Southern University made history on Wednesday by becoming the first historically Black university (HBCU) to release its own line of THC medical cannabis products. The university has more than 12,000 students with over 7,000 based on its Baton Rouge, Louisiana campus. Currently celebrating its 140th anniversary, Southern was founded in 1880. The newly launched product is called AYO which means “joy” in Yoruba a Nigerian language, the line was made possible through a partnership with Southern University’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center and the medical cannabis solutions company, Ilera Holistic Healthcare (Ilera Holistic). AYO is only available in the state of Louisiana and will join Southern and Ilera Holistics hemp-derived CBD line “ALAFIA” which translates to “good health” in Yoruba. Making Southern the first and only HBCU operating in both cannabis and hemp industries.
“Ray Belton, President of Southern University said at a press conference, “Our medical marijuana program is another significant contribution to the healthcare, agriculture, research and the economy here in Louisiana. More patients in our great state will have more choices for treating illnesses as recommended by their physicians, and more professionals in agriculture and research will have career opportunities right here in Louisiana.” He continued, “This program will also give our students direct access to groundbreaking research and programming, which will make them more marketable in a global workforce.”
Dr. Janana Snowden a Biomedical researcher, Director and Lead Scientist of the Southern Institute for Medicinal Plants has been involved with the process since 2016 said, “I am extremely proud that we are now in these spaces to make a potential impact in the lives of countless individuals.”
As legalization continues to spread throughout the United States, there are many in the industry who feel that persons of color, particularly those in the African American community, have been left out of the legal cannabis boom.
One estimate by the Christian Science Monitor found that African Americans make up only five percent of the cannabis industry’s ownership stake.
Additionally, most states with legal cannabis have legal requirements banning those with cannabis-related charges from participating in the industry, which many see as a particular egregious barrier given that African Americans are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.
While there is no singular cause keeping African Americans out of the cannabis industry, advocates point out that licensing fees for cannabis companies are prohibitively high.
“I can personally say as a dispensary operator in Washington, D.C. and now a cultivator and processor in Louisiana the barriers to entry are extremely difficult. Acquiring a license is a process, the access considerable capital is a must, identifying properly zoned locations, inspections and we still haven’t gotten to the development of the facility or the product,” said Dr. Chanda Macias, CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare. “This is why today is so monumental. I do not think people understand what Southern has achieved today. As a collective the process to get here has been years in the making and we are proud partners helping to bring their vision to life. And today we have medicine and creating opportunities.”
Snowden said, “Dr. Oludare Odumosu also with Ilera, Dr. Macias and I have begun the conversations of what this research will look like as we continue to develop additional products. For us as scientists, these are exciting times and we look forward to our collective efforts.”
Southern’s Ag Center and Ilera team will work together to develop new strains and technologies of medical marijuana that will ultimately contribute to the overall mission of the partnership which is to provide safe, affordable, quality medicine for patients within the state.
The launch of AYO comes a little more than a month after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law ACT No 286, which allows physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any reason. Southern University is one of the two permitted medical cannabis license holders in the state of Louisiana.
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