Medical cannabis too expensive for patients in Louisiana

The high cost of medical cannabis has been attributed to the fact that pharmacies are forced to pay higher  banking costs and taxes than businesses in other sectors

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Louisiana made history in August, when it emerged as the first ever state in the Deep South to start dispensing medical cannabis. Sales commenced four years after a law was passed by state officials legalizing the plant for patient use. 

Recent reports claim that the market is too pricey for patients. Since health insurance cannot be used to cover the costs of medical cannabis in Louisiana, the market is becoming one for the elite.

Various clinics and doctors have revealed how patients are struggling to afford their medicine; a disheartening realization following years of fighting for legal medical cannabis in Louisiana.

Individual prices are set by the nine dispensaries that are currently licensed for operation. The excessive costs have been attributed to low patient counts, the expense of launching a cannabis start-up and regulatory obstacles.

Patients forking out around $1,000 per month for medical cannabis in Louisiana

For medical cannabis patients residing in Louisiana, just one type of cannabis is currently on offer – flavored liquid oil tinctures. These bottles will set back Louisianans anywhere from $90-$220 each, with the price varying based on the dispensary selling the product and, of course, its potency.

One clinic owner recently spoke to reporters about the situation surrounding medical cannabis prices in Louisiana. Dr. Victor Chou serves over 600 patients at his clinic, which is based in Baton Rouge. He says that – from his personal experience – a quarter of patients cannot afford medical cannabis in Louisiana, with the average patient requiring one bottle of cannabis oil per month.

“The average chronic pain patients would be spending maybe $1,000 a month at current prices for what they need,” said Dr. Chou. Since opioids tend to be a cheaper alternative, fighting the opioid epidemic with medical cannabis in Louisiana is posing a problem.

Over 3,500 patients are qualified to use medical cannabis in Louisiana 

Since Louisiana’s medical cannabis program first launched in August, approximately 3,500 patients have received medical cannabis on prescription. This is based on data published by the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy

With the program boasting a long list of qualifying conditions that include – but are not limited to – cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are plenty of eligible candidates for medical cannabis in Louisiana. However, not so many of them can afford their medicine.

“We’re now working through the real kinks of a startup business and industry,” said Jesse McCormick, who works for the Louisiana Association for Therapeutic Alternatives. “They’re just like everybody else out here, trying to stay open and keep the lights on.”

Agricultural centers at two universities will cultivate medical cannabis in Louisiana

Cannabis can only be cultivated for medical purposes at  Louisiana State University and Southern University. Each university has received the necessary authorization to cultivate medical cannabis; both of which house agricultural centers. 

At the current time, just LSU’s primary cultivator GB Sciences is providing Louisiana with the product. Although wholesale prices have not been revealed by the president of GB Sciences, John Davis, pharmacies will price products at their discretion. 

The high cost of medical cannabis has been attributed to the fact that pharmacies are forced to pay higher  banking costs and taxes than businesses in other sectors. Moreover, due to the slow rollout of medical cannabis sales in Louisiana, dispensaries that coughed up money to kick-start their businesses were left scraping for funds by the time customers entered their doors.

Louisiana’s medical cannabis prices are predicted to reduce if more patients are enrolled in the program; higher demand for products means that dispensary owners can start reaping what they sowed. Experts also say that a broader product selection and an extra cultivator could drive down prices.