivered the four packages to the company’s Elmwood office in a “controlled delivery” and arrested Le when he accepted them. Investigators then searched the company’s office and found a total of 21 boxes containing about 400 pounds of marijuana, the arrest report said.

Le claimed the packaged plant material inside the parcels was hemp, a less potent and recently legalized cannabis cousin of marijuana.

Recently passed federal and state laws legalized “industrial hemp,” a cannabis plant that has a lower level of the psychoactive ingredient THC than marijuana. Hemp is used to make several products, including cannabidiol (CBD), paper, textiles and alcohol.

Legal hemp has a THC concentration of 0.3% or less, according to Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which regulates the state’s budding hemp industry.

Le showed the agents paperwork purportedly documenting the THC levels in Urban Nola’s plants. The arrest report did not reveal whether agents conducted their own THC-level tests.

Even if the plants meet the state and federal THC levels, Urban Nola has other problems, according to Strain and U.S. Postal Service inspectors. Le did not have any of the state licenses required to transport, process or possess industrial hemp, the arrest report said.

The hemp was also shipped from California, a state that has not yet been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to legally grow the product, according to Strain.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service did not comment directly on the investigation, but agent Tony Robinson said it’s illegal to mail marijuana through the postal system. People living in states where marijuana has been legalized often mistakenly believe that they can mail their weed, he said.

“Even though something might be legal to sell in a state, federal laws prevent them from mailing it through the U.S. mail,” Robinson said.

Le was booked into the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna. He was released Friday on a $100,000 bond.

View the full article here


Trump Budget Proposes Ending State Medical Marijuana Protections And Blocking DC From Legalizing

President Trump proposed ending an existing policy that protects state medical marijuana programs from Justice Department interference as part of his fiscal year 2021 budget plan released on Monday.

The rider, which has been renewed in appropriations legislation every year since 2014, stipulates the the Justice Department can’t use its funds to prevent states or territories “from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

This isn’t the first time that an administration has requested that the rider be stricken. Trump’s last two budgets omitted the medical cannabis protections language, and President Obama similarly asked for the policy to be removed. In all cases, Congress has ignored those requests and renewed the protections in spending bills.

During last year’s appropriations season, the House approved an even more expansive amendment that would have provided protections for all state and territory marijuana programs, rather than just medical cannabis systems. But the Senate did not follow suit and the provision was not included in final fiscal year 2020 legislation sent to Trump’s desk.

When Trump signed that large-scale spending legislation in December, he attached a statement that said he is empowered to ignore the congressionally approved medical cannabis rider, stating that the administration “will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

Cannabis is also mentioned in several other places in Trump’s new budget proposal for next year. For example, it contains another long-standing rider that blocks Washington, D.C. from using local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.

Separately, the plan requests that funds be set aside to help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) invest “in priority activities,” including the “regulation of cannabis and cannabis derivatives.” FDA is actively developing regulations for CBD since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“FDA recognizes the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds may offer, and acknowledges the significant interest in these possibilities,” the agency said in a summary. “FDA is aware that companies market products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the law and may put consumer health and safety at risk.”

“Questions remain regarding the safety of these compounds,” it continued. “FDA is committed to protecting the public health and improving regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis and cannabis-derived products within the agency’s jurisdiction.”

FDA said it was important to fund these regulatory efforts because it’s an example of an issue with “rising public health needs as growing
markets outpace increases to Agency resources.”

The agency requested $5 million to “continue enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing potential regulatory pathways, to the extent permitted by law, for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.”

“FDA is seeing a significant increase in activity relating to the marketing of unlawful cannabis-derived products, especially those containing cannabidiol (CBD), since the Farm Bill passed. In many cases, product developers make unproven claims to treat serious or life-threatening diseases, and patients may be misled to forgo otherwise effective, available therapy and opt instead for a product that has no proven value or may cause them serious harm.”

It also outlined how it intends to use the funds across four different branches within FDA.

About $4 million will be allocated to an initiative designed to “better regulate the usage of cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol (CBD), in FDA-regulated products such as dietary supplements and when used as unapproved food additives.”

