Week in Review: Controversial cannabis mascot + potential big break in MN & Florida rec push

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By John Schroyer

A legalization campaign takes flak for its new mascot, Minnesota considers expanding its list of qualifying conditions, and more details emerge about a possible recreational marijuana measure in Florida.

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

PR blunder in Ohio

ResponsibleOhio, the group that’s attempting to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana with a single ballot initiative in November, came under fire this week after revealing its newest supporter: a mascot.

The cartoonish-looking character, named “Buddie,” has a parodied bud of cannabis for a head, six-pack abs, a cape and pronounced muscles.

Many observers responded immediately with a negative take on it, comparing the mascot to Joe Camel, according to a report by the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Several prominent public figures – including some who are pro-cannabis – condemned the campaign for adopting a figurehead that appears as though it was designed to appeal to kids.

“Anytime a marijuana campaign has a mascot, it’s probably a bad idea from the beginning,” said Steve Fox, an attorney with Vicente Sederberg in Denver and a longtime cannabis activist.

Fox added that it is “absolutely the wrong image” a legalization campaign should convey.

“This is a really serious issue,” he said. “You’re talking about whether marijuana prohibition should end, you’re talking about whether adults should be able to use the substance legally that has been illegal for so long, and you’re dealing with legitimate concerns of parents that their kids might be more likely to use it in the future.”

Fox said this should serve as a warning not only to legalization campaigns, but also to the marijuana industry. A similar misstep took place last December in southern California, when a local MMJ dispensary put up a cartoon Santa Claus with a joint clamped between his lips.

The lesson?

“We can keep it classy and still really promote cannabis for all the benefits that it provides, socially, personally and so on,” Fox said.

Pain could bring relief in Minnesota

Minnesota’s two medical cannabis companies could get a big boost if state regulators approve intractable pain for MMJ, which is a possibility that’s now on the table.

“It could be huge,” said Kris Krane, managing partner of the cannabis consultancy 4Front Advisors. “Obviously, when you look at states across the country, the number one diagnosis that people get MMJ cards for is chronic or intractable pain. If they do that, you could potentially see as much as a tenfold increase in the number of patients there might be otherwise.”

Colorado provides a good example of what can happen when a state includes serious pain on its list of qualifying conditions. The state is home to more than 113,500 medical marijuana patients – or roughly 2% of the population. More than 90% of registered patients in Colorado list pain as the primary reason they use MMJ, or one of several reasons.

In Minnesota, just 361 patients have been approved for MMJ cards. Manny Munson-Regala, the CEO of LeafLine Labs in Minnesota, said his company estimates well over 5,000 could sign up for MMJ if chronic or intractable pain is added as a qualifying condition. Judging from Colorado, which is similar in size to Minnesota from a population standpoint, the numbers could be much higher.

But Munson-Regala added that his company isn’t necessarily counting on a broader patient base to keep the firm afloat.

“My assumption has been all along… that whoever is doing this in Minnesota has to be prepared for the long haul. You don’t see patient numbers spike until year two or three,” Munson-Regala said.

Rec language revealed

On Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Marijuana Business Daily published a story about an upcoming recreational marijuana push in Florida, the group behind the campaign announced that it received tentative approval to start moving forward with gathering signatures.

As we reported, the recreational marijuana measure could sink a separate initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state. Many observers feel there’s a good chance both would fail if put to voters in 2016, whereas medical marijuana legalization by itself stands a solid chance of passing.

United for Care, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative, has not taken a stance on the recreational measure, according to the Broward Palm Beach New Times.

That may be simply because the group is waiting to see if Sensible Florida, the organization behind the rec measure, will be able to cobble together any real financial backers. If it doesn’t, then the recreational measure likely won’t make the 2016 ballot. If it does, then the two campaigns could be competing against each other.

Still, the option is there for a potential closed-door deal between the two sides, Florida political consultant April Schiff said earlier this week.

She suggested that Orlando attorney John Morgan, a millionaire who bankrolled the 2014 medical cannabis campaign and has committed to backing the 2016 push as well, could intervene with Sensible Florida to suggest a mutually beneficial solution.

“If I was in Morgan’s shoes, I would sit down with those guys immediately and say, ‘Look, you’re going to blow it up for both of us, so let’s do one and hold your horses and we’ll do the other one later,'” Schiff said. “If I were (United for Care), I’d definitely be on top of that pretty heavy, because it’s definitely going to affect them if (recreational marijuana) gets on the ballot.”

Leaders of both United for Care and Sensible Florida said earlier this week that there haven’t been any discussions or negotiations to date.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com