- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - LSU and Southern University both want to begin growing marijuana for medical use.

The boards of both schools approved plans Friday to pursue licensing, local media report. It would make them the sole growers and researchers for the state.

This spring, the Louisiana Legislature widened the state’s medical marijuana laws, making the treatment available to a wider range of people with debilitating diseases.

The University of Mississippi currently grows marijuana for federal research, but the Louisiana schools plan to produce marijuana oil for patients. If the schools had not moved forward, private growers could have been selected.

LSU plans to seek private funding for what could by a $10 million production center, and has studied production in Colorado, which has legalized marijuana. Bill Richardson, LSU’s vice president for agriculture, said the school has met with unnamed New Orleans and out-of-state investors who have expressed interest. LSU’s facility is expected to be built on private land not adjacent to a campus.

Richardson said marijuana oil, to be sold to designated pharmacies, is unlikely to be available in Louisiana until 2018. The law passed earlier this year does not contain a deadline for production, but lawmakers who supported the legislation have said they would like to see patients identified as eligible for the drug get access as soon as possible.

Officials plan for production to be strictly controlled, with each plant bar-coded, inventoried, and weighed before production on the oil begins. Richardson said he wants to create an oversight committee including sheriffs and district attorneys, and said students younger than 21 are forbidden from working at the facility.

“There will be no ‘shrinkage,’ ” he said. “We will account for every single thing that comes out of there.”

University officials hope LSU will become a leader in research on the medicinal properties and cultivation of marijuana.

“I think it’s amazing that Louisiana has stepped forward to be a leader,” Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister Jr. said. “We are the right institution to be cultivating and growing this so it can be properly prescribed by medical professionals.”

When LSU and Southern were named to produce the drug, some questioned whether they would put federal funding at risk because of strict federal laws against marijuana. But Richardson said he has since been assured that federal funding won’t be at risk, though he noted, “no one is going to put that in writing.”

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