Week in Review: Celebration in CT, Canadian court ruling & support for rescheduling marijuana

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By John Schroyer and Omar Sacirbey

Connecticut dispensaries get good news, Canadian MMJ producers learn they might see increased competition from home grows, and a former U.S. attorney general says it’s time to reschedule cannabis.

Here’s a closer look at several notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.

Connecticut rising
A state legislative committee this week announced that it is adding six new conditions to the list of ailments that qualifies patients for medical cannabis, and dispensary executives exhaled a collective “finally!”

“We’ve been waiting a long time for it,” said Laurie Zrenda, owner of Thames Valley Alternative Relief. “It takes about a year for the state to approve new conditions, so these have been in the pipeline for quite some time.”

Even with the new conditions, however, the list is still fairly restrictive, Zrenda said. She’d like to see more pain-related ailments added, such as arthritis, along with anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There’s always more. I talk to so many people who call and ask questions, but they don’t qualify,” Zrenda said.

Still, the addition is likely going to prove a windfall for the six existing dispensaries in the state, along with the three new ones expected to open this summer. Zrenda said she wouldn’t be surprised if the patient count – which is nearly 9,000 already – doubled over the next year. That would translate into big sales numbers for the few storefronts the state has so far licensed.

“I would think it would be pretty huge,” Zrenda said.

In particular, she noted that the new round of ailments includes, for the first time, two pain-related conditions, which she thinks could open the door to further use of cannabis to treat pain.

And it seems as though state officials have been quite open to watching the success of the program, and have therefore expanded it accordingly. That means more growth down the road is a pretty solid bet for Connecticut’s MMJ industry.

Northern exposure

A Canadian judge’s decision this week to overturn a law prohibiting MMJ patients from growing their own medicine seems like bad news for the country’s licensed commercial cultivators.

After all, if patients can grow at home, at least some will opt to do that rather than buy from licensed businesses.

But Paul Pedersen, a Vancouver-based cannabis consultant, believes that the ruling won’t hurt Canada’s 29 commercially licensed growers.

Only a tiny fraction of the roughly 30,500 registered Canadian medical marijuana patients who buy cannabis from licensed companies will actually switch to home growing, he predicted.

“I don’t expect (licensed companies’) bottom lines to be affected at all,” Pedersen said.

What the ruling does do, Pedersen said, is reinforce the two competing systems of accessing cannabis: one through the licensed commercial cultivators that mail product to their customers, and the other through the dozens of illegal dispensaries operating in Vancouver and elsewhere in British Columbia.

Those dispensaries get their cannabis from patients who received prior approval to grow medical marijuana at home and were grandfathered in when the country enacted the ban.

While the vast majority of those home cultivators grow for themselves, many were also able to obtain prescriptions from doctors allowing them to legally grow dozens of – and in some cases up to 300 – plants. The ruling, therefore, ensures that the dispensaries will continue to have a steady stream of supply.

Empty gesture?

Too little, too late.

It’s easy to view former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that marijuana should be rescheduled in such a light, given that he didn’t exactly make it a priority during his six years as head of the Justice Department.

Indeed, the Huffington Post headline that dealt with the story noted, “He can’t do anything about it now.”

Which is true enough, but it’s also worth remembering that marijuana reform has been a series of baby steps for over two decades now, and each voice added to the conversation can also be viewed as one more step in the right direction.

The simple fact that Holder is just the latest Washington DC insider to come out of the closet, so to speak, in favor of regulating cannabis in a more reasonable manner is cause for optimism.

There are plenty of things to be either pessimistic or realistic about, including both Holder’s suggestion that Congress should act and Obama’s similar statement last month, especially when the president could easily take unilateral action to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II or even lower.

But the pressure is building on DC for something to change, and Holder is now part of that.

If, for example, swing states such as Florida and Ohio legalize medical marijuana this November, and if California and others approve adult use, that could prove to be the tipping point for the next president to claim a mandate from the people on the acceptability of cannabis.

From there it’s just a question of executive action or passing something through Congress (most bets are on the former).

Is that a long shot? Maybe. But it’s not necessarily unrealistic.

So perhaps instead of second-guessing Holder and his timing, the response from the cannabis community should be, “Welcome to the choir!”

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at omars@mjbizdaily.com