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Southern University to Join Booming Legal Marijuana Industry

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge is set to make strides in Louisiana’s legal marijuana industry as the institution’s plan to launch a new medical marijuana program moved forward following a recent Board of Supervisors vote.

Dr. Janana SnowdenDr. Janana Snowden

The 12-3 vote on May 25 approving a contract with pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products company Advanced Biomedics, LLC will establish a partnership with Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SU Ag Center) to cultivate and produce medical marijuana at Southern’s research facilities.

“This is a momentous event,” said Dr. Bobby R. Phills, chancellor of the SU Ag Center and dean of the College of Agricultural, Family and Consumer Sciences. “We are extremely excited to be able to provide good quality medicine for the citizens of Louisiana.”

Southern will receive more than $6 million over five years for the program, and the contract with Louisiana-based Advanced Biomedics will be allowed to automatically renew for two additional five-year periods “unless there is cause to terminate,” the school said in news release.

The move is historic for the HBCU, as it is the first to offer a program about legal cannabis. Southern is one of only two public universities in the nation – along with Louisiana State University – to legally research and grow marijuana in their facilities, Mic reported.

As land-grant institutions, Southern and LSU received a “right of first refusal to be licensed, either separately or jointly, as the production facility for medical marijuana in the state of Louisiana” under the state’s Senate Bill 271 passed in 2016. Southern submitted a letter to participate as a producer in August 2016.

Overseeing the medical marijuana program is the SU Ag Center, the fifth campus in the Southern University System that specializes in livestock and agricultural research and community education.

Dr. Janana Snowden, director of SU Ag Center’s Southern Institute for Medicinal Plants (SIMP), said alumni and the community have been “very supportive and positive during this endeavor.”

A challenge for the program, though, will be “one of education,” she said, as researchers and scientists are working to help people understand the beneficial effects and medicinal properties of cannabis as it relates to developing medicines to treat various illnesses.

“There is a need to get physicians on board to recommend medical cannabis to patients and getting everyday citizens to understand that cannabis can be used as a medicine rather than a drug,” Snowden said. “The SU Ag Center is in the process of developing several informational items to assist in educating the public on the benefits of pharmaceutical-grade medicine derived from cannabis plants. Also, this program would help to propel HBCUs into the arena of formulating and developing medicine.”

While students may not work in Southern’s new program, university researchers and those hired by Advanced Biomedics will participate in and operate the program. However, Advanced Biomedics will support research initiatives at the university by providing resources to train students in developing medicine from other non-cannabis medical plants through SIMP, Snowden said.

In addition to making quality medicine to treat the critically ill, Snowden said the program will lead to endowed chairs and professorships, partnerships with private organizations and foundations, the purchase of “state-of-the-art” equipment and “the strengthening of our academic course offerings.”

Phills added that the “groundbreaking research opportunity” would provide revenue for Southern and foster economic development in North Baton Rouge. According to a factbook by Denver-based Marijuana Business Daily, sales projections for legal marijuana are expected to be $10 billion this year and increase to $22 billion by 2022.

Additionally, the university will receive a $1-million signing bonus for each contract renewal with Advanced Biomedics.

The Southern University Ag Center is awaiting the completion of background checks into Advanced Biomedics by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry before construction can begin on a planned production facility on a 176-acre plot in Baker, La., 11 miles from Southern’s Baton Rouge campus.

Once the facility is completed, Southern will employ more than 40 staffers to grow, manufacture and distribute pharmaceutical-grade medicines from the cannabis plants.

Medical marijuana products cultivated by the university will be available in state dispensaries in early 2019.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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