Medical Marijuana Louisiana

FILE - This Monday, May 20, 2019, file photo, shows a marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow. Louisiana is becoming the first Deep South state to dispense medical marijuana, four years after state lawmakers agreed to give patients access to therapeutic cannabis. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Marine veteran struggling with PTSD and a woman fighting cancer became some of the first people to purchase medical marijuana in Louisiana on Tuesday, as the state became the first in the Deep South to dispense therapeutic cannabis, four years after state lawmakers agreed to give patients access to it.

Nine pharmacies are licensed to dispense medical marijuana across Louisiana and most are expected to open this week. Louisiana joins more than 30 other states that allow medical marijuana in some form. And though marijuana is banned at the federal level, a congressional amendment blocks the Justice Department from interfering with states’ medical marijuana programs.

A 41-year-old combat veteran from Belle Chasse, Louisiana, made his purchase at Capitol Wellness Solutions on Tuesday. He said he’d tried medical marijuana in California and it changed his life but he was happy to be able to purchase it in his home state.

“It has become a reality to my family this morning, waking up and knowing that I would be able to go home and for the first time in my long struggle, I’ll be able to do this legally in front of my family,” Gary Hess told reporters before making his purchase. “That’s incredible.”

GB Sciences, one of two state-sanctioned growers, began shipping medical marijuana to Louisiana’s registered dispensaries Tuesday morning, after state regulators recently completed final tests and cleared it for release. Hundreds of patients in Louisiana have been awaiting the start of the program after years of work by lawmakers, who created the regulatory framework in 2015 for dispensing the cannabis. There also have been regulatory disputes and other hurdles.

State Sen. Fred Mills, a pharmacist in St. Martin Parish who sponsored the medical marijuana law, never thought it would take years for patients to gain access. He said he has repeatedly received “difficult calls” from people with cancer, seizures and other debilitating conditions and their family members asking when cannabis will reach pharmacy shelves.

“The toughest thing has been not being able to give people a definitive timeline,” Mills said.

Randy Mire, owner of Capitol Wellness Solutions in Baton Rouge, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at his spa-like offices in the state’s capitol. He said he specifically wanted to create a welcoming office space so patients could feel safe and that they were in a place where they wouldn’t be judged.

For many of the patients, Tuesday was a big relief, he said.

Pharmacies set their own price for the products, and insurance won’t be covering the cost, so patients will have to pay out of pocket. Mire said the cost at his pharmacy will range from $99 to $200 per product.

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