What’s Happening: October 2017

by Roger Fillion

National & International News Developments

Task Force Tells Sessions to Keep Status Quo for Legal Cannabis

A task force assembled by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is giving him no ammunition to go after the legal marijuana industry, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety offered no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Department of Justice’s policy on marijuana.

The task force encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to enforcement – a stance that’s allowed the nation’s experiment with legal cannabis to flourish.

Marijuana Cultivators Up Nearly 25% in Canada After Licensing System Revamped

The number of licensed medical marijuana producers in Canada has jumped nearly 25% over the past few months after the nation’s top regulator dedicated more resources to processing cultivator applications to meet growing demand for cannabis.

Since revamping and streamlining the application process in late May, Health Canada awarded another 11 licenses through late August, bringing the number of licensed producers (LPs) to 56. Health Canada had issued six licenses in the previous five months.

The increase in cultivators has positioned the industry to better meet the nation’s growing demand for medical marijuana. The jump in cultivators also comes as Canadian marijuana growers prepare for the planned rollout of the nation’s recreational cannabis market next summer. LPs are scrambling to build new capacity amid concerns about a potential supply shortfall.

Banking Troubles for Uruguay’s Rec Cannabis Businesses

It didn’t take long for recreational marijuana businesses in Uruguay to encounter a key challenge that hinders U.S. cannabis companies: banking.

Uruguayan pharmacies began selling adult-use cannabis July 19, but the South American nation’s banks are refusing to do business with companies tied to marijuana.

A government official – speaking on the condition of anonymity – said Uruguayan banks that deal with companies that sell adult-use marijuana risk running afoul of international finance laws. U.S. financial institutions, meanwhile, are hesitant to bank marijuana businesses because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level.

State News Developments

Alaska

Regulators plan to take public comment through Oct. 27 on a proposal that would allow authorized recreational marijuana shops to provide a place for people to consume the cannabis products they buy. Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board has gone back and forth on whether to allow onsite consumption but agreed once again to seek comment on draft rules. The proposed regulations include giving local governments the right to protest a store’s application for onsite use.

Arkansas

Regulators received their first application for a medical marijuana dispensary license. The application was submitted in mid-August, and regulators anticipated more applications to arrive by the Sept. 18 submission deadline. Arkansas began accepting MMJ business applications June 30 for five cultivation facilities and 32 dispensaries.

California

To ensure they can meet their January 2018 deadline to establish a new regulatory system for medical and recreational marijuana businesses, legislators have established an “emergency rulemaking process” that won’t include a normal public comment period. Lawmakers fear that going through a typical comment period would prevent the state from issuing marijuana business licenses beginning Jan. 2. Missing that mandated deadline would also delay the launch of the state’s recreational industry. The new emergency regulations for the state’s medical cannabis market are expected sometime this fall.

Colorado

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper defended his state’s cannabis regulatory regime and pushed back against the possibility of federal intervention, joining his counterparts in Alaska, Oregon and Washington state. Hickenlooper is the last of the four governors – each received letters from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July expressing concern about the effects of marijuana legalization – to respond to Sessions. Hickenlooper made it clear he believes Colorado has “worked diligently to … build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health.”

Hawaii

The state’s first two operating medical marijuana dispensaries ran out of product just days after opening. Maui Grown Therapies and Aloha Green couldn’t move flower quickly enough through the state’s testing bottleneck. With 17,000 registered patients waiting for medical cannabis, demand has quickly outpaced supply. Maui Grown Therapies sold out of its supply just five days after becoming the first dispensary to open in Hawaii. Aloha Green sold out of its initial stock three days after beginning operations.

Louisiana

Three Louisiana companies have been chosen as finalists to operate Southern University’s medical marijuana program. Advanced Biomedics and Med Louisiana from Lafayette as well as Southern Roots Therapeutics from Baton Rouge remain the three firms in the running. Southern’s Agricultural Research and Extension Center estimates the cost for running the business will initially range from $5 million to $7 million. The company that gets the winning bid will pay that cost.

