The Michigan medical marijuana industry sees an expansion of qualifying conditions and new licenses, Oklahoma adopts emergency medical cannabis rules, and Maine’s MMJ market opens up in new ways.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the cannabis industry over the past week.
Kick the can?
The Michigan medical marijuana industry got a double dose of good news this week when state officials:
- Expanded the qualifying list of medical conditions for prospective MMJ patients.
- Issued the first business licenses for medical cannabis companies.
Rick Thompson, the founder of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group, agreed it was welcome news for the industry.
However, the condition expansion won’t necessarily translate into a big bump in the registered MMJ patient pool.
“A lot of people that have the ailments that are mentioned were already receiving medicinal benefits because they qualified for other reasons,” Thompson observed.
He said the more important takeaway is that the industry is now in a position it’s never experienced before, because it’s working with a government agency – the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) – that has become more business-friendly.
“The important thing, though, is we have a leader in LARA who is so different from leadership we’ve seen in past years that it gives all of us in the industry hope that they’ll actually regulate the way patients think it should be,” Thompson said.
“By sending representatives out into the community to answer questions about hot-button issues, this is something that was never done previously. We were always pushed aside and not given information in the past, and now they are actually inviting us in.”
However, clouds remain on the horizon, Thompson noted. Specifically, there’s another possible shutdown date for all unlicensed companies: Sept. 15.
“In two months, they want to shut down the entire industry, except for the people they license,” Thompson said of regulators. “If there are only 15 companies … licensed in the state, Sept. 15 will be a black day.
“So we still are facing another one of these artificially created, kick-the-can-down-the-road deadlines.”
Oklahoma’s MMJ market tightens
The prospect of a wide-open medical cannabis market in Oklahoma fell by the wayside when the state adopted emergency rules that:
- Prohibit dispensaries from selling smokable marijuana.
- Set THC caps.
Marijuana Business Daily had projected sales of $100 million to $150 million annually several years after the launch, but those numbers could be considerably lower if the restrictions stick.
Proponents of the initiative passed by voters on June 26 cried foul, while Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed off on the emergency rules adopted by the state Board of Health, encouraged everyone to keep calm.
The Republican governor said in a statement she expects further changes could occur in the future.
Here is a recap of some key emergency rules, designed to get the MMJ application process started by July 26, as called for by the voter initiative:
- The number of MMJ licenses aren’t limited.
- Doctors can recommend medical cannabis for any patient condition or ailment.
- Dispensaries can’t sell flower, dry leaf or other plant forms, but patients can grow marijuana at home.
- THC content is capped at 12% for processed products such as concentrates and 20% for mature plants.
Michael Mayes, a Chicago cannabis consultant, applauded the absence of MMJ qualifying conditions. But without a cap on the number of business licenses, the market could become saturated, diluting the value of the licenses.
“Most of the big players are going to stay out. There’s not enough meat on the bones,” Mayes said.
He would like to see permanent rules that give municipalities the ability to limit licenses.
In the meantime, Mayes said he is actively advising two in-state clients to move quickly on forming their companies, securing locations and designing their facilities to meet the tight timelines.
Fill the patient pool
Maine’s medical cannabis program underwent a major overhaul when lawmakers voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes of two MMJ bills.
The move opens the market in several key ways, including:
- Allowing doctors to recommend MMJ at their discretion, not tied to any one medical reason.
- Permitting caregivers to open storefronts.
- New companies can extract cannabis and make infused products. The current rules allow for eight vertically integrated businesses that grow, process and retail MMJ.
This should provide a boost to the state’s patient pool. But what does it mean for the eight licensed MMJ businesses?
Amanda Melnick, a marijuana consultant based in Portland, doesn’t see it as a setback.
“This opens the market,” she said. “It gives more people more opportunities. The dispensaries will continue to do great business, just as they have in the past.”
Dispensaries also can now become for-profit businesses.
“It allows people who have put their life work into these businesses to actually run them like businesses,” Melnick observed.
Another interesting wrinkle: According to The Associated Press, qualifying patients and unregistered caregivers can now possess up to 8 pounds of medical cannabis, which is up from the previous limit of 2.5 ounces.
While voters approved the sale of recreational marijuana in November 2016, Maine has yet to get its adult-use program launched.
Melnick said it’s possible the state will have a rec market by next summer, and the hope is that it will stay separate from the medical market.
“But we know there’s a lot of work still before that happens,” she said.
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