Recent state legislation has opened new doors for the acquisition of medical marijuana for patients seeking alternative treatment options for a variety of conditions. John Davis, president of Wellcana, the exclusive state contract holder for the cultivation, harvest and production of medical marijuana products, spoke at a press conference on Thursday touting the benefits of August's legislation.
As of Aug. 1, any licensed physician in the state is allowed to "recommend medical marijuana to any patient for any condition," he said. Compared with previous legislation that first legalized medical marijuana in the state, this month's legislation grants greater access for more patients.
"We're not doing anything different than what these doctors are already allowed to do," Davis said. "They're already allowed to prescribe opioids, for example. So, all of these physicians are already in the system that allows them to make recommendations for scheduled pharmaceuticals."
While medical marijuana is still not covered by insurance, Davis said the new legislation has lowered the wholesale price of the products which in turn lowers the retail price. He said there is hope for future insurance prescription coverage, however.
"We have legislators who have told me they are working on bills to allow the medical marijuana product to also be covered by insurance."
The general doctor's visit to begin the process is covered by insurance, Davis added.
James Thibodeaux, pharmacist at Medicis Pharmacy, the region's only authorized medical marijuana pharmacy, said his lowest costing tincture is around $70.
The 30 milliliter bottle lasts some patients one month and others longer. "It's very patient specific," he said.
While the liquid tincture, which is taken orally and dissolved under the tongue, has been the only product available up until now, Davis said Wellcana is in the process of rolling out a line of gummies, refined concentrates, ointments, inhalers and quick dissolving thin strips.
Thibodeaux said over the past year he's been amazed at the results patients have had with medical marijuana. Many people, however, have been hesitant to begin the process.
"Originally there were 15 conditions and a lot of people weren't sure if they qualified," he said. "They weren't sure if their pain was considered chronic and so a lot of people were scared to approach their doctor or they didn't know how to find a doctor which was another concern."
Now patients can openly have the conversation with their established physician, Thibodeaux said. "If the doctor's comfortable with it, they can give it a shot."
Like beginning any new prescription drug regimen, Davis said physicians and doctors will thoroughly counsel a patient before beginning the drug. "The key is you want to start low and go slow. This isn't something where more is better. In fact, less is better when working with medical marijuana."
The new legislation included additional layers of patient safety in the form of a required annual doctor's visit as well requiring physicians to participate in a prescription monitoring program to ensure the drug is being recommended and used with fidelity.
"We want to make sure that there are no red flags," he explained.
Ultimately, this month's legislation gives Louisiana residents living with many chronic ailments a proven option of relief, vetted by the state's agriculture and medical experts, rather than venturing down the path of opioid addiction or street drugs.
"What we want to do is provide them with a consistent, safe medication or product that they can receive here by a licensed pharmacist rather than figuring out, ‘How do I get to Colorado to buy this and then bring it back?' or ‘How do I go buy this down the street from someone that I don't know?," Davis said.