Emerging Markets Update: Illinois Eyes Expanding Qualifying ConditionsLisa RoughJanuary 14, 2016
Qualifying conditions are the backbone of any medical marijuana market, establishing which diagnosed conditions qualify a patient to access cannabis for medicinal purposes. Each new market maintains its own set of qualifying conditions, which can range from pain to complex diagnoses like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Expanding qualifying conditions can be a difficult, but often necessary process.
Illinois, where the medical cannabis program approached nearly $2 million in sales during its first few months, is in the midst of a debate over whether to include additional qualifying conditions. New York, on the other hand, just rejected plans to do exactly that. This week Hawaii opened its doors to licensing applications from cannabis businesses, and meanwhile Alaska is still weighing the prospect of cannabis cafes. Here's a quick roundup of what's happening around the country.
The Alaska Marijuana Board is considering allowing non-smoking consumption on-site at licensed cannabis cafés, causing an uproar among a large number of local jurisdictions. Many are now drafting ordinances to ban the clubs along with other cannabis operations. Fairbanks has proposed a city ordinance to outlaw cannabis clubs, and the Wasilla City Council is considering a proposal that would ban cannabis businesses entirely.
In Anchorage, municipal leaders are hoping to institute a city cannabis tax of up to 12 percent, above and beyond the $50-an-ounce excise tax paid to the state by growers. That tax won’t be flowing from cannabis lounges, though, unless the Anchorage Assembly amends the city’s current regulations, which outlaw the clubs.
Hawaii began accepting medical marijuana dispensary and producer applications this week. The application window will stay open until Jan. 29. One of the major issues expected to be discussed during the state Legislature’s upcoming session: banking. Hawaiian law requires all depository institutions to be federally insured by the FDIC or the NCUA. Industry professionals hope officials notice and learn from the banking solutions other legal states have embraced that allow cannabis busineses access to financial services.
Another area that may see some traction during the current legislative session is job protection for medical marijuana patients and a possible expansion of qualifying medical conditions.
Illinois' Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is considering expanding its qualifying medical conditions to include chronic pain, autism, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Board is required to consider petitions from the public every January and July, although it ultimately rejected the last two efforts to expand the conditions. Supporters of expansion are currently gathering signatures on a petition to Gov. Bruce Rauner and the public health director Nirav Shah.
The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which will last until only 2017, has been rolled out much more slowly than expected. Original estimates anticipated enrollment of 30,000 patients by this point, but as of Jan. 6, only 4,000 patients had been approved by the state health department. Here’s the good news: Even with only 4,000 patients, Illinois has already collected nearly $1.7 million in the first few months of sales, which could bode well for the program's possible extension.
New York’s medical program opened as scheduled last week, a remarkable achievement for any medical marijuana program. Industry experts, however, are already finding flaws in the scheme. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced Monday that the state will not be expanding qualifying conditions to include post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia or rheumatoid arthritis, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support the additions.
Due to a restrictive range of qualifying conditions and the late opening of the patient registry, the medical cannabis program as of Jan. 12 had more doctors enrolled (226) than patients (166).