By Bart Schaneman and Omar Sacirbey
A task force makes recommendations for how the Canadian government should legalize recreational marijuana, Ohio writes draft rules for MMJ dispensaries, and cannabis has a big week in Washington DC.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
Small or big?
Will Canada’s new adult-use marijuana market be open to small businesses – or dominated by big corporations?
Jodie Emery, a political activist and owner of Cannabis Culture, a magazine and retail space in Vancouver, British Columbia, worries it will be the latter.
“The messaging from the government has been about letting the large producers control the manufacturing of marijuana,” she said.
A government-commissioned task force this week issued more than 80 recommendations for how the country should proceed with the legalization of adult-use cannabis. The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation recommended “market diversity by creating a space for smaller-scale production.”
Emery was encouraged by the reference to smaller players. But she’s concerned it could be prohibitively expensive for the little guy.
“Requirements to become a licensed producer are so difficult and costly it’s prohibitive,” she said.
Emery is also worried the government will push for the existing licensed medical marijuana cultivators to produce the majority of marijuana in the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to introduce legalization legislation in the spring. By then, perhaps, the smoke will begin to dissipate and the government’s plans will become clearer.
Ohio’s dispensary regulations
An encouraging start.
That’s how one cannabis consultant described the draft rules for dispensaries issued Thursday by Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy.
“They’re more detailed than any other first draft of regulations that I’ve seen,” said Carrie Roberts, a senior consultant with Medicine Man Technologies in Colorado.
That’s helpful for aspiring applicants, because they’ll know the costs of the application and licensing fees – as well as what they’ll need to do when applying for a permit.
Applicants will be required to:
- Submit a 1,500-word narrative describing past business experience and medical marijuana expertise.
- Provide detailed security, staffing and patient education plans as well as an “operations manual” and “environmental impact plan.”
- Show detailed construction plans and demonstrate that the dispensary will be able to handle patient numbers.
- Provide specific budgets that include pre-opening costs and first-year operating expenses.
There are even comprehensive instructions on how the state will handle tie scores between applicants:
The team with the best security plan wins. If teams deadlock on security, the application with the better patient education score will win out. If there’s a tie after that, the license will go to the applicant who is farthest from another dispensary.
The demand for significantly more information from applicants enables regulators to better vet them, Roberts said.
“They’re showing that they really care about who gets these licenses, and they’ve put a lot of thought into how to get the best applicants,” she said.
Pre-emptive action in Washington DC
Washington DC just went through its busiest cannabis news week since President-elect Donald Trump nominated Jeff Sessions as his attorney general last month. And, for the most part, it was upbeat news for the cannabis industry – in contrast to the Sessions nomination and other Trump-related developments.
It began when the U.S. Senate reapproved – as part of a broader federal spending measure – the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from spending money to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs. But the fix is temporary: Congress must reapprove the amendment by April 28 to get it into the next spending bill, or pass it as a stand-alone bill.
That was followed by Monday’s announcement that U.S. Representatives Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, plan to form a Cannabis Caucus in 2017 with the aim of passing marijuana reform laws.
Two days later, 10 U.S. senators wrote to the acting head of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network urging the department to do more to get banks to provide services to legal marijuana businesses, particularly ancillary companies like security firms.
That was no doubt welcome news for cannabis professionals seeking allies in government to stand up to a potentially hostile Trump attorney general.
“It’s kind of a pre-emptive action,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “It’s them saying, ‘These are issues that we’re concerned about.’ ”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]