Louisiana lawmakers chide ag commissioner for slow pace of medical marijuana expansion
Louisiana lawmakers criticized Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain Thursday for the slow pace of the expansion of the state's medical marijuana program, while Strain countered that he won't compromise public safety to fast-track new products.
Strain regulates the state's medical cannabis program in which the first medicine was offered in 2019 in the form of oils and tinctures to patients for a limited number of ailments.
Since then the Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards have enacted new laws expanding the products available and allowing the doctors to recommend the medicine for any illness.
But Strain's agency controls the pace of the rollout with product testing and rulemaking.
"When I look at the back and forth, it looks like micromanagement," Republican state Rep. Debbie Villio of Kenner told Strain during a Medical Marijuana Commission meeting in the Louisiana Capitol. "It concerns me that it's impeding the progress of the program."
"My concern is that we're going to slow this down even further," said Republican Rep. Thomas Pressly of Shreveport.
But Strain described the process of rulemaking for new laws and approving products like edible gummies as "methodical."
"Everything we do is to protect the public," Strain said. "We have to get it right."
Tabitha Irvin, Strain's director of his agency's medical marijuana program, disputed that the department is dragging its feet.
"We're not holding up any products for them to sell," she said.
LSU and Southern University and their private growing partners are the only entities that can legally cultivate and process marijuana and provide it to the state's nine licensed medical cannabis pharmacies.
The latest expansion by the Legislature and governor will allow the medicine to be sold in its raw, or smokeable form beginning in January.
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," said Republican Rep. Scott McKnight of Baton Rouge. "No one is looking at Louisiana as best practices."
Strain said safety requires thorough testing.
"Anytime you have a new product it's not like you can take a drop of it, put it in a machine and push a button," he said.
But Villio dismissed Strain's process as overregulation.
"I don't see that it's about public safety," Villio said. "I see it as a back and forth that drastically delays getting a product from grower to pharmacy to patient."
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.