What’s Happening

by Roger Fillion

National and International News

Sessions Gives Mixed Signals on Marijuana

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions renewed his criticism of marijuana but also seemed to insinuate that the Department of Justice won’t launch a wide-ranging crackdown on cannabis businesses.

Sessions suggested his department is essentially unable to initiate widespread raids on the hundreds of legal, adult-use marijuana businesses operating in four states, and that “much of” the 2013 Cole Memo is “valid.” But he stopped short of explicitly saying he wouldn’t prosecute marijuana companies.

The attorney general reiterated his personal opposition to cannabis legalization. “I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful,” Sessions said.

Industry Heavyweights Form Advocacy Group to Sway Feds

A group of heavy hitters in the cannabis industry has teamed to form a nonprofit political advocacy group designed to protect the legal marijuana trade. The New Federalism Fund (NFF) includes:

  • Scotts Company LLC, a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro, an iconic lawn and garden company that has been investing heavily in the cannabis market
  • Colorado retail chains LivWell Enlightened Health, Medicine Man and Native Roots
  • Multistate infused products maker Dixie Brands
  • International cannabis firm Privateer Holdings

“We want our elected officials to know that a regulated cannabis industry is the best way to stop the illegal drug trade while growing our local economies,” NFF Chairman Neal Levine said.

Oxford University Receives $12.3M to Study Medical Marijuana

Oxford University has received 10 million pounds ($12.3 million) from a London private equity firm to study the medical benefits of marijuana, a move that could lead to more acceptance of MMJ.

Oxford plans to identify state-of-the-art medical therapy by researching the “molecular, cellular and system mechanisms of cannabinoids,” according to a news release. Citing pain, cancer and inflammatory disease, the release noted Oxford will target therapies for acute and chronic conditions.

Kingsley Capital Partners plans to bankroll Oxford’s research through a new portfolio company, Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies. The program is funded over 36 months.

State Developments

Alaska

Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board voted 4-1 to revive a proposal to allow and regulate on-site marijuana consumption at cannabis retail stores. The vote was an about-face from a Feb. 2 meeting in which the board rejected a public consumption plan. One board member floated a motion to restart the effort, and others who helped kill the initial proposal threw their support behind a second try.

Arizona

Arizona’s Court of Appeals ruled that the former director of the state’s Department of Health Services did not violate the law when he decreed that doctors may recommend medical marijuana to treat only the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, not the illness itself. Voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010. The health services director at the time, Will Humble, added PTSD to the state’s list of qualifying conditions in 2014. Humble approved the use of MMJ with limits, explaining that he hadn’t seen proof that medical cannabis was an effective treatment for PTSD.

Arkansas

State lawmakers, in two separate votes, rejected a bill that would have banned commercial production of marijuana edibles and defeated another measure that would have prohibited people from smoking MMJ anywhere in Arkansas. State voters approved medical cannabis during last November’s election.

California

The Los Angeles marijuana industry took a big step toward legal legitimacy after voters approved Proposition M, a city ballot measure that sets the stage for a new municipal licensing system for cannabis companies. Prop M cruised to victory with 79% of the vote, while a competing ballot measure, Initiative N, failed with 36% of the vote. A new city licensing system is vital for L.A. cannabis companies to comply with upcoming state regulations, which, starting in January, will require a local permit to obtain any state business license.

Colorado

Colorado’s top law enforcement official extended an invitation to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the state’s recreational marijuana industry. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman made the invitation during a meeting with top Justice Department staff. She told them “it was important to come to the states that have legalized marijuana – particularly Colorado since we have the longest history – and to see what we have done.” She added: “They indicated an interest in doing that.”

District of Columbia

The Washington DC Department of Health plans to add a medical marijuana dispensary to the five already in operation. The license application period began March 6 and was to end April 7, according to a public notice from the health department. The new dispensary must be located in either City Council Ward 7 or Ward 8. The business will join dispensaries already operating in five other council wards, along with eight licensed MMJ cultivators.

Florida

After months of uncertainty, Florida’s new medical marijuana program is coming together and industry officials believe the number of MMJ business licenses will be expanded beyond the seven companies currently licensed under the state’s CBD-focused program. MMJ industry advocates are encouraged with legislation that lawmakers have begun to hammer out to implement last November’s voter-approved medical cannabis referendum. That wasn’t the case earlier. In January, state health officials proposed rules that would give the seven CBD businesses entire control of the larger medical marijuana market.

Hawaii

Hawaii’s medical marijuana businesses have reason to be bullish with the approaching launch of the state’s MMJ industry: Patient counts are rising, while the number of registered caregivers growing medical cannabis for people is dwindling. That should ease potential competition for the state’s eight vertically integrated MMJ businesses. From December 2015 to December 2016, the number of MMJ patients in Hawaii rose by 17%. By contrast, the number of registered caregivers tumbled 55% over the same period of time.

