National & International News Developments
by Roger Fillion
Sessions Confirms Status Quo on Marijuana Policy – for Now
Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decidedly anti-marijuana statements since he took over the U.S. Department of Justice, it appears cannabis businesses are safe from his agency for the time being.
Asked during a congressional committee hearing about the DOJ’s policy on the marijuana industry, Sessions replied:
“Our policy is the same really, fundamentally, as the (Obama) policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes, but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes.”
In other words, Sessions hasn’t yet decided to tear up the 2013 Cole Memo, which was issued by the Obama administration and laid the groundwork for the current U.S. recreational marijuana industry.
Canada’s Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Major Hurdle, Heads to Senate
Canada’s House of Commons gave final approval to legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, sending the measure to the Senate for its consideration.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government compromised on key parts of the legislation, ditching a rule that limited home plants to under 39 inches and requiring legislation for marijuana edibles and concentrates be brought forward within a year.
The bill faces a potentially rough ride in the unelected Senate, where members appointed by liberal and conservative prime ministers have openly mulled whether the July 1 deadline to legalize recreational marijuana is attainable.
Senators have the ability to hold up and revise legislation but rarely reject it.
Report: International Cannabis Market Will Surpass $31 Billion
The international legal marijuana market will reach $31.4 billion by 2021, according to a study by the Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm.
It came on the heels of another major international cannabis report released this past fall.
In the earlier report, London-based Prohibition Partners published its own research estimating that Europe’s medical and recreational markets could combine for close to $67 billion in a few years.
The Brightfield study estimates that the global market is currently worth $7.7 billion but will see a compound annual growth rate of 60% as more nations launch legalized medical and recreational programs.
The United States is now responsible for 90% of global cannabis sales, but that market share will plummet by more than a third, to 57% by 2021, according to Brightfield’s report.
A committee will look at issues surrounding the testing of marijuana products amid inconsistency in potency results from Alaska’s two labs, the state’s top marijuana regulator said. However, Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, couldn’t estimate how long that process might take. During a recent Marijuana Control Board meeting, McConnell recommended a review of testing regulations and cited, among other reasons, evidence of “significant deviation” in potency-testing results of the same product by Canntest and Steep Hill Alaska.
A local attorney filed a lawsuit asking the state’s Court of Appeals to decide whether the $150 patient card fee is legal, a move that could affect Arizona’s medical marijuana market. Lawyer Sean Berberian claims the $150 fee is unnecessarily high because it generates more than enough revenue to cover the cost of running the program. After administrative costs, those fees have generated $38 million since 2011 for the Arizona Health Department.
Regulators released long-awaited rules that will govern the state’s emerging cannabis sector from fields to sales. Initially, the state will issue only temporary licenses to growers and retailers, provided they have a local permit to open for business. Other changes appeared significant: Preliminary information from the state indicated a maximum 1-acre cap would be set on most cultivators. In what would be a major shift, the regulations did not include that language, placing limits on only certain growers’ licenses.
Federal drug authorities sent another round of warning letters to CBD producers about making health claims. The recipients included CW Hemp, the Colorado Springs company that supplies the popular Charlotte’s Web medicine for intractable epilepsy. The Food and Drug Administration sent four warning letters to two Colorado companies – CW Hemp and Pueblo-based That’s Natural! Marketing & Consulting – as well as to Greenroads Health of Pembroke Pines, Florida, and Natural Alchemist of El Dorado Hills, California.
The state’s oft-delayed medical marijuana program is experiencing another holdup. Columbia Care, a multistate MMJ company headquartered in New York, has postponed by at least six months the opening of its facility in The First State. Columbia Care’s facility was to be the third operating dispensary in Delaware. Because of zoning, permitting and construction delays, however, Columbia Care now isn’t expected to begin sales in Delaware until spring 2018, said a spokeswoman for the state’s health and social services department.
In an effort to get medical marijuana to consumers more quickly, the health department has awarded a third-party contract to produce the state’s MMJ identification cards. Regulators have fallen behind because of a flood of MMJ registrations over the past several months. The $7.9 million contract went to Jacksonville-based Veritec Solutions, a subsidiary of Intuition. Under the contract – which will be paid over a five-year period – Veritec will collect $4.19 per registry identification card for the first 199,999 cards it produces annually.
Gov. Eric Holcomb told retailers they have 60 days to take CBD products off their shelves, but he also said state legislators could craft a new law allowing CBD sales. The governor’s mixed messages come as the Hoosier State tries to make sense of conflicting policies regarding nonintoxicating cannabidiol. Indiana allows the use of CBD oil to treat epilepsy, but it also bans the sale and production of CBD. The confusion got worse after Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said CBD products are illegal to sell or possess.
