The United States is all aflutter with legislatures taking action, but there are a few states stuck in limbo. While Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board just approved cannabis consumption in proposed retail shops, and Utah and Pennsylvania are taking another shot at medical marijuana, other states like Missouri and Texas find themselves stuck in limbo with a purgatory of patients hoping to gain access. Additionally, a frustrating situation for one medical patient in Michigan may set a new precedent for how law enforcement treats marijuana concentrates.
Hot off the international presses, Danish “skunk” cannabis is stronger than ever. Here’s the latest in legalization news across the globe.
U.S. Cannabis Updates
Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board voted to allow the consumption of cannabis in retail stores, which could make it the first state in the nation to allow a regulated area outside of a private residence for marijuana consumption. The measure still needs to be approved by Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, but would essentially allow adults to purchase cannabis at a retail store and consume it in a designated area on the premises.
This amendment is only a placeholder for the moment, as the full regulations will need to go to the Department of Law for review before landing on Governor Mallot’s desk. One important note, however, is that although retail cannabis shops may allow consumption on their premises, cannabis social clubs remain outlawed.
The town of Hancock is making such a show of support for the new medical marijuana program that the city has actually agreed to be an equity partner of Harvest, Inc., accepting a 5 percent share. Harvest, a company with successful dispensaries already operating in Arizona and Nevada, is applying for one of 15 licenses to cultivate and produce cannabis to be distributed via medical marijuana dispensaries, and the operation could create up to 125 local jobs.
A case against a Michigan father for the possession of hash oil has led to the examination of thousands of police documents in an attempt to determine if the prosecutor’s office encouraged the Michigan State Police’s Scientific Forensic Division to report falsely on marijuana concentrates – labeling them as “origin unknown,” which will often ultimately lead to harsher penalties. Max Lorincz is a registered medical marijuana patient in the state of Michigan, when he called for emergency assistance for his wife last September. When a smear of hash oil was found in his home, he was arrested and charged with a harsh penalty due to the crime lab’s confusing classification of the substance. Medical marijuana is legal to possess for registered patients, but the law makes no mention of concentrates or edibles, which has led to a plethora of misunderstandings between law enforcement and well-meaning patients.
In other Michigan news, the number of medical marijuana patients in Michigan is on the rise. According to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Registry Program, there are currently 178,629 active registered medical marijuana patients, indicating a rise of 18,000 patients over the past three years. Time to get those new regulations up and running!
The Missouri Legislature legalized the use of cannabis oil in 2014 to treat seizure disorders that are resistant to medication, but efforts to get the program off the ground are moving at a glacial pace. There are nine neurologists statewide that are willing to allow their patients to try the medication and a piteously small group of only 15 patients, out of an estimated 18,000 Missourians who could be eligible, that are certified to receive treatment. There are two license holders allowed to produce industrial hemp for extraction, but with such low numbers, the two certified companies, BeLEAF Corp. and Noah’s Arc Foundation, are both scaling back production in anticipation of a slow rollout.
Linda Horan, a patient with late-stage lung cancer, sued the state of New Hampshire in an effort to seek access to medical marijuana, although New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program is not set to open until January of 2016. Now her lawyers are trying to help her gain access through Maine, which has a robust medical marijuana system and also offers reciprocity for out-of-state medical marijuana patients.
Still, New Hampshire health officials are dragging their feet on issuing Ms. Horan a patient registry identification card, saying that such a move would undermine New Hampshire’s “need to control distribution,” while also emphasizing the point that New Hampshire law does not allow patients to get medicine anywhere other than a state-certified alternative treatment center.
New Jersey recently set a new precedent in the United States when Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law allowing edible cannabis products to be administered on school campus by a parent or guardian. However, New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has traveled a bumpy, difficult path thus far, with far-reaching restrictions and only a handful of dispensaries to serve the state’s some 4,000 patients. So it came as some surprise when New Jersey held its first investigatory hearing last week on the possibility of legalizing the sale and distribution of cannabis for adults. A member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition spoke during the hearing, with an impressive percentage of New Jerseyans in support.
However, with a troubling number of marijuana arrests on the rise, does New Jersey have a shot at legalization in 2016?
