New US medical marijuana markets – one year later

(This is the second installment of a two-part series updating the status of marijuana markets one year after they were approved. To read Part I on recreational markets, click here. The Maryland portion of this story has been updated from an earlier version.)

If it was a big year for recreational marijuana in 2016, then the past 12 months have been huge for medical marijuana.

Voters or state legislatures in 11 states – Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – approved or advanced medical cannabis measures.

And just as they are in the rec states, MMJ initiatives are moving forward at varying speeds and with mixed measures of success.

Some medical marijuana states, such as Pennsylvania, are progressing swimmingly and could even begin sales ahead of the proposed deadline.

That’s the exception rather than the rule, however, as states such as Arkansas and North Dakota are falling behind schedule.

Then there are states like West Virginia, which are taking their time to develop rules and won’t likely begin sales until as far away as 2019.

Here’s where the 11 new MMJ states stand today:

ARKANSAS

What at first blush looked to be a smooth unfolding of Arkansas’ medical marijuana program now looks as if it might be snagged by lawsuits and other hang-ups.

Voters in this Bible Belt state passed an initiative by a 53%-47% margin last November to allow a medical cannabis program, and things were progressing normally.

Then the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission said it needed to delay the rollout of the program because of the time required to conduct FBI background checks on all applicants.

Key dates

The application deadline was Sept. 18. But the commission has since said the first licenses won’t be approved until well after January.

And now rejected applicants have filed lawsuits charging that state regulators wrongly denied their attempts. If the courts favor the applicants, the commission must “shut down” until the matter is resolved.

First legal sales

The state had planned to award business licenses by the end of 2017 and launch sales in March 2018. But it’s likely sales won’t start until fall 2018 at the earliest.

License info

CALIFORNIA

While California has had medical marijuana sales for years, it’s finally going to have a statewide regulated market.

The California legislature combined the state’s medical marijuana and recreational programs under the same regulatory umbrella with the passage of crucial legislation in 2017.

Updated statewide regulations were released last week, and the state is pushing for a Jan. 1 rollout.

An important aspect to watch, however, is how local municipalities handle the MMJ sector.

Some have voted to allow medical marijuana but not recreational, others have chosen to give MMJ businesses first crack at adult-use sales, and more have voted to not allow any MMJ sales at all.

Key dates

Last week, the state released emergency regulations that are expected to result in finalized rules.

First legal sales

According to Alex Traverso, chief of communications for California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, some areas of the state expect to be selling regulated medical cannabis close to the Jan. 1 launch.

License info

  • Dispensaries will be required to have both state and local licenses to operate.
  • There will be no state limits on licenses, but many local governments are creating their own caps.
  • Licenses will be categorized as either medical or adult-use and separated in the traceability system.

FLORIDA

Ballooning patient counts and potentially some of the largest companies in the cannabis industry are two key components of Florida’s medical marijuana market.

More than 50,000 patients have registered for ID cards, but less than 30,000 cards have been issued so far.

MMJ is highly popular in the state with 71% of voters approving its sale in November 2016.

And while the state’s licensing structure strictly limits the number of businesses, it does allow licensees to own many dispensaries.

Key dates

After much deliberation, Florida lawmakers ironed out regulations in June for the full-strength MMJ market.

The state was mandated to issue 10 more licenses on top of the seven original licenses by Oct. 3, but regulators licensed only half by the deadline. Lawmakers blamed the delay on a lawsuit challenging the licensing process, hurricanes and a lack of resources.

First legal sales

Sales are underway in Florida.

License info

  • Currently there are 12 licensed MMJ businesses.
  • Businesses are allowed to open 25 dispensaries.
  • When the additional five businesses are licensed, the state will have 425 total MMJ dispensaries.

HAWAII

The state’s regulated medical marijuana market got off to a rough start.

Hawaii’s first two licensed dispensaries opened in August but were quickly forced to shut down when the cannabis supply dried up. The businesses quickly righted the ship, however, and went on to post strong numbers in subsequent weeks.

Key dates

The Aloha State approved its first cannabis testing lab in July, helping to alleviate a bottleneck in the supply chain.

The state health department is mandated to look at the number of patients at the end of the year and determine if more licenses are needed.

First legal sales

Sales are underway.

License info

  • The program allows for eight vertically integrated licensees.
  • Each licensee can own two dispensaries.
  • Each licensee can own two cultivation operations.

LOUISIANA

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program isn’t much to speak of at the moment.

While two universities – Louisiana State and Southern – have stepped forward to grow MMJ, physician participation so far has been low, and political obstructionism has kept the industry from getting started for years now.

But the state’s program now appears to be on track, and some are hopeful that it will reach fruition within another year.

Key dates

Cultivation is expected to begin in early 2018.

Each university’s contract will last five years.

First legal sales

Sales are expected to begin in 2018.

License info

  • The state will license 10 pharmacies to sell medical cannabis.
  • There will also be transportation, extraction and medicine production permits issued by the state.

MARYLAND

With dozens of licenses issued and more than 18,000 patients registered, the long wait for MMJ in Maryland appears to be over.

Four years after the program’s inception, the state’s dispensaries could begin legal sales any day now.

And the patient pool has the potential to be sizable – at least one business owner projects it could reach 100,000 registrants.

Plus, cultivators have been growing medical cannabis since the summer of 2017. However, lawsuits over the lack of racial diversity could potentially gum up the works.

Key dates

Licensed dispensaries have until Dec. 14 to open for business.

Brian Lopez, chairman of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, said he hopes to see 20-30 MMJ dispensaries open by the end of 2017.

