Week in Review: Key Meetings in Canada, Possible Patient Boom in Nevada & DEA Speculation

By John Schroyer and Omar Sacirbey

Canada’s legalization point man huddles with industry reps, a new Nevada patient processing office could produce a revenue jump for medical marijuana dispensaries, and speculation swirls that the DEA is poised to reschedule cannabis.

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

Sneaky Sneaky, Canada

The Canadian government’s point man on marijuana legalization, Bill Blair, recently berated unlicensed medical cannabis dispensary operators as “reckless” profit mongers who “don’t care” about the law or the health of kids and adults.

This week, though, he met quietly with advocates of illegal dispensaries, surprising some industry insiders.

Does that mean Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is pushing for dispensaries to be the main distribution outlet for cannabis once it introduces legislation next year to legalize recreational marijuana?

Not really.

Some cannabis industry observers in Canada reckon Blair – a Liberal lawmaker and former Toronto police chief – is open to the idea of dispensaries selling both recreational and medical cannabis. But that’s not necessarily the model he wants to pursue, observers say.

Blair, who’s been sounding out marijuana industry representatives for their views, also is expected to consider the final recommendations of a newly created legalization task force. Those recommendations are expected later this year.

“It’s a positive sign,” said Paul Pedersen, a cannabis consultant with Greywood Partners in Vancouver, adding that he’d heard from lobbyists who met Blair that “he was receptive” to a dispensary distribution model.

But Jamie Shaw, a former president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, wasn’t so sure.

“Bill Blair does seem to have already made up his mind about dispensaries. But, again, hopefully when the task force sees all the evidence their decisions will be based on that,” Shaw said.

So what kind of system does Bill Blair want?

Jason Gratl, a medical cannabis attorney in Vancouver, thinks Blair wants:

  • Large private producers that are regulated by the federal government
  • Wholesalers that are owned by the provincial governments
  • And retailers that are provincially owned or merely regulated by the provincial governments

Pedersen, the cannabis consultant, reckons the provinces ultimately will be left to decide how they want cannabis distributed. Some, he added, will opt for dispensaries, like British Columbia, while others will let it be done through state-owned liquor stores, like in Ontario, where the liquor store employees union is powerful.

Nevada Patient Boom on the Way?

A patient processing office that opened recently in Las Vegas could be a revenue boon for Nevada’s medical cannabis dispensaries.

The center allows people with doctors’ recommendations to apply for and fill prescriptions the same day. Previously, patients had to mail their applications to Carson City. It took weeks to fill a prescription.

The new office is the product of a partnership between the state and the Nevada Dispensary Association.

The speedier approval process could translate into more MMJ patients, and therefore sales, for dispensaries – at least, that’s the hopes of some business executives in Nevada.

“It should, if anything, be a shot in the arm so to speak, just because part of the issue that’s swayed some people from becoming patients is the fact that it can take so long,” Matthew Gardiner, CEO of Nevada Pure, a Las Vegas dispensary, said. “You’re definitely going to see an increase month to month.”

Gardiner said that, conservatively, he’s hoping to see a 10%-15% boost in patient numbers in coming months.

Applications already have been pouring in recent months in Nevada, according to the state. In May, for example, 1,480 new applications were received, while in April 2,061 arrived.

Another development also is important for dispensary owners, on top of the new processing office and the higher patient counts: the fact that the dispensaries came together under the umbrella of the Nevada Dispensary Association – and that the state listened to their concerns, Gardiner said.

“It’s a huge leap in the right direction,” he said. “Yes, everyone’s a competitor to some degree, but we’re all coming together on the issues that matter.”

Gardiner hopes another reform will be forthcoming to shorten the wait times for prospective employees, who currently must endure a lengthy background check before they’re cleared for work at MMJ businesses.

To Reschedule or Not Reschedule …

It’s not every week that hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a given industry are preoccupied with a single news item. But that’s pretty much what the past five days or so were like for those in the cannabis trade, with many wondering whether or not the federal government is on the verge of rescheduling marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration indicated in an April letter to several U.S. senators that it plans to announce a decision by mid-year on rescheduling marijuana, but gave no firm timeline. The agency wrote only that it “hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.”

Many took that to mean the deadline for a decision is July 1, because that marks the end of the first half of the year. It also means it’s quite possible the agency could issue an announcement before next Friday.

The Santa Monica Observer then touched off several days of intense speculation with a report last weekend that the “U.S. Gov’t Will Legalize Marijuana on August 1.”

The speculation was rampant at the National Cannabis Industry Association summit this past week in Oakland, where many attendees were consumed with the possibility that the DEA may move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II.

The Santa Monica story, it turns out, quoted only a single anonymous DEA attorney who predicted the rescheduling move would happen by Aug. 1, and even led to a Snopes.com article that focused on whether or not the piece was reliable.

It is, of course, still very possible the DEA will make such a momentous change, and some even consider it likely. So stay tuned.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at omars@mjbizdaily.com