It will also “support regulatory activities, including developing policies and continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research.”

Half a million dollars will go toward FDA’s Animal Drugs and Feeds Program in order to “strengthen its capacity to evaluate scientific data related to the safe use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives in animal products.”

FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs would receive $2 million to help “regulate and inspect establishments manufacturing FDA regulated products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.”

“The initiative will support regulatory activities, including developing policies and continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research,” the agency said. “FDA must support oversight of increasing numbers of marketed FDA-regulated products containing cannabis-derived substances that may put the public at risk.”

Another “priority component” of the budget is to fund cleanup efforts for illicit marijuana grows on federal public lands.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) would also take a serious budget hit under the president’s proposal. If enacted, ONDCP’s funding would go from the $425 million it was allotted for 2020 to just $29 million for 2021—an approximately 90 percent cut. Trump included a similar request in prior budgets, but Congress rejected the cuts

Some of those dollars for ONCDP would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to “improve coordination of drug enforcement efforts among Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S.” through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, the document states. Other dollars for grants to local anti-drug groups would be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services.

ONDCP, which is an office within the White House, applauded Trump’s request for $35.7 billion to fund “counter-drug efforts” in a press release. Jim Carroll, the offices’s director, said “President Trump has brought a relentless, whole-of-government approach to combating the crisis of addiction in our country.”

“The FY 2021 budget request sends a strong message that, although we’ve seen signs of real progress, the Trump Administration will not let up in our efforts to save American lives,” he said. “Whether it is going after drug traffickers, getting people struggling with addiction the help they need, or stopping drug misuse before it starts, this budget request ensures our partners will have the resources needed to create safer and healthier communities across the Nation.”

The budget also prioritizes funding for the implementation of a domestic hemp program since the crop was legalized. It calls for $17 million for 2021 for the program, which “provides a national regulatory framework for commercial production of industrial hemp production in the U.S. through regulations and guidance.”

“In addition to those regulated under USDA plans, USDA approves state and Tribal nation plans to provide licensing services, technical assistance, compliance, and program management support,” the budget states. “In 2021, USDA will administratively implement fees to cover the Government’s full cost for providing services to beneficiaries of this program.”

Another current rider that prohibits the Justice Department from contravening an industrial hemp research program was proposed to be removed. However, that provision is essentially redundant under the new agriculture law, which transferred jurisdiction of the crop from DEA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

View the full article here


“An organic option for the rich”: Medical marijuana price concerns remain after pharmacy slashes prices

By Amanda Roberts | February 5, 2020 at 10:17 PM CST – Updated February 6 at 3:30 PM (Read the full article here)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -At a doctor’s recommendation, Jackie Hyer tried medical marijuana and says it was all that was promised and more, but she just couldn’t justify staying on it because it was costing her hundreds of dollars a month.

“I thought this would be my miracle and its great, but I just can’t afford it,” said Hyer.

Hearing her cry and dozens of others, Ruston Henry with H&W Drugs says that’s when they made the decision to slash the prices for medical marijuana by 25 percent.

“When you have a patient that saying because of price I will need to not take my medicine that’s a problem as a pharmacist,” said Henry.

The price change can save patients anywhere from $24 to $45 a vial depending on the doctor’s recommendation. Henry says their phones have been ringing, and more patients are starting to come back to them.

“The people we service are a desperate population so now there is hope, at H&W we say we try and give people back their lives,” said Henry.

But neurologist Chad Domangue believes it’s going to take more than a price reduction to make real change, especially because medical marijuana is a cash-only drug.

“I’ve seen people cry in my office about how it helps them sleep, depression, and pain so forth, but then after a month or two as people come into my clinic crying because they can’t afford $180 a month… even if they discounted 25% we can’t afford $300 a month it’s many people car notes right,” said Domangue.

He says any step to make medical marijuana more affordable and therefore more accessible is a good step, but says because of state laws and insurance company demands, he winds up putting a number of those patients back on opioids.