Maine

Maine officials say the state won’t be able to meet its February deadline to allow recreational marijuana sales. Republican State Sen. Roger Katz said the agencies responsible for the recreational market rollout don’t have sufficient time before the deadline to perform such tasks as licensing growers, writing departmental rules and hiring new inspectors. The president of Legalize Maine estimates the delay means adult-use business licenses won’t be issued until summer 2018.

Maryland

At least two of Maryland’s 15 licensed medical marijuana producers have started growing their plants, giving some badly needed good news to the state’s embattled MMJ program. ForwardGro has posted photos of its plants on Instagram, and Curio Wellness has also planted seeds. The developments came shortly after MMJ regulators approved licenses for three more cultivators, two processors and one testing lab.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts has finalized its Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), and four of the appointees to the five-member panel voted against recreational marijuana legalization.

Michigan

A second – and competing – campaign to legalize recreational marijuana has gotten the green light to begin collecting signatures in a bid to make the 2018 ballot. The campaign, Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, was approved by the state board of canvassers to move ahead with its goal of 315,654 signatures. An existing campaign, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has collected more than 100,000 of the 252,523 signatures it needs. The Marijuana Policy Project supports the coalition.

Minnesota

At least one Native American tribe – on the White Earth reservation in northwestern Minnesota – has decided to enter the hemp business. The tribe has spent $100,000 on just a few acres of the crop but is hoping it will be enough to bolster the reservation’s economy. It’s one of many tribes that developed an interest in the broader cannabis business after the Department of Justice issued a memo in 2014 that appeared to give Native Americans the go-ahead to grow and sell marijuana and hemp.

Montana

The number of registered medical cannabis patients in Montana has continued its steady upward pace this year, with the number of program enrollees more than doubling between December and July. As of July, 17,819 patients had registered with the state to purchase MMJ, up from just over 8,000 at the end of 2016. The trend equates to about 1,300 new medical marijuana cardholders a month.

Nevada

The 50 dispensaries licensed to sell recreational marijuana experienced a 20%-30% decline in sales since an initial burst of activity on July 1, according to a report by the Nevada Department of Taxation. The department said the drop in sales stemmed from the dispensaries’ inability to meet demand. The dispensaries – which are selling adult-use cannabis under the state’s early start program – have seen the supply of marijuana goods they can offer shrink by more than 50% because of Nevada’s ongoing distribution problems.

New Hampshire

The state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries were ramping up for an expected boost in both patient registrations and the resulting uptick in sales, thanks to new qualifying MMJ conditions that went into effect in August. New Hampshire updated its MMJ law in July to allow those suffering from chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to purchase medical marijuana.

New Jersey

The Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel has recommended that the state’s health department add 43 conditions to the list of illnesses that would qualify patients to receive medical cannabis cards. Many of the suggested additions are variations of the same condition. For example, there are several categories of chronic pain, anxiety, migraines and fibromyalgia, among others. Other conditions recommended by the panel include arthritis, autism, asthma, opiate-use disorder and irritable bowel syndrome.

New York

New York’s medical marijuana dispensaries have been given permission to sell ointments, lozenges and chewable tablets. The proposed regulations are intended to expand a program that’s been limited by its restrictions on allowable forms of cannabis – no smokable flower, for example – and a small patient pool. Regulators also hope to increase the number of participating physicians by cutting in half – to two hours – the time it takes a doctor to become registered to recommend MMJ. The new rules were expected to be in place as soon as September.

North Dakota

The state is in the market for a testing laboratory for its nascent medical marijuana program. The chosen lab will be responsible for collecting and testing samples from in-state marijuana cultivators. North Dakota’s medical marijuana program is expected to be up and running by mid-2018.

Ohio

Regulators don’t expect to issue the state’s first medical marijuana cultivator licenses until around November, at least a month later than growers expected. The new timeline could delay the startup of the state’s MMJ program beyond the planned September 2018 launch date. The state Department of Commerce’s announcement drew concern from the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio. The association’s president said Ohio cultivators will face difficulties getting the necessary local zoning approvals under the adjusted timeline.

Washington state

A dozen marijuana retail businesses in Washington state are employing an unusual strategy on the mergers and acquisitions front: package their assets together for a combination sale. In a move that’s being described as “unprecedented,” Seattle-based investment bank GRN Funds is asking $60 million-$70 million for the 12 retail cannabis firms.

Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s September publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.

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