National & International News Developments
by Roger Fillion
Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Extended Until December
A key federal law protecting the medical marijuana industry from interference by the U.S. Department of Justice has been extended until Dec. 8 under the provisions of an emergency aid package approved by Congress.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – which has had to be renewed annually by Congress and was formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr – was set to expire Sept. 30.
However, it will now remain in place until at least early December. The amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs, or from prosecuting MMJ businesses compliant with state law.
Three Canadian Provinces Plan to Use State-Run Stores to Sell Recreational Cannabis
Three Canadian provinces have announced plans to establish government-owned monopolies to handle retail sales of recreational marijuana, a move that excludes entrepreneurs from a significant sector in Canada’s new adult-use industry.
Quebec – Canada’s second-largest province by population – in early October followed in the footsteps of Ontario and New Brunswick by turning to a government-owned corporation.
Prince Edward Island is also expected to sell recreational cannabis in government-run stores, while British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba might carve out a space for private businesses.
Medical Marijuana Cultivation Now an Official Farming Sector in Israel
Israel is classifying medical marijuana cultivation in the same farming sector as traditional agriculture.
The Agricultural Ministry’s decision means up to 20 farmers will qualify for government aid in the form of grants, water quotas and training.
The reclassification of Israel’s MMJ farmers follows an August announcement that the nation plans to begin exporting medical cannabis. The Agricultural Ministry hasn’t added a new farming classification since giving the nod to horse ranchers 10 years ago.
State News Developments
The marijuana industry is breathing a sigh of relief after voters in three of Alaska’s largest population areas – and where a large number of the state’s cannabis businesses operate – resoundingly rejected three different proposed moratoriums. The moratorium referendums were held in Fairbanks (population 33,000), the Fairbanks North Star Borough (100,000) and the Kenai Peninsula Borough (58,000), which, combined, hold more than a quarter of the state’s 742,000 people. Had they passed, the local moratoriums would have negatively affected the vast state’s legal marijuana industry.
A company that contributed half a million dollars to help defeat recreational marijuana legalization in Arizona last year is in the crosshairs of the state’s attorney general, who has accused the business of deceptive practices to bolster sales of an opioid product. Insys Therapeutics – which gave $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy during the 2016 election cycle – is guilty of widespread fraud in support of a spray form of the opioid fentanyl, Arizona’s attorney general charged in a lawsuit against the Chandler-based company.
Regulators received roughly 300 applications for medical marijuana business licenses, including about 200 on the final day the paperwork could be submitted. An MMJ program spokesman said that roughly 200 applicants were seeking one of the 32 licenses to operate a dispensary and the others were hoping to secure one of the five cultivation permits.
As part of the transition to a newly regulated market, marijuana regulators will hand out temporary business licenses to existing companies starting Jan. 1. To qualify for a temporary permit, businesses will be required to submit some cursory information, such as contact info, the type of business and a diagram of the company’s layout. A potential issue could be a requirement for some type of formal notice that the business has already been given local approval to operate.
The Average Market Rate (AMR) for a pound of wholesale marijuana in Colorado’s recreational market hit an all-time low, pushed down by more cultivation facilities, more efficient growers and additional outdoor grow operations. Used by the state to levy excise taxes, the AMR represents the average price of retail marijuana sold or transferred from cultivators to retailers and infused product manufacturers. The latest calculations – based on sales from Nov. 1, 2016, through April 30, 2017 – puts the AMR at $1,298 per pound, down 12% from January 2017 and 35% from its peak in January 2015.
The state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries could see an uptick in business thanks to a change in state law that makes it easier for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain MMJ. Under the new law, PTSD patients can get a recommendation for medical cannabis from any licensed physician. Previously, PTSD patients had to receive a recommendation from a licensed psychiatrist in the state to get a medical cannabis card.
The Office of Medical Marijuana Use is dealing with a major patient backlog, which some stakeholders say is forcing patients to wait longer than the mandated 30 days to receive their MMJ cards. The state health department is “flooded” with MMJ registration applications, up to 3,000 pending at any given time, with staffers receiving about 1,300 calls a day from prospective patients. One physician who’s recommending MMJ for patients estimated the wait time is up to about seven weeks instead of 30 days.
Hawaii said it will be the first state to require marijuana sales to be handled without cash because it wants to avoid robberies and other crimes involving dispensaries. Beginning Oct. 1, Hawaii planned to quit allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to accept cash and to require people to use a debit payment app instead. The app is already an option for marijuana transactions in six states, including California and Colorado.
Maine is poised to become one of the first states to allow public consumption in social clubs, but a key restriction could handicap potential marijuana clubs: no smoking. A bill to establish regulations covering Maine’s recreational marijuana industry doesn’t provide an exemption to a state law banning smoking in public places. That means social clubs would be able to allow only edibles, tinctures and other forms of cannabis that don’t involve smoking. That could diminish the allure of clubs.