“As physicians we’re being told there’s too many opioids, there’s too many opioid,s but the alternatives such as marijuana and other noninvasive options we have, you can’t get them covered or paid for,” said Domangue.

Domangue believes until legislators allow more suppliers in the state, and insurance companies broaden their coverage a Louisiana medical marijuana recommendation will still be costly.

“Because we only have two suppliers they jack the price up to whatever they wanr. It’s set up to fail it’s one of those things we got excited because they passed legislation but they basically created an organic option for the rich,” said Domangue.

The discounted drug price reduction has only been in place at the H&W store on Tchoupitoulas for about a week.

Henry said they still need time to see how the new price fits within the community’s needs, but is hopeful.

Copyright 2020 WVUE. All rights reserved.


Marijuana Ponzi scheme alleged in Washington state

A Washington state cannabis farm was the focus of a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, an illegal example of the sudden-riches mentality in the legal marijuana industry, according to federal officials.

Investors plowed $4.85 million into the alleged scheme from Green Acres Farms near Anacortes, Washington, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission complaint.

Many of the investors – lured by promises of huge profits – used retirement funds or family loans.

Instead of investing the proceeds into the marijuana farm, Robert Russell, of Duvall, and his California-based executive partner, Guy Scott Griffithe, spent $3.5 million of investors’ money on luxuries such as a 2008 Bentley Continental, a 2012 Mercedes Benz C-Class, a 2015 Porsche Panamera and a yacht, the SEC said.

Neither Russell nor Griffithe could be reached for comment. An attorney who is reportedly representing Robert Russell did not respond to an interview request from the Associated Press.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Santa Ana, California, charges Russell and Griffithe with civil violations of federal securities law and seeks return of “ill-gotten gains.”

No criminal charges were filed.

“Griffithe and Russell exploited popular interest in the cannabis industry to obtain millions of dollars from investors who thought they were buying into a profitable business,” Melissa R. Hodgman, associate director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, said in a statement.

The SEC said Green Acres Pharms was never profitable.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has permanently discontinued Green Acres Pharms’ license to produce and process cannabis.

Read the entire article here


Rumors Are That MedMen Is Unable To Pay Vendors

Once touted as the first “unicorn” in cannabis IPO’s, MedMen Holdings Inc. (OTC: MMNFF) is now struggling to pay vendors. In addition to telling vendors, it wouldn’t be able to pay its bills until February or March, the company has been selling assets and also announced it was laying off employees in November. The Twittersphere was active on the subject as Jason Spatafora @WolfofWeedSt lead the charge by posting several exchanges between unidentified vendors and MedMen executives.

“That’s Shitty News”

One unnamed vendor’s email from MedMen’s Senior Director of Strategic partnerships, Ben Shultz read, “Sorry for the delay. We received our payment schedule from our consultant’s FTI and had them signed off by our CFO. I wish I had better news here, but unfortunately, we don’t have payments scheduled for you in the near term. We are working on longer cash term infusions, but it is unlikely that we will be able to pay off these invoices before Feb/March.” He goes on to write, “That’s shitty news and there’s no sugar-coating it, but I have to be the messenger of bad here. If and when we can allocate funds to pay off our AR, we will be in touch.”

One California vendor suggested vendors consult a lawyer or accountant before accepting stock instead of the money owed by MedMen. Also, not identified.

Josh Shlenker, the General Merchandising Manager wrote to another unnamed vendor, “We’ve employed a financial consultant FTI to help us devise a payment plan strategy to clear outstanding balances and get us caught up as expeditiously as possible.”

It goes on to read, “All I can realistically offer are imperfect solutions and I’ve had to have a lot of frustrating and awkward conversations. FTI is supposed to be reaching out early next week with a proposed solution for you.” It continues with, “I am working on creative arrangements with people who wish to remain in the assortment through this period and I am working to offer them more premium shelf space and trying to find fund to allocate weekly to chip away at the outstanding balances, while still planning to continue to place and receive orders on 45-60 day terms.”

