With the new year comes the opening of a plethora of new medical and recreational markets, and January is packed with exciting developments.
Alaska is getting nearer and nearer to issuing licenses to new retail cannabis businesses. Hawaii has officially established the rules for the system of medical dispensaries, despite some valid criticisms. In Maryland, a medical program that seemed so promising just a few weeks ago is facing a setback that could keep patients waiting until 2017 for medicine. Farther up the East Coast, New Hampshire is speeding up its process and issuing patient registry cards now. And last but certainly not least, New York is preparing for the debut of medical cannabis, which is sure bring hype to the Big Apple. We're keeping an eye on these new markets as they blossom.
The Marijuana Control Board of Alaska is tasked with writing the rules and regulations for a brand new retail cannabis system, and the process is taking longer than expected. It's already established some key guidelines:
- Owners of cannabis businesses must have been an Alaska resident for at least one year
- There will be licenses issued for cultivators, manufacturers, testing labs and retail marijuana shops, including a “consumption endorsement” for the on-site consumption of cannabis inside licensed shops
- Municipalities can enact tighter restrictions on marijuana businesses, including moratoriums and zoning laws
- Edibles will be allowed, with a standard serving size of 5 mg of THC per piece.
It's expected the Marijuana Control Board will begin accepting applications for recreational marijuana licenses on Feb. 24, 2016, in anticipation of licenses being issued beginning May 24.
The Hawaii Department of Health posted on Dec. 15 the interim administrative rules for licensing the new medical marijuana dispensary program. They will remain in effect until July 1, 2018, or until other rules are adopted. The criteria for awarding dispensary and cultivation licenses will depend largely on a written proposal that applicants may submit during a brief window from Jan. 11 to Jan. 29. The criteria are as follows:
- Business background outlining education and knowledge of the industry and related industries, such as agriculture and pharmacology
- A business plan and timeline for opening a dispensary location
- Proof of financial stability
- Capability of meeting needs of qualifying patients
- Ability to comply with requirements for security, inventory, testing, patient confidentiality, packaging and safety
- A plan for the secure disposal of cannabis and cannabis-derived products
Although officials and applicants must adhere to these rules for the time being, there are several proposals Hawaii may still consider. Some include allowing sales on Sundays, allowing the transport of cannabis products between islands (an act that technically violates drug trafficking laws) and expanding the program to allow an extra license for the Big Island, which has a smaller population than Oahu but boasts a higher number of medical marijuana patients.
Medical patients in Maryland were dealt a blow when the state's Medical Cannabis Commission announced it will not be issuing licenses for medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries until the summer of 2016, and, given expectations that any harvest will take at least another 4 to 6 months, it’s looking like patients will not gain access to medical cannabis until 2017. That's nearly four years after the state's medical program was signed into law. This is not the first time it's faced setbacks, but it seemed as though the program was on track after the commission received more than 1,000 applications from hopeful organizations looking to open cannabis businesses in Maryland. The commission was originally scheduled to issue licenses in January.
After a would-be medical marijuana patient sued the state, seeking access and patient identification, New Hampshire will now be issuing patient ID cards, even though the first dispensary isn't scheduled to open until the spring of 2016. The law to approve medical marijuana was passed in 2013, but so far has been slow to implement.
Linda Horan, the patient who sued, has late-stage terminal cancer and has been desperately seeking access, even going so far as to petition the state of Maine to allow her to visit their dispensaries. But she initally wasn't able to because of her lack of a New Hampshire patient registration, which is required to visit dispensaries in states that offer reciprocity. Horan won her lawsuit and was able to visit Wellness Connection of Maine in Portland to receive cannabis-infused edibles, oils and tinctures she’d been seeking to treat her illness. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has already received 100 patient registry applications and is planning to issue the first round of ID cards to about 40 patients this week.
New York’s medical marijuana program is on track, with at least one dispensary — and as many as eight — preparing to open this week. Columbia Care, PharmaCann and Empire State Health Solutions are prepared to open Thursday, although it’s uncertain how many patients will be registered in time to visit. The doctor and patient registry only opened to the public in December, which means that doctors have hardly had a chance to pay the $200 fee and take the 4-hour course required to recommend cannabis. Patients must be seen by a registered doctor, and, as of Wednesday, there were only 150 doctors registered to participate in the program.
The opening date marks almost exactly 18 months since the program started, an impressive display of determination on the part of those involved in the creation and implementation of the program. Kudos to the hardworking folks who worked to open dispensary doors on such a strict timeline!