Week in Review: Waiting game in Maryland, industry vs. activism & good news for new market

Just Released! Get realistic market forecasts, state-by-state insights and benchmarks with the new 2024 MJBiz Factbook member program, now with quarterly updates. Make informed decisions.

By John Schroyer and Omar Sacirbey

Maryland pushes back a decision on medical cannabis business permits, a prominent Marijuana Policy Project official resigns over the industry’s newfound influence on activism, and Minnesota expands its MMJ conditions list.

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

Hurry up and wait

The hundreds of marijuana companies that applied for business licenses in Maryland are stuck in a holding pattern after the state decided this week that it needs more time to review the 1,081 applications it received by the November deadline.

Officials initially planned to reveal the winners in January but now say they will miss that target. The state’s medical cannabis commission has not yet set a new date for the announcement.

The extended wait may be frustrating, but it could actually be a good thing for entrepreneurs.

“The preference is that they get it done right, rather than soon,” said Steve White, CEO of Arizona-based Harvest Inc., which was involved in 27 dispensary applications and one cultivator application. “More time is better.”

The delay doesn’t mean companies should stand still, though.

Applicants should use the time to research bureaucratic requirements and contact the people they will need to move forward with their projects should they eventually win a license, cannabis consultant Matt Cook said. That includes real estate agents, design and construction specialists, and local politicians.

“There’s a lot that can be done,” Cook said.

Clash of the titans

Dan Riffle left the Marijuana Policy Project last month, but his departure is just now making some serious waves.

According to a report this week, the former director of federal policy for MPP told some colleagues in an email on his way out the door that he made the decision to leave because the industry is taking over the legalization movement.

“I’m not interested in the industry,” he reportedly wrote.

The move highlights a growing rift in the legalization movement between the interests of industry professionals and activists.

While some may doubt that the industry has much political power at this point, it’s an issue bubbling up to the surface as the cannabis business grows.

“It’s a necessary conversation for the movement and the industry to have,” said Kris Krane, managing partner of the consultancy 4Front Advisors.

Krane added that while he doesn’t think Riffle is correct about the industry dominating efforts to legalize cannabis, “there is a real risk of that happening.”

“There is a real balance that needs to be struck between the needs and desires of the industry and the advocacy groups whose job it is to push for good policy,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Steve Fox, another former MPP wonk who now works for the Denver law firm Vicente Sederberg, helped found the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation last year. Fox said the nonprofit works to “straddle the transition that’s taking place” and bring together responsible business interests with those of activists who want to set up sensible industry regulations and protect consumers.

That said, organizations such as MPP are still leading the way in states such as Rhode Island, where the legislature could legalize recreational in 2016, Fox added. MPP staffers are also the ones offering testimony on policy and lobbying for change.

“There’s no doubting that there is a gradual shift taking place, but it would be unfair to say that the industry is taking over at this point,” Fox said.

More pain, more gain

One of the most heavily regulated medical cannabis states in the nation is also now the latest to expand its qualifying condition list for patients.

The news that Minnesota’s health commissioner approved the addition of intractable pain is obviously a huge boost for the state’s two MMJ companies.

It’s also nothing new.

There’s a lengthy precedent of other markets expanding their conditions list along the way, in part due to widespread demand for MMJ and also because of an increase in awareness of the plant’s medical benefits for a variety of ailments.

A few examples:

  • Delaware just added autism to its list of conditions approved for medical cannabis.
  • Washington DC’s Health Department first added six new ailments to its list last year, and then the city council eliminated the list altogether, allowing physicians to determine if MMJ was appropriate treatment for any ailment.
  • Arizona, Michigan and Nevada signed off on adding post-traumatic stress disorder to their lists last year.

There are similar pushes underway in other states as well.

In Illinois, for example, a state panel has twice now recommended expanding the qualifying condition list, first by 11 ailments (which was shot down by the state health commissioner) and now by eight. The recommendation is awaiting another decision by the health commissioner.

In Connecticut, the state legislature is widely expected to approve adding seven new conditions for MMJ, but that would require the backing of a legislative committee, which probably won’t happen until early 2016.

And the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association is pushing to expand that state’s list even more, to include another eight conditions.

Any condition added is good news for MMJ businesses, as such moves help expand the patient base – sometimes significantly.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at omars@mjbizmedia.com