Almost none of the dispensary license winners have yet to be approved to begin sales.

First legal sales

Sales are slated to start in first quarter of 2018, if not sooner.

License info

  • 14 cultivators have been licensed.
  • 12 processing licenses have been awarded.
  • 4 testing labs have been licensed.
  • 9 out of 102 full dispensary licenses have been awarded.

MONTANA

At one point, Montana had 30,000 patients registered to purchase MMJ.

But then came years of court fights over a 2011 attempt by state lawmakers to regulate the industry out of business, and the number of patients dropped as many dispensaries closed up shop. Then a 2016 ruling by the state Supreme Court threw a wrench in the works – temporarily shuttering dispensaries and forcing a rebuild of the program.

Last November, voters approved a ballot initiative to resurrect the program, and it looks as though the market will regain its footing.

Patient counts have more than doubled this year. As of July, 17,819 patients had registered, up from just over 8,000 at the end of 2016.

That’s not to say it’s all roses in the Treasure State.

Billings – Montana’s largest city – voted in August to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries. At least one dispensary in the city is flouting the ban.

Key dates

A public hearing over the proposed rules is scheduled for Nov. 30 at the state health department.

The proposed regulations are expected to go into effect by April 30, if not sooner.

First legal sales

Sales are underway.

License info

Under the proposed rules:

  • Providers with fewer than 10 patients would pay an annual license fee of $1,000.
  • Those with more than 10 registered patients would pay $5,000.
  • Businesses that were closed in August 2016 will have to reapply for licenses.

NORTH DAKOTA

Although it’s one of the smallest legal medical cannabis markets in the United States, North Dakota seems to be suffering from delays that are typical in larger markets.

Voters approved medical cannabis in November 2016, and the governor in April approved rules crafted by lawmakers.

Annual dispensary sales are expected to eventually amount to only $10 million-$20 million, according to Marijuana Business Daily estimates.

State regulators recently proposed rules that wouldn’t allow dispensaries, manufacturers and testing labs to apply for licenses until April at the earliest – six to eight months behind the original schedule.

It’s estimated that cultivators will need about six months to start growing.

Key dates

The health department plans to file all required information by Feb. 1 at the latest.

The department will take public comment through Dec. 26.

First legal sales

Sales will likely begin in late 2018.

License info

  • Two cultivation and eight dispensary licenses are allowed.
  • Regulators can issue more licenses based on the number of patients.
  • Cultivators are capped at 1,000 plants. However, that number could be increased or additional cultivation licenses could be added.
  • All applicants will pay a nonrefundable $5,000 fee.
  • Cultivation licensees will pay $110,000 and dispensaries $90,000 for two-year certificates.

OHIO

Regulators are putting together the pieces for a successful launch.

The state has awarded 11 cultivation licenses to smaller growers and plans to award up to 12 larger licenses later this month.

Regulators didn’t add a residency requirement for applicants and have seen fierce competition from out-of-state businesses.

However, the state was delayed about a month in awarding the cultivation licenses. If that trend continues, Ohio might struggle to meet its projected rollout date of September 2018.

Key dates

The bulk of the key deadlines for rules and regulations were in September 2017.

The next major deadline is for the program to be operational by September 2018.

First legal sales

Sales are slated to begin in fall 2018.

License info

  • Regulators received 109 applications for large commercial cultivation licenses and 76 applications for smaller grow licenses.
  • The application process for producer licenses is planned to begin in the next couple of months.
  • Would-be dispensary owners had a Nov. 17 deadline to apply for permits.

PENNSYLVANIA

This state’s medical marijuana program has hit the ground running. In fact, the program could actually be ahead of schedule, a rarity for the industry.

The first plants are growing, and sales are expected to start in the first few months of 2018.

More than 6,000 patients had registered for the MMJ program as of Nov. 1, and that number is expected to grow.

The state still needs to work out the application process and some lawsuits over licenses. But barring any lingering issues from those situations, the program looks to be a success.

Key dates

Once the remaining cultivation businesses are given the go-ahead to begin growing, expect to see more product ready for sale in six months or less.

First legal sales

Sales are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2018.

License info

  • All 12 grower/processor licenses and 27 dispensary permits have been issued. The state has also approved two testing labs.
  • Only one of those 12 growers has gotten formal approval to begin cultivation. The remaining 11 licensees could be approved to begin growing medical cannabis any time now.
  • Phase 2 has yet to be rolled out. It would involve a second round of cultivation and dispensary licenses.

WEST VIRGINIA

Many people across the industry were surprised when West Virginia legalized medical marijuana through the legislature in April 2017.

While the Mountain State certainly is moving in the right direction, the inability of MMJ dispensaries to sell smokable flower leaves some hoping for a change in the law.

The state in June announced the formation of a regulatory body that will be charged with shaping the market.

Regulators have asked for about $2 million to launch the program.

Key dates

No patient or caregiver ID cards will be issued until July 2019.

A state attorney is working out the evaluation criteria for the three types of business licenses – dispensary, cultivation and processing. The first round of applications could be released in the first quarter of 2018.

First legal sales

No sales are expected until mid-2019.

License info

  • 10 growers, 10 processors and 30 dispensaries are allowed.
  • Each dispensary licensee will be allowed two locations.
  • Each cultivation or processing licensee will be allowed two locations.
  • Cultivation applicants will be allowed to apply for processing permits, and vice versa, but neither can also apply for a dispensary license.
  • Full vertical integration of MMJ businesses isn’t allowed.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]

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