National & International News Developments
By Roger Fillion
Rob Kampia Ousted from National Cannabis Industry Association Board
Rob Kampia, the embattled former chief of the Marijuana Policy Project, was removed from the board of directors of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Kampia’s ouster adds to recent turmoil at the NCIA and raises questions about the trade organization’s future. “NCIA’s Board of Directors voted to remove Rob Kampia in accordance with our bylaws after an ethics committee review surfaced a pattern of behavior unbecoming of a board member,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA.
Kampia called his ouster a “coup” by other board members. Former board member Kayvan Khalatbari had filed an ethics complaint with the NCIA regarding sexual misconduct allegations against Kampia. Kampia has denied those allegations.
New Zealand Lawmakers Advance One Medical Marijuana Bill, Reject Another
New Zealand’s Parliament advanced a bill that would lay the groundwork for a regulated medical cannabis industry but rejected a separate measure that would have established a more full-fledged market and allowed home cultivation.
If the government’s bill wins final approval – or Royal Assent – from the country’s Governor-General, it would ultimately create a domestic medical marijuana market and give terminally ill people or those suffering chronic pain a legal avenue to acquire MMJ. The legislation also calls for the declassification of CBD as a controlled drug.
It’s a major step forward for the nation’s MMJ industry, but for many in the country the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Lawmakers rejected a separate bill that would have made it legal for New Zealanders suffering from “a qualifying health condition” to use marijuana or MJ products with the support of a registered medical practitioner. It also would have permitted home cultivation.
Canada’s Illicit Marijuana Industry Bigger Than Domestic Beer Market
Canada’s black-market marijuana cultivation industry is larger than the country’s entire domestic brewing industry, according to a federal government agency, underscoring the importance that cannabis plays in the nation’s overall economy even before adult-use legalization this summer.
The findings are part of the first batch of data released by Statistics Canada’s Cannabis Economic Accounts, which is a set of provisional estimates related to marijuana production, consumption and distribution.
The agency pegged the size of the cannabis production industry (medical and nonmedical) at $2.7 billion (CA$3.4 billion), ahead of the local brewing industry’s $2.3 billion (CA$2.9 billion). The estimates are for 2014, the most recent year cross-sector data is available.
State News Developments
Two marijuana testing facilities are being audited by a state agency amid concerns about discrepancies in potency-testing results between the sites. The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Health Laboratory is conducting the audits of Canntest and Steep Hill Alaska. Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, recommended the audit in November after seeing “significant deviation” in the two labs’ potency-testing results of the same product.
Steady growth has characterized Arizona’s medical marijuana program over the past few years, and 2017 was no exception. Arizona’s MMJ program added more than 38,000 patients to its rolls over the course of the year – a 34% increase – firmly establishing the state’s medical cannabis market as the third largest in the United States. Arizona has more than 150,000 MMJ patients. Sales of MMJ grew right alongside patient counts, with dispensaries moving a record 43 tons of MMJ throughout 2017.
Following up on a plan he announced last year, state Treasurer John Chiang outlined the foundation for a public bank for cannabis businesses so they won’t have to operate on a cash-only basis. Chiang and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra have been working in concert on a cost-benefit analysis to figure out if such a venture would actually work. So far, the plan is to “conduct a feasibility study” in which the treasurer’s office would focus on costs, benefits and risks, while the attorney general’s office would look at legal and regulatory issues surrounding a public MJ bank.
An Illinois judge ruled the state must add intractable pain to the list of medical marijuana qualifying conditions, a move that could greatly expand sales at the program’s 53 dispensaries. The state health department initially rejected intractable pain as a condition, but Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell ordered the department to include it. The health department is expected to appeal the judge’s order, which would put the change on hold. Intractable pain, often referred to as chronic pain, has dramatically increased dispensary sales in states that have added it.
In another setback for the state’s recreational marijuana program, a legalization panel has voted to delay cannabis social clubs until 2023. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee voted 5-1 to stall social club licensing. Committee members said they want to wait so Maine can learn from other states looking to implement cannabis social clubs and gather more information. Paul McCarrier, president of marijuana advocacy group Legalize Maine, said the social club delay is “one part of a many-part process to get to ‘yes.’”
The state’s medical marijuana program put minority applicants for business permits at a disadvantage, according to a study that recommended race be factored into any future MMJ licensing. The study’s author – Jon Wainwright, managing director of NERA Economic Consulting – said the findings support “the use of race- and gender-based measures to remediate discrimination affecting minority- and women-owned businesses in the types of industries relevant to the medical cannabis business.” Commissioned by Gov. Larry Hogan, the report will likely make it easier for regulators and lawmakers to consider race when awarding future medical marijuana business licenses.
