by Roger Fillion
National & International News Developments
DEA Slow to Move on Marijuana Grow Applications
Almost a year after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration pledged to grant more licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes, the agency has yet to approve any of the applicants.
The DEA has received at least 25 applications from those interested in growing cannabis for medical research, but none have been approved or rejected, leading some to question whether last year’s promise was a red herring.
“What has progressed with the DEA over the past year? Nothing,” said Rachel Gillette, a Colorado marijuana attorney. “I would be surprised if we had another conversation in five years and they had granted another license.”
Meanwhile, the DEA is proposing a reduction in the amount of marijuana and other drugs it plans to produce for research purposes.
Provinces in Canada Weigh Public Feedback to Craft New Rules
Most of Canada’s provinces are soliciting input from medical cannabis companies, the public and other stakeholders to help shape the regulatory foundations of the country’s recreational marijuana industry.
The results could have a profound impact on existing and future Canadian marijuana businesses.
Officials with the provinces say they will incorporate the feedback into their rules on everything from where recreational marijuana can be purchased and consumed to how it is taxed, which types of businesses can sell it and how cannabis products should be packaged.
Uruguay Kicks off Recreational Marijuana Sales
Uruguay made history, becoming the first nation to begin recreational sales of marijuana after a law regulating the transactions took effect.
In mid-July, marijuana aficionados lined up at pharmacies across Uruguay to be among the first in the South American nation to legally buy cannabis.
Authorities said nearly 5,000 people had registered as consumers, allowing them to buy up to 40 grams of cannabis per month. The price is set at the equivalent of $1.30 per gram, with 90 cents of that going to the two businesses chosen to cultivate marijuana.
State News Developments
The Last Frontier is making strides toward becoming the first state in the nation to allow customers to consume marijuana in recreational shops. The Marijuana Control Board voted to begin drafting rules for onsite consumption. The regulations would range from where and how much marijuana can be consumed on premises to restrictions on ventilation. The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rules.
Texarkana became the first municipality to approve local rules that will govern medical marijuana companies that operate within its borders, setting the stage for the rest of Arkansas to follow suit. Texarkana’s board of directors approved business license fees for dispensaries and medical cannabis growers. Growers must pony up $50,000 for a business permit, while dispensaries will have to pay an initial $7,500 and then $11,000 for yearly license renewals.
The government is taking steps to prevent a product shortfall when the state’s recreational marijuana program launches Jan. 2. The state plans to provide temporary, four-month licenses to some marijuana growers, testing labs and distributors to ensure there will be enough product to keep retailers supplied. The decision was prompted by a supply shortage in Nevada after the state launched its recreational program July 1.
Four federal agents visited Colorado to meet with public officials about the state’s marijuana policy and oversight. The delegation included representatives from the Department of Justice, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Domestic Policy Council and the State Department. “Our purpose was to convey to them the strength of our regulatory system and our enforcement system and our policies and practices,” said Mark Bolton, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s marijuana adviser.
The General Assembly passed a resolution creating an Adult Use Cannabis Task Force to study “a model for regulation and taxation” of a legalized recreational marijuana program in the state. The resolution directs the group to study specifics such as taxes, banking issues, local authority and control, packaging and labeling requirements and consumer safety. The group will report on its findings to the assembly and governor by Aug. 31, 2018.
District of Columbia
The DC Council passed an emergency bill that gives minorities preference in the application process for medical marijuana licenses. A spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said the administration was reviewing the bill but was moving ahead to fulfill it. The nation’s capital is the latest jurisdiction to grant minority applicants preference to help reverse their underrepresentation in the cannabis industry.
A cannabis advocate who was instrumental in passage of a medical marijuana law filed suit against the state to get smokable MJ included in the program. Attorney John Morgan argued in the lawsuit that smoking marijuana is the best way to administer it to some patients. Smokable MMJ could entice patients to join the program and subsequently increase revenue for the state’s medical cannabis industry.
Seventeen years after Hawaii legalized medical marijuana, the state recorded its first MMJ sales. Maui Grown Therapies of Kahului opened for business in August after getting the go-ahead from the Hawaii Department of Health. Another dispensary in Hawaii is selling medical marijuana.
Shortly after, Aloha Green opened its doors in Honolulu. Hawaii was among the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 2000, but dispensaries weren’t legalized until 2015. Problems with seed-to-sale tracking software and a dearth of licensed testing labs undermined the program’s rollout.
Southern University has received seven applications from private companies bidding to run the school’s medical marijuana cultivation operation, including three that failed to win a similar contract with Louisiana State University. The university received applications from Advanced Bio Medical; AquaPharm; Citiva Louisiana; Columbia Care; Med Louisiana; Southern Roots; and United States Hemp Corp.
