By Roger Fillion
Two major universities received nearly $20 million in donations for marijuana-related studies. The University of Miami’s Project to Cure Paralysis and Miller School of Medicine received a $16 million grant from Scythian Bioscience to research whether a CBD-based pill can reduce brain cell inflammation that occurs after concussions and other injuries. Separately, Australian philanthropist Barry Lambert donated $3 million to a medical marijuana research institute at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, teamed to form a congressional caucus to pass federal cannabis reform laws. The aim is to focus on the states’ rights argument in favor of cannabis legalization.
The medical cannabis industry will get some continued protection from federal legal action for at least a few more months. Congress approved a stopgap federal spending measure to fund the government through April 28. Included in the bill is the key Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which bars the federal government from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana programs.
Business owners in Alaska’s newly formed recreational cannabis industry can add advertising to the list of issues they face. The state’s Marijuana Control Board met recently to discuss advertising regulations and iron out just what constitutes an ad and how businesses are allowed to promote themselves.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that local officials can’t use the federal government’s prohibition on marijuana to deny needed zoning for medical cannabis dispensaries. The court’s unanimous decision noted that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery lacked legal justification to argue the federal Controlled Substances Act overrode Arizona’s voter-approved MMJ law. Montgomery planned to ask the Arizona Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling.
Arkansas unveiled the five members of its new Medical Marijuana Commission, which will administer and oversee the licensing of dispensaries and cultivators under the state’s new MMJ program. The group – selected by the governor and state lawmakers – is a mixture of health and legal experts.
California has assembled a group of individuals to address the problems caused by banks’ refusal to serve marijuana businesses, following up on the state’s legalization of recreational cannabis. State Treasurer John Chiang also sent a letter to then-President-elect Donald Trump and included members of California’s congressional delegation, appealing for help to fix the problem.
In a key milestone, Colorado became the first state to top $1 billion in legal marijuana sales within a calendar year, underscoring the growth in the cannabis industry. The state’s combined recreational and medical marijuana sales hit $1.1 billion in the first 10 months of 2016.
Connecticut began accepting applications for research proposals on medical uses of cannabis, a move that ultimately could make it easier for doctors to recommend MMJ and boost sales. Eligible applicants include licensed MMJ producers and dispensaries, as well as hospitals, health-care facilities and universities.
Delaware awarded the state’s third and final medical marijuana business license to First State Compassion Center. First State, which opened Delaware’s initial dispensary in Wilmington in June 2015, now has control of two of the state’s three MMJ businesses. The state’s other dispensary, Columbia Care, was awarded Delaware’s second license in September.
Florida awarded a business permit under its CBD-focused program to a company that challenged the state’s initial licensing decisions after barely losing out to a competitor. Florida’s health department decided to grant a license to McRory’s Sunny Hill Nursery, with officials acknowledging they made an error when scoring applications. It marks the seventh license the state has awarded under its CBD program.
Hawaii’s health department faced pointed criticism from state lawmakers for its slow approval of medical marijuana cultivation. The state’s eight vertically integrated MMJ companies have been stymied in their efforts to grow medical marijuana because of delays in getting final approvals from state regulators.
Despite a slow start, Illinois’ medical marijuana program added patients and increasing sales at a solid, consistent pace throughout 2016. The patient count in 2016 through October almost tripled, rising by more than 7,600 over the 10-month period to hit about 12,000. Monthly sales via dispensaries exceeded that growth rate, nearly quadrupling to hit more than $4 million in October vs. the monthly total at the beginning of 2016.
Louisiana State University estimated it will need $11.3 million to build a state-approved medical marijuana cultivation complex and run it for about five years, when it expects to start turning a profit. The venture could open the door for entrepreneurs to own and operate the cultivation center on behalf of the university.
Maine’s largest medical marijuana operator wants to give the state’s eight dispensaries an early crack at selling recreational cannabis. The Wellness Connection of Maine is supporting legislation that would allow the state’s MMJ operators to begin peddling adult-use cannabis while regulations are drawn up for the new rec market. But a leading advocate for Maine’s caregivers called the move a “money grab.” A leading cannabis proponent also voiced opposition.
Maryland announced the 102 preliminary winners for licenses to operate a dispensary in the state’s oft-delayed medical marijuana program, which is expected to become one of the largest on the East Coast. The companies were selected from 811 applications. The state previously announced the 15 growers and processors approved for licenses.