The University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy has scrapped courses that had been scheduled for students planning careers in the medical marijuana field. The college made the decision after “consulting with the Maryland attorney general’s office” and then decided to err on the side of caution because of marijuana’s ongoing status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance and the Trump administration’s lack of a clear policy on cannabis.
The state isn’t slated to begin recreational marijuana sales until next summer, but industry insiders are already predicting an inventory shortage akin to what happened in Nevada and other states that have launched MJ programs in recent years. The problem is simple: There won’t be enough supply to satisfy demand. “The first places to open up will sell out in less than a week,” Peter Bernard, the president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, told MassLive.com.
Regulators announced that medical marijuana cultivation license applicants will be allowed to apply for multiple permits at a single location and, thus, could potentially grow many more plants than originally anticipated. Under state law, growers can apply for three types of licenses. Class A license holders can grow up to 500 plants, Class B license holders up to 1,000 and Class C up to 1,500. But regulators will allow growers to apply for “multiple” Class C licenses for a single grow site.
The Billings City Council voted to ban medical cannabis dispensaries, meaning the industry may not have a visible face in the most populous city in Montana. Technically, the vote doesn’t change a law that’s already on the books, since the city enacted an ordinance five years ago to prohibit MMJ storefronts. But one of the city’s two dispensaries, Montana Advanced Caregivers, won a preliminary injunction against the new ban, allowing it to continue operating until the district court can hold a hearing on the matter.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has ordered Nevada’s gambling policy committee to recommend guidelines on issues where the state’s long-established gaming industry and nascent recreational marijuana industry intersect, including whether casino-resorts can host events that promote or cater to the cannabis industry. The Nevada Gaming Policy Committee – which includes gambling regulators, casino representatives and other industry officials – must meet no later than Dec. 15 and make its recommendations by June 2018.
An Albuquerque medical marijuana dispensary had visions of advertising on the sides of buses, but local transit authorities rejected the ads, citing concerns about federal law and grant funding. The Ultra Health dispensary sought to place ads on the vehicles featuring photos of people of various ages and ethnic groups as well as the slogan “Your Health. Our Commitment.” The city’s legal department, however, said any marijuana-related ads displayed by the Transit Department are prohibited by federal law, regardless of New Mexico’s MMJ laws.
The state is opening its ramped-up hemp program with a call for new growers and an offer of up to $10 million in grant funding. The grants come in two categories: $5 million will fund industrial hemp research, including nearly $1 million in partnerships with Cornell University and Morrisville State College; $5 million will go to economic development opportunities for industrial hemp businesses.
A second college in the state has put its name on the list to test medical marijuana. Central State University – a historically black college in Wilberforce – has joined Hocking College in Nelsonville in applying for a permit to test cannabis for the state’s developing program. Regulators gave Ohio’s public colleges and universities first crack at cannabis testing permits when it rolled out rules for the program last year, but few have shown interest.
Oregon’s secretary of state plans to audit the recreational marijuana regulatory agency and how the program enforces cannabis rules. The audit announcement preceded a visit to Oregon by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who wrote to Gov. Kate Brown this summer expressing concerns the state has been unsuccessful in slowing its black market. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission – which manages the state’s recreational marijuana program – also was audited earlier this year by an outside group.
Regulators approved two medical marijuana testing labs, marking another milestone for the state on its way toward rolling out a new MMJ program. Michigan-based ACT Laboratories and Pennsylvania-based Keystone State Testing received two-year licenses. Both labs are in the final stages of building out their operations and were hoping to be up and running by late October or early November. That would put them in position to start testing as soon as the state’s MMJ cultivators are ready to submit samples.
A state commission formed to study the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana met for the first time and laid out challenges Vermont would face. According to state officials, the Marijuana Advisory Committee won’t debate whether the state should legalize marijuana, but rather will determine the practical challenges associated with adult use, including the best way to regulate and tax a recreational industry, any public health concerns and highway safety. Three subcommittees will tackle the issues.
In a move that could have a serious impact on marijuana retailers, the department overseeing recreational marijuana will consider allowing home cultivation for adult use. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board held a public hearing Oct. 4 to solicit public input on whether to allow residents to cultivate marijuana plants for personal use. Of the eight states that have legalized recreational cannabis, Washington is the only one that prohibits personal cultivation – although home grows are allowed for registered medical marijuana patients.
Regulators anticipate the state will need about $2 million to launch its medical marijuana program. State health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta told both the Senate and the House of Delegates the program could potentially be funded through an “internal loan.” The biggest portion of the program’s expected startup costs is the $700,000 West Virginia plans to invest in a seed-to-sale tracking system.
Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other international, national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s October publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.