Medical marijuana patients spent $2 million on edibles products in dispensaries in 2016, making it the fastest-growing segment of the state’s MMJ industry. The tally represents about 7.4% of the overall $26.8 million spent at Maine’s eight dispensaries last year. By contrast, Mainers spent $1.2 million on edibles at medical marijuana dispensaries in 2015, or about 5.4% of the total purchases.
Gov. Larry Hogan overhauled the 16-member medical cannabis commission, making 10 appointments and doubling its minority representation. Hogan filled three vacancies on the panel, replaced six commissioners whose terms had expired and reappointed a 10th commissioner, Assistant Comptroller John Gontrum. Critics of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission have charged the panel lacked diversity and failed in a mandate to ensure minorities are represented among grow and dispensary licensees.
Gov. Charles Baker signed into law a recreational marijuana bill that will allow the state to launch an adult-use program approved by voters. Soon afterward, the first members of the Cannabis Advisory Board were appointed. The new law came about after House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement that would allow retail MJ sales to be taxed at a maximum 20% rate. Lawmakers also compromised on the dispute over local control of marijuana businesses.
The health department has issued temporary emergency rules for the state’s medical marijuana program. Parts of the program took effect as state regulators develop permanent regulations, which must be in place by April 30, 2018. The emergency rules, which expire in late October, include clarifications on how the Department of Public Health and Human Services will regulate marijuana testing laboratories and cannabis concentrates manufacturers during the transition period.
The state’s fledgling recreational marijuana market has led to significant cannabis price hikes that may be hurting the local medical MJ industry. Medical marijuana prices “have almost doubled” in parts of Nevada, raising concerns that unaffordable medical cannabis may force patients to the illicit market. Lissa LaWatsch, the general manager of Las Vegas’ ReLeaf dispensary, acknowledged her business has seen a “decrease” in MMJ business.
The state has added chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program, a move that could significantly boost New Hampshire’s struggling MMJ industry. Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 160 adding the two conditions.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation aimed at boosting production of hemp and committed $10 million in state funds to ramp up the industry. The new law mandates that industrial hemp be categorized as an agricultural product and be given the same considerations as other crops and seeds; requires state agencies to collaborate on funding and support for hemp research and businesses; sets up an industrial hemp seed certification program; calls for industrial hemp data collection; and authorizes the establishment of an industrial hemp website.
Medical marijuana sales would begin next spring under the state’s tentative timeline for its MMJ industry. The health department planned to open the application process for growers and dispensaries in early August and close it at the end of September. The agency would review applications in October and make selections in early November. Regulators estimate cultivators will need about six months to set up facilities and grow the first medical marijuana crop. If the timeline plays out, sales would begin in April, May or June 2018.
Regulators received 185 applications for medical marijuana cultivation licenses by the June 30 deadline and now must whittle that number to the 24 growers that ultimately will receive permits. Of the 185 applications, 109 are for Level I licenses, which allow grows up to 25,000 square feet. The other 76 applications are for Level II licenses, which allow sites up to 3,000 square feet. After winning a license, cultivators can apply for larger grow spaces.
The health department awarded 27 medical marijuana dispensary licenses across the state, taking another step toward launching the commonwealth’s MMJ market in 2018. Regulators sifted through 280 applications to select the winners. Each of the new permit holders is eligible to open up to three dispensaries. But not all have opted to open the maximum number from the get-go. Initially, the state expects to have a total of 52 dispensaries.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed into law an updated medical marijuana statute after deciding a previous MMJ legalization measure wasn’t thorough enough. Roughly 20 medical marijuana dispensaries are already operating on the island. The dispensaries began opening for business in January after the island’s health department promulgated industry rules a year earlier. Rossello said the new law is intended to safeguard patient safety and also “highlights the role of research and development of medicinal cannabis, which in turn will promote economic development (and) creation of jobs.”
Regulators are seeking to add a fifth medical marijuana dispensary, following through on a new law that expanded the state’s MMJ program. The Department of Public Safety began accepting dispensary applications at the end of June. Applications were due by July 28. The state now has four licensed marijuana dispensaries – in Brandon, Brattleboro, Burlington and Montpelier – that dispense the drug to people suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Advertising became even more difficult for marijuana businesses under new restrictions that took effect. Cannabis businesses statewide must start following advertising rules primarily intended to protect children from marijuana. The law mandates that marijuana signage must clearly denote that MJ products are for people 21 and older and can’t contain images of cannabis plants or movie or cartoon characters.
Farmers can now apply to cultivate industrial hemp for commercial purposes. The agriculture commissioner has begun accepting applications from would-be hemp farmers. Successful applicants would join members of the West Virginia Farmers Association who hold 14 licenses to farm hemp for research purposes. Those original farmers, who currently are growing 30 acres of the crop over 11 counties, now will be permitted to cultivate commercially.
Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s late-August publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.