Last week, CEO Adam Bierman spoke to Benzinga and acknowledged the layoffs announced in November, but that was the extent of his remarks regarding the 190 employees given the pink slip. Instead, he dwelled on the real estate choices the company was making. Yet, the company has been selling off its real estate assets (to a business that is closely connected to company executives) and then leasing the property back. Such that shareholders are really not benefiting from these assets. There was no discussion of financial difficulties.

Bierman’s point was the locations that MedMen is choosing will result in more sales. His thesis is that locations located near airports draw the tourist crowd. However, choosing a dispensary near the airport in Vegas, versus one on the strip seems like an odd choice for consumers.  (Editors note: GMR visited the Vegas MedMen dispensary during the MJ Biz conference in December and it was largely empty. NuWu ( billed as the world’s largest dispensary) was very busy with customers, as was Planet 13 and Reef Dispensaries had a line that snaked outside the door.)

No, It’s Not Bankrupt

Short-seller Grizzle.com added fuel to the fire by blasting a headline that asked, “Did MedMen Just Go Bankrupt?” It hasn’t and the general consensus is that cannabis companies can’t declare bankruptcy. According to the U.S. Courts, “All bankruptcy cases are handled in federal courts under rules outlined in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.” Since cannabis is still federally illegal, it is suspected that the court would reject such a filing. Granted, many of these cannabis companies have complicated business structures where potential parts of the company that isn’t plant-touching could file to reorganize, but that remains to be seen or tested.

Setting up payment plans doesn’t necessarily mean a company is out of money, but with a retail business, the end of the year is typically when a company is flush with cash from holiday sales. So, not being able to pay bills at a time when there should be extra revenue coming in is cause for concern. Retailers like Wet Seal, The Limited, Eastern Outfitters and BCBG all filed for bankruptcy in February of 2017 after the holiday season. Demonstrating that this isn’t an uncommon time for retailers to call it quits.

Still, there’s the issue of total reported liabilities of $671 million as per the quarter ending in September. The revenue for the quarter was $43.9 million. This is a fairly lopsided situation. The next earnings report is on February 26, 2020.

Challenges In The C-Suite

MedMen has faced a lot of criticism since it has gone public. The company first came under fire when the May 2018 IPO disclosed the generous pay for Bierman and Co-founder Andrew Modlin, who recently purchased an $11 million home in Hollywood, despite the financial struggles of the company. The IPO also gave the founders the majority of the voting shares causing another outcry.

The company’s proposed acquisition of Pharmacann was terminated in October 2019, one bonus though is that MedMen received some Illinois licenses out of the deal. The company also took this moment to announce that Zeeshan Hyder has been appointed Chief Financial Officer at MedMen. Mr. Hyder, had been MedMen’s Chief Corporate Development Officer. Hyder succeeded Michael Kramer, who apparently was terminated as of October 7, 2019. Kramer was only just hired in December of 2018 and he followed the previous CFO James Parker who only lasted a year and a half. CFO James Parker resigned in 2019 and then followed with a scathing lawsuit that laid bare a great deal of dirty laundry.

More Ugly Rumors

If the vendor payment issues weren’t enough to scare investors, others on the Spatafora twitter feed suggested that the company had sold pesticide tainted cannabis and another said that MedMen was experiencing harvesting issues and was only selling other company’s products. None of this has been substantiated and could be sour grapes from ex-employees, however, if it is true it is troubling.

The stock was lately trading at 57 cents, down from its 52-week high of $3.84. Yahoo Finance lists the company’s market cap at $120 million. The founders have agreed to salary cuts and have relinquished a large portion of their voting rights in an effort to appease its creditors.

MedMen has not responded to a request for comment.

Read the entire article here


Louisiana medical marijuana maker planning major expansions, launch of hemp-derived CBD products

Wellcana Group has big expansion plans for its LSU-licensed medical marijuana operations in Louisiana and is separately courting farmers to grow hemp to support the company’s launch soon into CBD products.

Wellcana — which already operates out of Baton Rouge and is one of only two companies approved in the state to produce medical marijuana — is scouting out land in a less-populated area between Baton Rouge and Lafayette for additional cultivation room for medical marijuana, officials said.