Although cannabis possession arrests in New York have dropped by 40% year over year thanks to Mayor de Blasio's instructions to cool it with the minor possession arrests, the state is on pace to issue more than 16,000 tickets for low-level cannabis summonses, an estimated annual increase of over 3,000. The "stop arresting people and start ticketing them instead" policy is putting police officers in a difficult position, according to John Jay criminal justice professor Eugene O'Donnell, who said, "The police are being left in a nowhere land. No matter what they do they’re subject to criticism…For cops it’s not really about marijuana; it’s about finding marijuana on the way to finding a gun or more serious narcotics.”
In an effort to break into the mainstream, a group known as Women Leaders in Cannabis banded together to donate 20 Thanksgiving gift baskets, complete with turkeys and all the fixins, to the Oregon Department of Human Services for distribution to needy families in the area. Unfortunately, the Scrooge McDucks over at the Oregon DHS refused the baskets on the basis that it was from a “marijuana-related business" and citing "the discomfort by the DHS office that it would give the appearance of some kind of endorsement,” said Gene Evans, a spokesman from the Department.
Thankfully, the Women Leaders in Cannabis were not easily dissuaded and the gift baskets will now be donated to an organization that supports families of children with autism. Still, said Lindsey Jacobsen, a founder of the group, “It just weighed on the soul a little bit.”
The Pennsylvania state House committee voted 25-8 in favor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Authored by Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), Senate Bill 3 already passed through the Senate committee by a wide margin earlier this year, but has historically faced challenges in the Pennsylvania legislature. “I’m very grateful that it’s moving. It’s an opportunity that we might get this to the finish line,” said Sen. Folmer, who anticipated that the bill will likely be amended before passing.
The Flandreau Santee Sioux won the right to cultivate cannabis in May as part of tribal sovereignty, but during the process of trying to open a new cannabis resort in time for New Year’s Eve, the tribe hit roadblocks in every direction. When the nearby Menominee tribe lost its entire harvest to hemp of 16,000 plants overnight due to a raid, the Flandreau Santee Sioux preemptively destroyed their crops.
Texas may have passed a bill to allow the limited use of low-THC cannabis oil, but with an expected implementation date of mid-2017, Texas patients are seeking more immediate relief. Hannah Loew, for example, suffers from Dravet Syndrome, and although her condition means she would qualify for the new limited cannabidiol program, she needs a dosage with a higher concentration of THC, highlighting one of the major reasons we need further research and less stringent programs. While Texas law allows for a CBD:THC ratio of 20:1, Hannah needs a dosage of 14:1, which violates Texas law by a fraction of a percentage. The Loews eventually relocated to Colorado Springs to be able to access the medicine Hannah needs – one more medical refugee housed in Colorado, seeking a higher quality of life.
Utah State Legislature will consider two major bills for medical marijuana during next year’s legislative session. One bill is sponsored by Representative Brad Daw (R-Orem) and would allow cannabidiol to be used to treat a number of diseases and qualifying conditions. The other bill is sponsored by Senator Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) and would treat a similar list of conditions, but would also allow THC to be used in medicinal products. Cannabis advocates say that Madsen’s bill would ultimately be the best for medical patients, but it is still in the process of being drafted and should be ready in time for the next legislative session.
The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative released a report with recommendations for how to implement and structure a legalized recreational marijuana system. The group recommended that the state award up to 30 licenses for retail marijuana stores, with four licenses for industrial growing and three licenses for collective growers.
In an unforeseen move, the group also recommended that the state legislature approve “lounges,” where cannabis can be sold and consumed onsite. The projected revenue for such sales estimates that recreational sales would generate more than $250 million in annual revenue based on the current consumption rates. Vermont lawmakers are considering legalizing retail cannabis via legislature in 2016.
International Cannabis Updates
A recent sampling of cannabis from the black market shows that Danish cannabis has record high levels of THC compared to recent years, according to the Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s annual narcotics report. A report from 1992 showed THC levels at 8 percent, with a fairly steady range around 8 – 13 percent between 2001 – 2011. This was determined through analysis carried out by the three forensic chemistry departments in Denmark and processed by the Department of Forensic Medicine at Aarhus University.
The latest confiscated cannabis tested with an average content of 28 percent THC, which is being attributed to the majority of “skunk farms” moving their growing operations indoors.