- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - LSU’s planned medical marijuana growing operation doesn’t expect patients seeking the drug to have access until the summer of 2018, at the earliest.

Bill Richardson, LSU’s vice president for agriculture, led an AgCenter forum Friday to update the public - including potential contractors and business partners - about plans to start growing the medicinal plant. The room was packed, with more than 500 people signed up to attend.

“We’re really excited about the research part of this,” Richardson said. “It’s something that can be applied to other areas of agriculture.”

The university isn’t using state funds to produce medical marijuana. But it estimates that it will take at least $11 million to start up, so the AgCenter is looking for outside investors to contract with LSU.

Richardson said he hopes to put out the request for contracting proposals within a month. The AgCenter could choose one contractor or multiple contractors to help finance the operation and produce the medicinal product.

He warned that the operation won’t be a “cash cow that is going to generate a lot of income quickly.” In fact, a project concept released by the AgCenter estimates that expenses likely will be larger than income until at least 2020.

Richardson again assured the public he’s working on security plans for the planned facility in East Baton Rouge Parish, which won’t be on LSU’s campus. He said the AgCenter will be looking for an indoor warehouse facility to renovate, where everything will be done in the same place from growing and packaging to research and development.

“The security issues with this are quite intense,” Richardson said.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has agreed to contract with the AgCenter for outside security at the facility, Richardson said. Conversations are ongoing with the Louisiana State Police about a possible deal to transport the medicinal product to the dispensaries.

“This is not something that we can have slippage on,” Richardson said.

State Police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain said troopers are going to Colorado in a few weeks to meet with state police there and discuss “best practices and lessons learned” as Louisiana law enforcement agencies talk about “how this program is going to be facilitated and protected.”

Louisiana state lawmakers agreed to a framework for dispensing medical marijuana in 2015 and then tweaked the law earlier this year. The law will eventually get medicinal-grade pot to people suffering from cancer, a severe form of cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, HIV, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

The LSU AgCenter estimates about 1,400 people could get a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.

Ten distributors will be selected. The medical marijuana won’t be available in a form that can be smoked, but rather in medicinal oil and other forms. Southern University is Louisiana’s only other authorized medical marijuana grower, and also remains in the planning stages.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte


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