The company expects to build a 100,000-square-foot indoor marijuana greenhouse and storage facility that will create between 100 and 200 new full- and part-time jobs. It also would be a center for collecting hemp grown by area farmers for Wellcana’s planned push into CBD, cannabidiol, products that have grown nationally in popularity for their perceived health benefits.

At the same time, Wellcana expects to expand its Baton Rouge facility off Highland Road near Interstate 10 to primarily clone and process plants and make medical marijuana products being sold to about 5,000 patients so far through nine state-approved pharmacies through licensed-doctors’ recommendations.

Currently, Wellcana’s Baton Rouge facility can grow a limited number of marijuana plants and manufactures tinctures for patients suffering from specific ailments outlined in state law. The company also has been developing prototypes for salves, strips that dissolve on the tongue, metered inhalers and chewable medicine, which contain THC, the active ingredient in medical marijuana products. The facility also will be producing Wellcana’s hemp-based CBD products, which don’t contain THC and can be sold over the counter at all kinds of retail outlets and marketed for its own health benefits.

“We’ll roll out topicals first and then the strips, and then the edible chews. Then metered dose inhalers,” Wellcana Chief Executive Officer John Davis said of the company’s medical marijuana products.

CBD products will be rolled out in similar forms, with the exception of the inhalers, he said.

Right now, the company is tightly packed in its Baton Rouge facility, Davis said. Next month, Wellcana plans to build two more stand-alone pods at its Highland Road facility that will be used for manufacturing products after oils are extracted in another room from medical marijuana plants grown on-site.

A deal for the new off-site growing and storage facility planned between Baton Rouge and Lafayette is expected to close soon, likely with cooperation from a small town, Davis said, without elaborating on negotiations or the location.

“We’re also going to put together an industrial hemp processing center there, too,” Davis said.

That will support production of CDB products, which the company has been developing from hemp. Hemp-derived CBD oils do not contain significant amounts of THC and can be sold legally by retailers.

The stage already has been set by federal and state government for growing hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant and nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana, in Louisiana. On Dec. 23, Louisiana’s industrial hemp plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On Dec. 27, the state’s industrial hemp program began accepting license applications to produce, transport and process industrial hemp in Louisiana.

Wellcana already has been courting farmers for a supply of hemp. Davis trekked to a meeting near Alexandria a few weeks ago to meet farmers at an informational session about hemp that was hosted by the LSU AgCenter.

Davis said the session was standing room only with more than 500 attendees.

Wellcana envisions setting up a system akin to a sugar cooperative, where farmers can buy hemp clones rather than seeds alone, stick them in their fields and return with a fully grown cash crop.

The goal is for Wellcana to source enough hemp biomass so it can supply each of its new CBD products, with the cultivation center between Baton Rouge and Lafayette growing and supplying additional medical marijuana.

“Right now, we can (supply our own biomass) because the market is so slow in ramping up,” Davis said. “We can supply this five times, but in the future when we have different delivery systems (for hemp and medical marijuana), I want to make sure that we’ve got enough biomass dedicated at each one of these lines of products.”

Wellcana has the exclusive license from LSU to grow and manufacture medical marijuana products for patients across Louisiana. Southern University holds the state’s second license and has contracted with another company for operations that are expected to start this year.

The LSU license originally was awarded to Nevada-based biotechnology company GB Sciences, which invested several million dollars into the initial cultivation and manufacturing operation in Baton Rouge through a Louisiana subsidiary. The company also has conducted research alongside LSU into cannabinoids, or the underlying compounds of the active ingredients in marijuana plants.

GB Sciences sold off its Louisiana business over the past two years to a group of Lafayette-based investors, the latest involving a $16 million deal that closed in mid-December 2019 for the half of the company Wellcana didn’t already own.

Wellcana is led by Lafayette attorney Charles Rush and Cajungrocer.com founder Charlie Hohorst III. There are more than 100 investors in Wellcana, which had raised $10 million as of February 2019, including from four former NFL players — among them a former LSU player and two former Saints players.

Read the entire article here