Checking on cannabis

The sole license for a medical marijuana pharmacy in the greater Baton Rouge region has been awarded to a local firm to dispense the drug at a site in the Baton Rouge Health District.

The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy on Tuesday voted unanimously to award the license to Capitol Wellness Solutions, which beat out the only remaining applicant, Green Magnolia Rx. Capitol Wellness Solutions was ranked first in the region by the board’s selection committee.

Capitol Wellness is run by Randy Mire, a pharmacist who has owned Gem Drugs, which has two locations in Reserve and Gramercy, for the past decade. Mire’s team includes TJ Woodard, who owns and operates Prescriptions to Geaux in downtown Baton Rouge, and former Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, who will serve as head of security.

“It’s been an extremely long process to make sure we fit everything the board is looking for,” Mire said after the decision.

Mire said he has been eyeing a medical marijuana pharmacy since state legislation began picking up steam five years ago. Capitol Wellness has a lease on a 4,300-square-foot space at 7941 Picardy Ave. for its marijuana pharmacy. Mire did not immediately offer a timeline for opening, but said he will work with the LSU AgCenter to see when the plant will be available.

State lawmakers passed legislation in 2016 to fully authorize the medical marijuana program in the state. The Agricultural Centers of LSU and Southern University then partnered with private companies to grow the plant, and production is expected to begin later this year.

The pharmacy board on Tuesday also awarded regional licenses for New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma and Lake Charles. Licensing continues Wednesday for the north shore, Shreveport, Monroe and Alexandria.

The board voted unanimously to award Mire’s firm the permit after just 11 minutes of closed-door deliberations.

The vote in Baton Rouge came after a surprise move for the New Orleans region, where the board voted to hand out the sole region license to H&W Drug Store, which finished fourth in the selection process.

In the Lafayatte region, a license went to the Apothecary Shoppe LLC, breaking a selectin committee tie for the area. The CEO of the firm is Eric Vidrine, who runs several pharmacies in Lafayette and Baton Rouge, along with his business partner David Mayer, and Brian Ruden, who owns marijuana dispensaries in Colorado and Maryland. Kevin LaGrange, a pharmacist for Professional Arts Pharmacy, one of Vidrine’s pharmacies, will serve as pharmacist-in-charge.

The firm has plans for a location at 620 Guilbeau Road in a building Vidrine owns and also operates a hospice pharmacy. Vidrine also runs a compounding pharmacy in Lafayette and a retail pharmacy in Baton Rouge.

Vidrine’s firm beat out Acadiana Therapeutic Remedies, composed of a group of Lafayette physicians led by Dr. Kevin Duplechain, along with pharmacists, a local medical marijuana advocate and an industry consultant. The Board of Pharmacy selection committee had ranked both firms first in the region during the selection process.

Acadiana Therapeutic Remedies touted, among other things, letters of recommendations from high-powered politicians, including state Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras.

In the greater Houma region, the board selected Green Leaf Dispensary to run the only marijuana pharmacy in the area. Green Leaf finished third in the selection rankings, behind Bayou Therapeutics Pharmacy.

In Lake Charles, the board selected the only remaining applicant, Medicis, LLC, as the licensee.

Several board members pointed generally to additional information they received after the selection committee rankings were made. The board held hearings in March to gather more information from the applicants and spent weeks reviewing applications before question-and-answer sessions Tuesday.

In the case of New Orleans, board member Allen Cassidy said the board felt that H&W, fourth-ranked by the selection committee, was the “most qualified” applicant after reviewing its application and hearing testimony. He added the board members that voted to award the licenses did not include the members of the selection committee, which had not heard the additional testimony that came in March and at Tuesday’s hearings.

“It’s not that we were overriding that (selection) committee,” Cassidy said. “We had more information presented to us than the committee had.”

Cassidy and other board members said they were not worried about any potential legal challenges because the board did not select the top-ranked applicant.

Sajal Roy, the CEO of the top-ranked applicant, Rx Greenhouse, said he was surprised at the board’s move.

“What’s the point of having a subcommittee?” Roy said. “I was on the Maryland Board of Pharmacy, and I can tell you that’s not how we did things.”

Roy said he plans to file a public records request for H&W’s application and did not rule out a legal challenge, but he said he did not want to sue and delay the process. He said he did not know what changed since the selection committee made its recommendation and wondered aloud why the board did not explain its surprise vote.

Louisiana’s program is tightly regulated and authorizes patients with a handful of serious diseases to get certain non-smokable forms of the drug. Under current law, patients can qualify for medical marijuana if they have one of 10 serious conditions: cancer, HIV, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis. Efforts from lawmakers and advocates are underway to expand the disease list.

Story by Sam Karlin