Marijuana businesses hoping to serve Maine’s recreational cannabis market will probably have to wait until 2019 and possibly longer depending on how the state’s gubernatorial race shakes out this year. Standing in the way is Gov. Paul LePage. The Republican appears to have the will and the means to undermine the state’s adult-use marijuana program, which he demonstrated by vetoing a lawmaker-approved bill to implement recreational cannabis. Officials must go back to the drawing board and create a new implementation and regulatory framework for Maine’s recreational marijuana industry.
A campaign to legalize recreational cannabis submitted signatures to state officials in the hopes of qualifying for the 2018 ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 360,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, well over the 252,523 necessary to make the ballot, campaign officials said. The coalition also announced the support of the National Cannabis Industry Association. The coalition already includes the Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance and several other state and national organizations.
Regulators proposed a slew of updated rules for medical cannabis companies. The proposed rules deliver more clarity to those looking to participate in the state’s MMJ industry. The wide-ranging proposal covers license fees and an inventory track-and-trace system. It also cites contaminants for which MMJ will be tested. For instance, “four types of heavy metals, 15 solvents and 59 pesticides” were identified. The rules are expected to take effect April 30 at the latest.
The state Tax Commission extended the emergency regulations that allow recreational marijuana sales to continue by another 120 days. The rules were scheduled to expire Nov. 1. The emergency rules were originally enacted to enable an “early rollout” of the rec program – beginning July 1 – while the legislature finalized regulations for a full adult-use industry. Lawmakers must still approve the rules.
The momentum to legalize recreational cannabis continues to grow. Adding fuel to speculation that New Jersey could be the next state to legalize recreational marijuana, incoming governor Phil Murphy has selected Pete Cammarano as his chief of staff. Cammarano founded the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association – which campaigns for adult-use legalization in the Garden State – last year. Murphy pledged while running for office that he would legalize rec cannabis, possibly within his first 100 days in office.
University of New Mexico researchers say the legal availability of medical marijuana has the potential to reduce opioid use among chronic pain patients. The work of associate psychology professor Jacob Miguel Vigil and assistant economics professor Sarah See Stith was published in the journal PLOS ONE. The results indicate a strong correlation between enrollment in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and cessation or reduction of opioid use. Vigil says informal surveys showed a significant proportion of patients substituted their opioid prescriptions with cannabis.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that can legally be treated with medical marijuana in the state. The move opens another sales avenue for the state’s MMJ businesses, which have been stymied by restrictive regulations. The Democratic governor said 19,000 New Yorkers with PTSD could be helped by medical marijuana, including veterans, police officers and survivors of domestic violence, crime and accidents.
The health department accepted requests for proposals for a traceability system to help monitor the state’s impending medical marijuana program. Companies had until Dec. 27 to submit their RFPs. North Dakota voters approved an MMJ program in November 2016, and state lawmakers earlier this year crafted regulations that the governor approved in April. Medical cannabis sales aren’t expected to begin for another year.
Regulators were sorting through 370 applications for business licenses to open medical cannabis dispensaries. Now that the deadline for applications has passed, the state’s Board of Pharmacy must find the best candidates. Ohio planned to award up to 60 dispensary licenses statewide, but no applications were received for two geographic districts that accounted for three of the permits. Dispensaries can sell oil, patches, edibles, flower and other approved medical cannabis products.
A lawsuit to halt a planned marijuana cultivation site because of potentially detrimental cannabis smells will continue. Yamhill County Judge John Collins denied a motion to dismiss Momtazi Family vineyard’s complaint that marijuana odors would damage wine grapes with “foul-smelling particles.” Prospective cannabis cultivators Steven, Mary and Richard Wagner had asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit because there was no evidence odors would cross property lines and the planned marijuana operation wasn’t yet definite. The case could be a precursor to similar legal moves.
At least one of the state’s three medical cannabis dispensary chiefs is afraid the launch of the Massachusetts recreational market will be the death of his business. Seth Bock – the CEO of Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center in Portsmouth – told a Rhode Island legislative committee that unless officials make changes to the MMJ program, he believes many of the roughly 19,000 registered patients will opt to shop across state lines instead of renewing their medical cards. Bock told the panel that many Rhode Island MMJ patients may take the attitude of “saying you know what, I don’t want my name on a list.”
The majority of licensed cannabis businesses have turned to BioTrackTHC’s Universal Cannabis System as a stopgap measure while the industry operates without a state-sanctioned seed-to-sale framework. Florida-based BioTrackTHC’s seed-to-sale contract expired Oct. 31, and the state’s new provider – Denver-based MJ Freeway’s Leaf Data Systems – isn’t expected to go online until January at the earliest. In the meantime, BioTrackTHC developed a workaround that’s essentially a clone of the seed-to-sale system it previously provided to Washington.
Note: Entries sourced from Marijuana Business Daily and other international, national and local news outlets. These developments occurred before this magazine’s December publication deadline, so some situations may have changed.