Where are the medical marijuana patients in Louisiana? Some places you might not expect | Economic news

When marijuana flower hit the shelves of Louisiana’s nine licensed medical marijuana pharmacies in January, one might have expected a large number of new patients from places like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, with a high population and generally progressive politics.

But state data shows the highest adoption has been in some unlikely parts.

The parishes of Lafourche, Lafayette, Calcasieu, Beauregard and St. Tammany, respectively, had the highest share of residents who purchased a legal marijuana product in January and February, the first two months of the flower being available. They range from 2.5% in Lafourche — by far the highest — to 0.8% in St. Tammany. Data for February goes through February 23. User trends largely follow those seen from 2019, when the medical marijuana program began, through the end of 2021.

By comparison, just 0.4% of East Baton Rouge Parish residents purchased a marijuana product in January or February, ranking it 19th in the state, behind DeSoto Parish. Orleans, where the smell of cannabis is almost ubiquitous, ranks 35th and Jefferson ranks 39th.

Some of the turnouts — like the relatively astronomical turnout seen at Lafourche — have baffled program watchers.

But there are various theories for some of the other hotspots.

Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the explanation could come down to simple dollars and cents. The pot black market is well established and relatively affordable, especially compared to the prices of products on the shelves of Louisiana marijuana pharmacies.

This is especially true in cities in Louisiana. Some legal flower strains cost upwards of $60 for an eighth of an ounce, well above the $30-$40 eighths that people can find on the street. Pharmacy owners have reported some strains that cost less, although supply was spotty in the first two months, with limited options and restrictions on how much people can buy.

“When you look at Orleans, Jefferson and East Baton Rouge, those are communities where the illicit market has been for decades,” Caldwell said. “I think in these situations, patients have an option. Are they going to the illicit market where they have been getting their drugs for years? Or do they go to the medical program, with high prices and a lack of options? »

Of the 20 parishes with the highest rate of medical marijuana use, only four—Calcasieu, St. Tammany, Caddo, and East Baton Rouge—have populations above 200,000. Outer suburbs like Tangipahoa and Livingston, as well as smaller urban areas like Rapides and Terrebonne and the more rural parishes of Allen and Webster all have relatively high rates of medical marijuana use. Some of these places have only a few hundred patients, but relatively high participation rates.

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Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, noted that many people in rural parts of the state, especially in the north, have to drive hours to get to the nearest pharmacy. The state only licensed nine pharmacies; although they are spread across different geographic areas, the distance to the nearest pharmacy in rural and sparsely populated upstate areas tends to be longer.

Bagley also said patients in Texas have asked her about getting into the program. Malcolm Broussard, executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, said current law does not bar out-of-state patients; in fact, data shows that about 660 of the 43,609 people who legally obtained medical marijuana in Louisiana — about 1.5 percent — are from other states. These are not included in the parish data.

Bagley postulated that the North Shore’s high adoption rates might be driven by a relatively affluent retirement community.

“These are some of the biggest users, those who have aged, cancer patients, arthritis patients,” Bagley said. “Patients use it the most because they have the most success with it.”

Compared to other urban areas in Louisiana, Lafayette has seen great enthusiasm for medical marijuana. Its adoption rate of 1.6% in the first two months of 2022 was the second highest in the state.

Eric Vidrine, owner of the area’s only marijuana pharmacy, The Apothecary Shoppe, said Acadiana-area residents have been “extremely receptive to the idea.” He said the patients he’s seen don’t like being prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines for pain or anxiety.

“I feel like it’s through political beliefs,” he said. “People are fascinated by it and are open to it.”

Vidrine and others involved with the Louisiana program expect about 3% of state residents to eventually participate in the medical marijuana program, assuming it achieves rates similar to those in the state. other mature medical marijuana markets. So far, Lafourche Parish is the only jurisdiction that has approached this threshold.

John Condos, owner of Medicis Pharmacy in Lake Charles, said he didn’t know why the nearby parish of Beauregard had seen such a high turnout. But in southwest Louisiana, he attributes the rise in medical marijuana use largely to an increase in the number of doctors moving in and recommending the drug in the area.

He said his pharmacy was among the first to allow online ordering and also promoted educational content on social media. Pharmacies are not allowed to “advertise” their products, but can inform patients.

“With Calcasieu (parish, where Lake Charles is), we had recommendations from doctors,” he said. “We’ve probably caught up, where we were a bit slower (in the beginning), now people have access to doctors recommending them.”

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