Week in Review: Seniors + MMJ, Oregon faces changes & Cannabis Caucus debuts

By Omar Sacirbey, Bart Schaneman and John Schroyer

A medical marijuana company in New York lands a nursing home deal, Oregon may align the state’s MMJ and recreational programs under one regulator, and the Congressional Cannabis Caucus officially launches.

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

Cannabis in nursing homes

Etain Health of New York made waves when it announced it landed an agreement to supply MMJ products to a Bronx nursing home.

Under the deal, Etain will help health personnel become certified to recommend medical marijuana and also will provide MMJ products to nursing home residents who have received a recommendation.

One potential obstacle to similar deals: A federal institution, the Department of Health and Human Services, regulates nursing homes and provides some with funding. Some facilities fear they could lose their funding if they allow a federally illegal drug, the New York Times reported.

But Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association, believes arrangements like Etain’s will become more common, the New York Daily News reported.

Interestingly, when Maine changed its MMJ law to allow dispensaries in 2009, one of the new provisions permitted nursing homes and in-patient hospice centers to act as registered caregivers. To become registered caregivers, the homes and hospice centers were required to buy cannabis from a dispensary.

According to the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine Trade Association, not one nursing home has signed up as a caregiver.

Most senior facilities don’t want to get involved with medical marijuana, said Becky DeKeuster, who co-founded the Wellness Connection of Maine dispensary chain and, as part of her outreach, spoke at nursing homes in the state.

Still, she believes Hanse’s optimism that more nursing homes will be open to MMJ isn’t misplaced.

“I think he’s looking ahead,” DeKeuster said. “Ten, 15 years down the road, a lot of people who will be looking for assisted living facilities and nursing homes are going to be people who consume cannabis today.”

Change may be good

If Oregon decides to combine its medical and recreational marijuana programs under one regulator, will the state’s cannabis industry be the better for it?

Two recently introduced bills raised that question.

One bill would transfer oversight of the state’s medical marijuana program from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which now administers the recreational cannabis program. The other would create a new agency specifically for marijuana regulation.

Confusion has reigned among Oregon’s marijuana businesses, regulators and law enforcement over which of the two existing agencies has jurisdiction over cannabis.

That’s why Beau Whitney, an economist who heads the canna-centric consulting firm Whitney Economics, sees the merit in the suggested changes.

“There’s a lot of efficiencies that can be gleaned from (consolidating OHA and OLCC),” Whitney said. “I think it will be beneficial.”

However, there has been pushback from the industry over who should oversee medical cannabis.

Some don’t want medical marijuana handed over to the OLCC because it’s viewed as the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Others propose that the Oregon Department of Agriculture oversee cultivation.

While Whitney believes the majority of the industry favors the OLCC as overseer of medical cannabis, he sees it as a win-win.

“Either way, I think this will be a huge improvement in the Oregon system,” he said.

The OHA has struggled to manage not only MMJ but the full spectrum of Oregon’s health matters, Whitney said, because the agency also oversees large Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“They just don’t have enough resources to dedicate to the medical marijuana program,” he added.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill

Two Democrats and two Republicans stood united in front of reporters on Thursday and spoke about how they believe the next two years could see significant gains in Congress for the marijuana industry.

“This is a states’ rights issue,” U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-AK, said. “And a lot of these young members who belong to certain caucuses keep talking about the rights of states, so I can’t see them going against this type of legislation … I think we’ll be able to win it.”

Young was speaking in broad terms about the newly launched Congressional Cannabis Caucus’ goals. And although, in past Congressional sessions, marijuana reform has been largely invisible when it comes to passing bills, the four representatives put on a brave face.

They made reference to marijuana bills that have been introduced or are being reintroduced because they’ve died in past sessions, such as U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s H.R. 975, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act.

Asked by a reporter if any of them had spoken with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-CO, responded quickly, “I haven’t yet,” before emphasizing President Trump stated on the campaign trail that MJ policy should be left to the states.

“We would certainly encourage the attorney general to not interfere with legal actions in our states,” Polis said, “but we want to make sure that any future attorney general, that the entire existence of our state regulatory systems doesn’t depend on what side of the bed they wake up on.”

In other words, the industry should keep its fingers crossed that the new caucus is able to achieve its goals.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]

Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

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