By John Schroyer and Omar Sacirbey
Federal cannabis rescheduling rumors keep swirling, Nevada is poised to cut off a significant chunk of income for medical marijuana dispensaries, and Minnesota’s pair of MMJ companies get major relief from pain patients.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
What’s up with rescheduling?
The rescheduling rumor mill keeps on churning. And marijuana industry executives may not want to hold their collective breaths for a resolution just yet.
Consider that July 1 has come and gone. Many in the marijuana industry had taken that date to be a deadline for when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration would announce whether it had removed marijuana from its list of the most dangerous drugs.
The DEA didn’t act one way or the other. Nor did it on August 1, the next rumored deadline. And now the agency is on record saying it’s in the last stages of making a decision – but can’t give a “time frame.”
The agency inadvertently brought the whirlwind of speculation upon itself earlier this year. The DEA penned an April 4 letter to a group of senators saying it “hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016” on whether it would move marijuana from its current place on the Schedule 1 list – alongside heroin and LSD – to perhaps Schedule 2 or even lower.
Many in the cannabis industry took that to mean the agency had set itself a rough July 1 deadline. It’s now clear such a deadline wasn’t set in stone.
Against this backdrop, various news outlets have published reports of all kinds, including a June 28 story by the Santa Monica Observer entitled “U.S. Gov’t Will Legalize Marijuana August 1.” The article cited an anonymous DEA attorney who predicted his agency would move cannabis to Schedule 2 on that date. (Clearly, that didn’t happen.)
This past week the Denver alternative weekly Westword published a less-than-optimistic story. Citing anonymous sources, it claimed that a “senior executive” with the DEA had confirmed to a local attorney the agency won’t reschedule cannabis at all this year.
But perhaps the most reliable of all stories so far has come from the Denver Post, which published another piece, also this week, citing by name DEA spokesman Russ Baer, who said the agency is in “the final stages” of making a decision. But he added: “I can’t give you a time frame as to when we may make a decision.”
Baer also spoke with the blog aNewDomain in June, in which he had already laid out the same position he reiterated to the Post: that the DEA wasn’t holding itself to a timeline.
Which means there’s no telling when or if rescheduling will happen this year.
Revenue hit in Nevada
Nevada’s medical marijuana dispensary owners may be in for a large revenue hit, now that Nevada regulators have adopted a legal recommendation issued by the state’s attorney general.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt had opined that Nevada dispensaries should no longer be allowed to serve out-of-state MMJ patients who only have a recommendation from a doctor in neighboring California.
A spokeswoman for the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health – which oversees the state’s MMJ industry – confirmed in an email to Marijuana Business Daily that the health department has adopted Laxalt’s opinion.
“The revenue loss would be significant,” attorney Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said. “The NDA’s concern is that California patients that visit Nevada or that are in Nevada on a regular basis but are not residents will not be able to access their medicine.”
Based on interviews with her group’s members, Durrett reckons that about half of Nevada’s patients are from California.
Laxalt penned his opinion for the director of Nevada’s health department, Richard Whitley, after Whitley had requested clarification from Laxalt’s office on California doctors’ recommendations.
Nevada dispensaries are still allowed to serve patients with California state-issued medical cannabis cards.
Nevada allows patients who are registered to use medical cannabis in other states to purchase MMJ while visiting, provided they have official documentation such as a state-issued MMJ card. Nevada, Maine, and Michigan are the only three MMJ states with some form of reciprocity, according to the Marijuana Business Daily Factbook 2016.
The NDA’s Durrett said her group was meeting with health officials to come up with an alternate solution that would protect patients with legitimate needs while complying with state law.
Thanks For the pain
Minnesota’s pair of MMJ producers got a big boost this past week when intractable pain patients were allowed to start buying at dispensaries.
That assessment is based on a reading from one of the companies.
“Essentially all of our dispensaries have been packed every day,” said Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions, which operates four storefronts in Minneapolis, Rochester, Bloomington and Moorhead.
Kingsley estimated that sales at least doubled this week, if not tripled, for his company. His staff was so busy that he himself was on hand at one of the company locations to assist with patient consultations.
No one from LeafLine Labs, Minnesota’s other MMJ producer, could be reached for comment.
The main reason it’s such a big deal, particularly for Minnesota, is that it’s one of several MMJ markets that saw a disturbingly slow start, with less than 100 patients registered for the statewide program prior to its June 2015 launch.
But that number has slowly grown over the past year. Since intractable pain patients have been allowed to register as of July 1, more than 500 have already signed up, a staffer for the state program said. Specific pain patient numbers have not been made public.
“I was comfortable last year, and this certainly helps. This definitely puts some wind in our sails,” Kingsley said.
As of July 28, the state had registered 2,040 MMJ patients total.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]