By Dillon Nelson firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of Louisiana-Monroe’s School of Pharmacy joined the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center as one of three schools in the state that are now legally allowed to conduct research on marijuana and hemp.
State Rep. Michael Echols said this change was made possible through House Bill 697, legislation he sponsored during the state Legislature’s recently concluded session.“Louisiana State University and Southern University have been the only two schools in the state that can do research around hemp and marijuana but not anymore,” Echols said. “We were able to add to some of the bills flowing through the process to give ULM the opportunity to do some of that strategic research.”
According to Echols, ULM’s ability to research hemp and marijuana could open up new economic development opportunities.
For example, the Biomedical Research and Innovation Park (BRIP), a nonprofit organization, partnered with the University of Louisiana-Monroe with the goal of occupying a new facility near the university’s College of Pharmacy facility off Tower Drive.
Susan Nicholson, a BRIP board member, said the 20-acre research park could house any marijuana and hemp research lab work as well as other research initiatives.
“The endgame is to try and work with researchers at ULM College of Pharmacy to build a number of facilities to enhance what we have at the school of pharmacy facility with biomedical developments,” Nicholson said.
The Biomedical facility, though in its early planning stage, is expected to cost about $35 million, according to Nicholson. She said the engineering and construction phase of the park is expected to begin during early 2023.
“That is when we will begin mapping out the road system for the facility, which is where we’ll be starting first,” Nicholson said. “It should happen fairly quickly.”
Nicholson indicated that research on marijuana and hemp is expanding nationwide.
“There are too many positive potential usages in various drug protocols to pass up,” she said. “The discoveries that are being made in hemp and marijuana research about its uses and proven medical benefits are too great not to move forward.”
Dr. Ray Armstrong, another BRIP board member, said a certain company—which he declined to identify at this time—that is considering performing research on the processing of hemp fiber to create innovative materials.
“It would look at the things that are in demand and one of those things would be the hemp fiber for animal bedding,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong indicated that hemp is a “very diverse” material and you could even make “hempcrete” or “hemplime” that is “even stronger and lighter than concrete.” He also pointed to possible research oriented around creating carbon sheets from hemp for battery conductivity.
Marijuana and hemp research came with some regulations and guidelines, though.
“Those guidelines don’t look like they should be a problem, though,” Armstrong said.
The text of HB 697 stated that universities conducting marijuana research will come under the oversight of the state.
“The contractor selected by the licensed university through a competitive bid process to cultivate, extract, process, produce and transport therapeutic marijuana shall be subject to oversight and inspections by the Louisiana Department of Health,” according to the bill.Such oversight includes such areas of inspections as facilities’ physical structure, inventory and accuracy of inventory reporting and security as well as state and local electrical, fire, plumbing and building specification codes.