The state health department conducted 327 inspections of medical marijuana dispensaries since the first one opened in 2015 and found numerous violations. The Springfield Republican newspaper obtained all the health department’s reports regarding the inspections, and several of the roughly 30 reports of violations contained multiple offenses. Violations ranged from minor, where plants were thrown in a dumpster instead of being ground up, to major, where inspectors walked into facilities without being checked in or identified.
With a statewide ballot measure likely to go before voters in November, the campaign working on the initiative got some good news. According to a poll of Michigan voters, 57% of them already support adult-use legalization, according to a survey commissioned by TV station Local 4 and the Detroit News. Only 37% of Michigan voters were against the idea, the poll found, with about 6% undecided.
Citing a “zero-tolerance policy,” regulators have suspended the licenses of four of the state’s nine testing labs since July. The state’s Department of Taxation, which took over regulating the industry last summer, shut down the four labs for “not following proper procedures.” The agency most recently suspended the license of Las Vegas-based Digipath Labs on Jan. 19. Suspensions previously were handed down to Las Vegas-based G3 Labs and RSR Analytical Laboratories as well as Certified Ag Lab in Sparks. RSR and Certified’s licenses were later reinstated.
Newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy promised during his campaign that he would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. But first the Democrat hopes to revive New Jersey’s medical cannabis program. Murphy signed an executive order to study a program he said has existed “in name only.” The governor said he’s asking regulators to focus on expanding the medical marijuana program, proposing new regulations and repealing rules that hamper the market. The program has 15,000 registered patients while similar-sized state markets have hundreds of thousands of enrollees.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging state lawmakers to provide funding to establish a commission to study the feasibility of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state. The study would explore recreational legalization’s health effects, economic impact, criminal justice impact and how recreational legalization by some of New York’s neighbors would affect the state. The announcement comes as three of New York’s neighbors move closer to having recreational marijuana markets: Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.
The state established eight regions for medical cannabis dispensaries in an effort to ensure qualifying patients have easy access to MMJ. The regions center on the state’s largest cities – Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Williston and Dickinson. However, the dispensaries that eventually are licensed can be located anywhere within a 50-mile radius of those cities. It will be a few months before the state begins accepting formal applications from groups and businesses that want to open dispensaries. The program likely won’t be up and running until late 2018 or early 2019.
In what’s believed to be a first for the U.S. medical marijuana industry, regulators awarded a $1.1 million contract to a private company for an MMJ patient call center. The three-year contract went to Direct Success, an Ohio-based company that has two subsidiaries working in the ancillary cannabis field. Direct Success owns Extra Step Assurance, which will run the Ohio call center, and Cannabis Expertise, which currently contracts separately with four state governments to help educate physicians who want to recommend MMJ for patients.
Gov. Mary Fallin set a June 26 date for voters to weigh in on whether to approve medical marijuana for the state. Fallin announced the date on Jan. 4, just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released his decision to rescind an Obama-era policy that allowed cannabis businesses to thrive in states nationwide. The June date for a vote comes after a successful 2016 petition drive asking Oklahoma voters to put the matter on the ballot. Fallin, a Republican, appears cool toward the idea of MMJ.
The agency that regulates the state’s marijuana market passed new rules that include heavier penalties for cannabis retailers and employees who sell product to minors. Effective immediately, first-time offenders will face 30-day license suspensions or a $4,950 fine. The new fine is triple the previous amount for the same offense and triple what alcohol retailers face if they sell to minors. Penalties will increase with subsequent violations. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission said the tougher penalties were in response to the low rates of compliance with state rules.
Medical marijuana regulators must disclose more information about business license applicants under a ruling by the state’s Office of Open Records. The decision by an appeals officer requires the Pennsylvania health department to make public the names of principals, operators and financial backers for MMJ cultivation and dispensary applicants. However, no information would be released until the Commonwealth Court makes a final decision, a cannabis-focused attorney said. The health department was given 30 days to comply or pursue an appeal through the Commonwealth Court.
The governor is making another push to expand the state’s medical marijuana program. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s $9.4 billion state budget plan for the 2019 fiscal year includes establishing 15 more medical marijuana dispensaries, adding acute pain to the list of MMJ qualifying conditions and allowing Massachusetts and Connecticut cardholders to buy medical cannabis in Rhode Island. The governor wants to increase the number of dispensaries from three in order to provide more patient access to MMJ and because she projects a $5.1 million increase in revenue from such a move.
Gov. Phil Scott privately signed a marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the nation to authorize the possession and use of recreational cannabis through the legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature plants and four immature ones. The statute contains no mechanism for the sale or taxation of marijuana, although the legislature is expected to develop such a system.
Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other international, national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s February publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.