Week in Review: Dispensaries open in 3 states + congressman’s take on marijuana progress

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By John Schroyer

Dispensaries finally open their doors in several states – including two that passed medical marijuana laws years ago – and a key member of Congress sounds off on federal cannabis reform.

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

Opening day

In the past 10 days, three states have seen their first MMJ dispensaries open for business: Delaware, Massachusetts and Minnesota.

The launch of new markets is certainly good news for the industry, but there are major hurdles for each of these programs to overcome.

In Delaware, the market is one of the smallest in the nation, with the latest tally showing just 344 registered patients.

While that’s enough to keep the lone licensed dispensary in the state busy, the patient pool will likely have to become much deeper before Delaware officials decide to award the two additional licenses allowed under the law. It was a long time coming: Delaware legalized medical cannabis back in 2011, but the state delayed implementation of its dispensary program.

In Massachusetts, the industry could take months to come into its own. Just one dispensary has opened out of the 15 that were awarded licenses even though the state legalized MMJ in 2012, and the rest might not open until late this year or even early next.

The long-term potential is significant, as the state can now award as many licenses as it sees fit. In fact, business interest in additional permits is strong: The state received more than 50 applications this week alone.

But the market could face a huge shortage until additional dispensaries come online, given that there are more than 9,000 registered patients. The dispensary that opened this week could run into significant inventory issues trying to keep up with demand.

In Minnesota, it could be the exact opposite. As of June 25, there were only 65 legal patients registered in the entire state.

The two legal companies allowed to dispense MMJ may therefore face some financial struggles until more patients get a thumbs up from the state to begin purchasing. And that could depend on getting physicians on board with medical cannabis, since many are still reluctant to write recommendations for MMJ.

These are all small markets at this time. They won’t add tens of millions of dollars in revenues to the industry’s haul, at least for a while. And each state’s MMJ program certainly faces its own unique challenges going forward.

But the dispensary openings show that progress is still being made, even if it’s just baby steps.

That’s the important part for the industry as a whole: That momentum is still on the side of cannabis. And that momentum could prove to be a significant factor heading into 2016, when even more states are generally expected to legalize either medical or recreational cannabis.

In short, every business opening can be seen as a boost for the industry at large.

Rohrabacher roars

One of the marijuana industry’s closest allies in Congress is U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has sponsored numerous bills over the years to aid cannabis reform efforts.

Marijuana Business Daily caught up with him this past week at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Business Summit and Expo in Denver, just after he spoke at a fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul.

Though Rohrabacher said he hasn’t decided to back Paul in the presidential primary yet, he said the Kentucky senator is a “hero” to many in the industry for the stances he’s taken in favor of protecting states’ rights on legalizing marijuana.

“This could have easily been a gloating session, and instead he made it into a strategy session, which I thought was very appropriate and appreciated,” Rohrabacher said of Paul’s fundraiser with cannabis industry insiders. “Instead of just saying ‘vote for me’ it became more of an issue of how we’re going to push this in the Senate and in the Congress.”

In particular, Rohrabacher said he and Paul have both made strides with politicians on both sides of the aisle who have been loathe to get behind pro-cannabis bills, all by using the states’ rights argument to oppose federal crackdowns on the industry. That’s one of the ways, he said, that progress will be made in Washington DC in coming years.

“At the federal level, the most important thing is for everyone to accept that states have the right to make the determination across the board, not just for medical marijuana, but for all purposes,” Rohrabacher said. “So if we could just get that one acceptance, and we carried at least two dozen members of the House specifically on that (argument).”

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com