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1 of Louisiana's Medical Marijuana Growers Has New Operator

Pennsylvania-based Ilera Holistic Healthcare is the new operator of Southern University's medical marijuana program, news outlets reported.

The subsidiary of Ilera Healthcare purchased Advanced Biomedics majority owner Carrol Castille's 68 percent share. Louisiana regulations allow medical marijuana to be processed through only two universities, Louisiana State and Southern. The schools contract with companies to grow the plants and operate the program. LSU's operations are underway, but Southern's have been delayed by contract negotiations and lawsuits over the Advance Biomedics' ownership.

Southern's board voted nearly unanimously Monday to approve Ilera as the new operator and the firm paid the college $2.15 million, the first of more than $6 million in payments the school is set to receive from Advanced Biomedics.

The Advocate quotes Southern University President-Chancellor Ray Belton as saying he was "disappointed" with Advanced Biomedics' progress under Castille. Southern decided not to seek out one of the other bidders from the competitive process for the growing contract last year because the task would've been "mired in litigation," Belton said. Advanced Biomedics was not ranked first by a selection committee that evaluated applicants for the contract, but the company offered Southern the most money of any bidder.

A spokesman for Castille did not return The Advocate's message seeking comment late Monday. Ilera CEO Gregory Rochlin declined to say how much the company paid for Castille's stake, citing a confidentiality agreement. The subsidiary formed several months ago when Ilera Healthcare merged with Washington, D.C.-based marijuana dispensary National Holistic Healing Center.

The dispensary's owner, Chanda Macias, was retained as the new firm's president. Macias said the company will buy roughly 40 acres (20 hectares) in Baton Rouge over the next two months to process the marijuana with a goal of having medicine ready by the second quarter of 2019.