Illinois

A federal judge struck down an Illinois law barring medical marijuana businesses and canna-centric political action committees from donating to political campaigns, a decision that could give the state’s MJ industry a bigger say in local elections. The judge ruled that a state law preventing MMJ businesses from donating to Illinois political action committees and candidates is unconstitutional, saying it violates First Amendment free speech rights.

Louisiana

Louisiana State University postponed its deadline by 10 days for accepting applications from contractors that want to run the university’s medical marijuana cultivation operation. The deadline was moved to March 31 from March 21. LSU didn’t give a reason for the delay. LSU and Southern University were granted exclusive approval to grow medical cannabis under the Bayou State’s MMJ law.

Maryland

Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission anticipates medical marijuana will be available to patients this summer, according to an agency spokeswoman. Maryland’s medical marijuana program rollout has been rife with stumbles, delaying what could become one of the largest markets on the East Coast. In March, the state’s MMJ patient registry opened for registration.

Massachusetts

About 200 Massachusetts liquor store owners are considering applying for recreational marijuana business licenses in a bid to capitalize on the state’s new adult-use program. If approved, the liquor stores’ entry would add a new wrinkle to the competitive landscape for the rec industry, which traditionally has been served by marijuana-focused retailers. Liquor shop owners’ interest in pursuing adult-use retail licenses heightened after they received the backing of the Massachusetts Package Store Association.

Michigan

Only two medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit have been given the green light to operate after the city introduced new zoning rules in March 2016. The city also implemented new licensing procedures for MMJ businesses. Dispensary operators are finding it difficult to comply with the new rules and requirements. The two dispensaries approved so far were from among more than 260 applicants, according to city data. Last year, Detroit shuttered dozens of dispensaries that failed to comply with the city’s zoning rules.

Montana

Just a few months after Montana voters resurrected the state’s medical cannabis industry, dispensaries appear to be leaping quickly back into business. The Montana industry seemed to be in dire straits more than a year ago after a state Supreme Court decision that ultimately forced dispensary owners to close or mothball their operations by the end of August. But Initiative 182, placed on the ballot by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and approved by a solid 58% of the vote, has breathed new life into an MMJ market where many dispensaries ended up being closed for three or four months before reopening

Nevada

The High Times Cannabis Cup near Las Vegas ultimately went ahead, despite an earlier letter from Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden to the Moapa Paiute Tribe warning the event would violate federal law. The tribe hosted the large marijuana consumer-oriented event – which also attracts a large number of cannabis businesses trying to get in front of that crowd – on Native American lands north of Las Vegas. High Times said it was told the gathering could go ahead as planned, “but vendors, guests, performers and attendees are advised to comply with applicable law concerning the distribution of cannabis in any amount at the event.”

New Hampshire

The House approved legislation that would add chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Their inclusion could provide a significant boost to the state’s MMJ patient list and give dispensaries a shot in the arm by way of increased sales. The Senate, which has taken a stricter stance toward MMJ, must act on the legislation.

New York

Two changes to New York’s medical marijuana program could bolster the state’s lagging MMJ patient pool. One rule allows physician assistants to certify patients for MMJ, following an earlier regulation that permitted nurse practitioners to do the same. Chronic pain also was added to the list of qualifying conditions that allows patients to register to purchase medical cannabis.

North Dakota

Supporters of last year’s successful ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana charged that state lawmakers are trying to circumvent the intent of voters. A bipartisan bill working its way through the legislature would bar patients and caregivers from growing MMJ. Another provision would permit a patient to smoke MMJ only if a physician determined it could be taken in no other form. A key supporter of the ballot initiative warned of a possible lawsuit.

Ohio

Local entrepreneurs who hope to launch a medical marijuana cultivation company under the state’s new MMJ program urged regulators to require business owners to be Ohio residents. The state plans to issue just 24 cultivation licenses: 12 each for large and small grows. Local residency currently isn’t a requirement. A panel of state legislators was scheduled to review the regulations, which were expected to be finalized by May 6.

Oregon

The state’s cannabis industry has produced an economic impact of more than $1 billion, according to a new report. The analysis, by economist and marijuana business insider Beau Whitney, found that the Oregon cannabis market created more than 12,500 jobs with an average wage of $12.13 an hour, which translates into roughly $1.2 billion in economic activity for the state. The job figure is only for plant-touching companies, such as retailers and growers, and doesn’t include ancillary marijuana businesses, such as attorneys or security services.

Rhode Island

Eight years after its formation, a legislative committee tasked with overseeing Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program planned to meet for the first time on March 28. It’s unclear why the Legislative Oversight Commission of the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act wasn’t formed until now. But the Providence Journal reported that the oversight committee simply was overlooked until media reports raised the issue in 2015. The commission doesn’t include any members from the state’s three dispensaries. The law doesn’t require dispensary representation.

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