Week in Review: No takers for DEA cannabis research, MA NIMBYism, Oklahoma legalization vote

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By Omar Sacirbey, Bart Schaneman and John Schroyer

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has zero takers for medical marijuana-related research, Massachusetts dispensary NIMBYism could hit any rec legalization plans, and Oklahoma MMJ advocates want a 2017 vote.

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

MMJ research? Not just yet

The possibility of more medical research into cannabis took another step forward when the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine began advertising that it’s looking for partners to collaborate on cannabis-related studies.

At least three other major institutions have expressed similar interest, even before the DEA’s August announcement that it won’t reschedule cannabis but will open more doors to medical research.

To date, however, the DEA hasn’t received any applications for permits to either conduct MMJ research or to grow cannabis for research purposes.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t had anybody apply yet,” said Melvin Patterson of the DEA public affairs office. “I think people will. They’re just making sure they get their protocol together. There’s a lot of prep work that has to go into that.”

Patterson noted the annual DEA license fee is $3,047 for any institution, company or individual seeking a permit to grow research cannabis. For researchers, however, the fee is $244 per year, according to the DEA’s website. The necessary paperwork any interested party should submit is Form 225, Patterson said.

The applications differ.

“The researcher, they are submitting a protocol explaining exactly what it is they’re researching,” Patterson said. “Say it’s marijuana. They’re going to let (the DEA) know exactly what the THC level in the marijuana is, what constituent parts of the marijuana plant they’re studying, because it’s specific to that research.”

That could be a major hurdle for researchers, given that any studies would have to involve the exact same levels of THC. And guaranteeing that large crops of cannabis plants have the exact same levels of THC is easier said than done.

Still, Patterson said, there’s no reason to expect that any applicants would be turned down.

“As long as someone has their protocol in order, as long as it’s a legitimate request, that tells me that more than likely they’re going to be approved,” Patterson said.

Massachusetts NIMBYism

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 2012. But in 2016 many of those voters have balked at allowing dispensaries into their neighborhoods.

Next month, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Recent polls show voters passing Question 4, as the rec initiative is called.

If the numbers hold and rec cannabis passes in Massachusetts, will local municipalities block adult-use stores the same way they’ve blocked dispensaries?

Yes – at least initially, predicts Adam Fine, managing attorney at the Boston office of the canna-centric law firm Vicente Sederberg.

If voters pass Question 4, he expects that about 30% of cities and towns will allow rec stores in the first year or two of the program. But that number will grow as cities and towns that banned rec stores see their neighbors with adult-use stores prosper without the feared negative social consequences. That’s what’s happening in Colorado, Fine said.

Question 4 permits 75 recreational marijuana stores in the state through October 2018. There would be no cap after that. Localities could limit the number of rec stores. But voters would have to approve complete bans as well as partial bans that limit the number of rec stores to less than 20% of a municipality’s liquor stores.

Why do municipalities oppose dispensaries?

“The reason that cities and towns are reacting this way is because there have been scare tactics from the political institutions here in Massachusetts which are spreading lies about what Question 4 says and how it will affect municipalities,” Fine said.

Specifically, Fine explained, Question 4 opponents are telling voters that if a municipality allows a dispensary it must also allow a rec shop.

The upshot: Negative rec rhetoric is stoking local opposition to dispensaries.

2017 Oklahoma Vote?

After securing a medical cannabis initiative on a future ballot, legalization advocates in Oklahoma want to put it before voters as soon as next year instead of wait for a regularly scheduled election in 2018. But that may not happen.

Frank Grove, co-chairman of Oklahomans for Health, the group that led the petition drive, said the next step is to argue why a special vote is needed. The group didn’t turn in its signatures in time for the Nov. 8 election.

While the campaign was gathering about 67,000 signatures, Grove said members heard stories about people who needed immediate treatment.

“There are a lot of patients that don’t have the time to wait,” Grove said.

But they may have to wait. Grove predicted a vote will “more than likely” occur in 2018, through a primary or general election.

Grove credited the campaign’s success to a multifaceted approach with many well-trained activists. They set up a booth on the corner of an expressway in Oklahoma City for 20 days, 24 hours a day, until the city slapped them with a curfew.

Now Grove’s campaign is moving into the “get-out-the-vote” phase. He sees Oklahoma as a potential tipping point for the region, looking toward other “red states” that might follow suit.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at omars@mjbizdaily.com

Bart Schaneman can be reached at barts@mjbizdaily.com

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com