Massachusetts’ new recreational marijuana law took effect Dec. 15, making it the first adult-use state on the East Coast. People 21 or older can now possess and consume recreational cannabis, but retail shops aren’t expected to be up and running until January 2018 at the earliest.
A package of laws took effect in December establishing a statewide regulatory framework for Michigan’s long-standing medical marijuana industry. State lawmakers approved the legislation last year and Gov. Rick Snyder signed it in September. The new laws, among other things, legalize dispensaries and establish a licensing system for growers, processors, dispensaries and other MJ-related businesses.
Minnesota added post-traumatic stress disorder to its list of conditions that can be treated through medical marijuana, a shot in the arm for the state’s two MMJ producers. Patients suffering from PTSD will be able to start making MMJ purchases in August, and the state’s two medical cannabis producers will be allowed to start manufacturing infused topical patches, creams and lotions.
Montana’s medical marijuana dispensaries began reopening in early December after voters approved a ballot initiative to overturn a law that had shuttered the state’s MMJ industry. A drafting error in the initiative had threatened to postpone the industry’s relaunch until the summer of 2017. But a Montana judge ordered the state to immediately drop the three-patient limit on dispensaries that had triggered the industry’s demise. State lawmakers must craft new regulations to govern the industry.
Nevada marijuana industry officials urged the state to apply rigorous testing to the state’s new recreational cannabis industry. Hoping to avoid the problems that have hampered Oregon’s adult-use market, the industry officials noted the kind of stringent testing now used for Nevada’s medical marijuana industry is needed for the rec market to safeguard consumers.
New Hampshire’s senate minority leader plans to introduce legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana, following on the heels of Maine and Massachusetts’ voter-approved recreational programs. New Hampshire is the only New England state where cannabis possession is still a crime.
Gov. Chris Christie, who has opposed expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, signed legislation adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for MMJ. Separately, dispensaries were given the green light to sell some extracted products, including cannabis-infused lozenges. Previously, dispensaries could sell only raw flower.
Advocates of legalizing recreational marijuana were more upbeat about their prospects following the Nov. 8 election, which saw Democrats take control of both houses of the state legislature. Increasing public support for rec legalization and tight state finances also could bolster pro-legalization efforts.
New York added chronic pain to its list of conditions treatable with medical marijuana. The move is expected to boost the potential patient pool and give the state’s financially strapped dispensaries a shot in the arm. New York has taken other steps to pump new life into its MMJ market, including giving nurse practitioners the green light to recommend medical cannabis to patients.
A top state health official said North Dakota’s new medical marijuana law is
plagued by a lack of clarity, holes and other problems that need to be corrected. North Dakota Deputy State Health Officer Arvy Smith noted that MMJ distributors won’t require medical training. She said state lawmakers may need to remedy the situation.
Ohio released proposed rules on its emerging medical marijuana industry. Under the draft regulations, the state would have up to 40 dispensaries. Application fees for dispensary licenses would run $5,000, and companies that win would have to fork over $80,000 in fees every other year. Applicants also would be required to have a minimum of $250,000 in liquid assets.
Marijuana businesses in Oregon that are struggling because of onerous testing rules will get some much-needed relief. The Oregon Health Authority issued revised testing regulations recently that require marijuana growers to go through the same tests, but with less frequency, for potency, solvents and pesticides. The new rules take effect immediately and are designed to help rectify a supply shortage and drop in sales.
In mid-December, Pennsylvania issued temporary regulations for medical marijuana growers and processors, and some noteworthy changes were made from the draft version issued in August. However, the regulations are good for only a 24-month period, and a different set of rules could be established by the time medical cannabis is expected to hit the market in the third quarter of 2018.
Rhode Island issued emergency rules that create a new class of private medical marijuana cultivators to help meet a potential supply shortfall. The growers will replace patient caregivers as a key MMJ supply source for the state’s three dispensaries, which aren’t producing all the strains needed. In December, the state approved the first two MMJ cultivators under the emergency regulations.
Marijuana retailers in Washington could see an uptick in business thanks to a proposed fund that would help foot the bill for low-income medical marijuana patients. The idea is the brainchild of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, which hopes to have the fund up and running by spring 2017. The fund is intended to expand patient access to MMJ.
Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s late-December publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.