By John Schroyer and Bart Schaneman
The launch of Maine’s recreational marijuana industry is delayed, a deadline passes for Maryland’s licensed medical cannabis growers, and the Department of Justice nixes a DEA decision on MJ research.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
Maine rec in doubt?
Maine’s adult-use cannabis industry won’t launch until next summer – at the very earliest – simply because state regulators say they don’t have enough time to craft rules and start licensing rec businesses.
While delays in new markets aren’t uncommon – especially in New England – Maine’s situation may be more dire, depending on how obstinate state government officials, especially anti-cannabis Gov. Paul LePage, decide to be.
One of the state’s key cannabis advocates isn’t optimistic at all about what may ensue.
Paul McCarrier – the president of Legalize Maine, which was instrumental in the legalization of rec cannabis last year – declined comment on whether the adult-use industry will ever be allowed to start in his state.
Asked if he was confident the rec industry will launch at some point in 2018, McCarrier replied, “I can’t comment on that.”
“The biggest thing is that legislators had an opportunity to work with the executive branch … and they thought they knew better than the voters and decided not to respect and adhere to what the voters approved,” McCarrier said.
He said it’s a “best-case scenario” the state will start issuing adult-use licenses in the summer of 2018.
Asked what the worst-case scenario is, he demurred. Rather, he said, the 2016 rec ballot measure had “a very clear timetable,” which state lawmakers have ignored.
So, from McCarrier’s standpoint, the future of Maine’s rec cannabis industry is immensely uncertain.
Mercy in Maryland
The six cultivation license winners in Maryland that haven’t received final approval from regulators have their backs against the wall, considering their deadline to receive the go-ahead to grow MMJ passed Monday.
But they might still catch a break, according to one industry consultant.
Debby Miran – a former Maryland MMJ commissioner and now a cannabis consultant in Baltimore – says it’s her understanding the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is going to offer leniency depending on a licensed business’ circumstances.
If the reason a license holder isn’t up and running is beyond the company’s control – if there’s a zoning question, for example – the business will likely receive an extension. However, Miran said, they’ll have to report their progress.
“You can’t just give someone an indefinite period of time,” she said. “There are others out there that would gladly take over and make use of (the license).”
On the other hand, Miran said, if a business’ launch is delayed because of issues within its control – for example, the company’s having difficulty securing investment money – the commission will be less inclined to grant mercy.
In that case, Miran believes commission chief Patrick Jameson will say, “‘Hey, that’s not my problem. You guys misrepresented your ability to secure funding. I’m going on to the next one on the list.'”
The commission is likely to render its decision regarding those six approvals at its Aug. 28 meeting. The commission is also expected to announce the winners of laboratory licenses.
Miran sees it as a positive that some processors have made it through the application process.
“The big question that everyone’s asking is when will there be anything in a dispensary?” she said. “Right now, we only have one dispensary open out of 102 (licensed facilities), which is crazy.”
Officials from the Department of Justice – which oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration – have reportedly overridden a decision by the DEA last year to grant more research permits for scientists interested in learning more about marijuana.
While the exact details of the situation remain unclear, one thing has been made obvious: It’s almost certain no new marijuana research requests will get the green light any time soon.
That means the cannabis industry, specifically the medical side, must continue relying on “whatever studies they can and using them and trying to do the best they can for their patients,” said Morgan Fox, Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director.
“There’s a whole lot more possibility for information to be gained that we’re just not taking advantage of,” Fox added.
“The more research we do, the better information we’ll have about everything – from dosing to exact treatment options to strains and individual cannabinoids that are useful for different conditions …
“The fact that it’s been obstructed for decades is just shameful.”
Fox said the Justice Department’s decision to quash research permits also may be at odds with recommendations a DOJ task force recently made to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The task force suggested an ongoing study of state-level marijuana legalization and its wide-ranging effects.
“Sessions hasn’t necessarily ignored these recommendations, but it seems like he’s trying to find a way around them, with sending letters to the governors and citing bad data,” Fox said.
“If they’re also dragging their feet on allowing medical and scientific research, that seems to be a huge departure from those recommendations. One would hope that they would … just start rubber-stamping these research proposals.”
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]