The trials and tribulations of the cannabis industry are nigh endless but we have to commend the leaders and legislators out there fighting the good fight. This week is full of battles to be won (and some have been won already!). Here’s the latest from the front lines of the cannabis movement:
When federal prosecutors tried to shut down the oldest medical dispensary, not just in Berkeley, but in the entire state of California, the city of Berkeley decided to fight back. Berkeley Patients Group was founded in 1999 and has long been a model for safe access, even as it grew and gained popularity as well as financial success. In 2012, when U.S. attorney Melinda Haag moved to seize all assets and close the dispensary’s doors, the city of Berkeley decided that this aggression would not stand and sued to block the forfeiture, arguing that the city would suffer irreparable harm from the loss of one of the most respected legal cannabis dispensary in the community. And wonder of wonders, the city of Berkeley won! Federal authorities ruled in favor of the city and Berkeley Patients Group won the right to serve the community and its patients. It’s a beautiful day in Berkeley!
In addition to this ruling, California’s medical marijuana law may be been expanding, with the recent introduction of HR 262, to protect medical marijuana assets from civil forfeiture, and Assembly Bill 266, which would serve to regulate the vastly unregulated medical marijuana market in California.
The nation’s capital has been in hot water regarding retail cannabis. First, voters passed the measure to legalize cannabis. Then Congress tried to veto the measure via a sneaky rider in their Omnibus spending bill, which denied the District federal finding for a retail market. President Obama then came back (thanks, Obama!) with another sneaky little rider attached to his 2016 budget, which allowed local funding to be used to implement retail cannabis sales in the District. Now after a threat from the District’s new attorney general, the D.C. Council has abandoned plans for a hearing on taxing and regulating cannabis in the District. Will D.C. ever be able to tax, regulate, and sell retail cannabis as per the will of the voters? Stay tuned next week as the saga continues.
Florida Senate filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and now the House has proposed a new medical marijuana bill to be a companion to the proposed Senate Bill 528, with two Republican Representatives as co-sponsors. There's one glaring difference between the two versions: the House version, House Bill 683, does not allow for the “smoking” of marijuana. The only other states to have legalized medical marijuana without allowing for the smoking of cannabis flower are Minnesota and New York (whose medical cannabis program is still awaiting implementation – get on it, Gov. Cuomo!).
Now that newly elected Governor Rauner has officially issued the licenses for dispensaries and growers, the race is on for Illinois dispensaries to open. The Green Solution in Sauget, Illinois, anticipates opening doors as early as summer 2015, while Terra Herbal Health, LLC is optimistically aiming for a soft opening within three months and plans to offer holistic services, spas, massage therapy, and yoga classes at their upcoming all-inclusive medical dispensary. So far, more than 1,000 patients have been issued approval letters under the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, although more than 14,000 citizens have applied for it.
Michigan has a love-hate relationship with cannabis – medical marijuana was legalized in 2008, but portions of the law have been repealed, dispensaries face a constant threat of government shutdown, and the penalties for possession of cannabis are surprisingly harsh at a state level – any amount could land you in jail for up to 1 year and a fine of $2,000. In more recent years, certain jurisdictions have passed city-wide ordinances decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis, including the most recent conversion, Grand Rapids.
Well, Grand Rapids has incurred the wrath of Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who is challenging the ordinance, saying that it cannot co-exist with the state law as it currently exists. The Michigan laws on cannabis are so convoluted that four law enforcement officers are facing charges for using homemade cannabis butter, despite being medical marijuana patients using less than the allowable amount (2.5 ounces) to make the butter. The resulting batch amounted to two pounds of butter, which prosecutors argue is more than the allowable amount. Really? Really, Michigan prosecutors? Pick your battles.
State officials will push the decision on whether or not to allow chronic pain as a qualifying condition for Minnesota's new medical marijuana program. Officials say they are concerned that it could overextend manufacturers who are planning to launch the new program this summer. However, if the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition is postponed, patients who suffer from chronic pain wouldn’t gain access to medicinal cannabis until August of 2016 at the earliest. Ouch.
New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law may be changing, as House Bill 593 would expand the rights of medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants until a dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence. This is very similar to the current medical marijuana law in Arizona, which allows for personal cultivation only if the patient lives further than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary; however, the New Hampshire law enforcement community opposes the law expansion due to the cultivation rule and the expanded qualifications for patients.
New Mexico legislature voted against House Bill 160, the Cannabis Revenue & Freedom Act, which would have legalized cannabis for use, possession, and cultivation by adults over the age of 21. However, another similar resolution, the Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would also legalize and regulate the taxation of cannabis for adults, is still on the table and up for a vote. The general population in New Mexico is quite supportive of cannabis, with a recent poll showing 73% of respondents supporting the decriminalization of cannabis, but Governor Susana Martinez has repeatedly said that she does not support it and would oppose any measures to legalize.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a medical marijuana bill in July, which would allow for the use of hemp oil for specific conditions, but North Carolina lawmakers recently introduced a bill seeking to expand this law. The proposed law, House Bill 78, supported by Democratic Representative Pricey Harrison, would expand the law to include all forms of cannabis to be used medicinally, including cannabis flower for smoking. Woo hoo!
Oregon farmers can legally grow hemp for the first time in nearly 60 years! Hemp production was outlawed in 1957, but the State of Oregon has accepted the Rules to Administer Growing, Handling, and Processing Industrial Hemp as proposed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and the rules went into effect on February 2, 2015. The new rules set up a state-regulated program for farmers to grow industrial-grade hemp to be used in a wide variety of products.
The Virginia Senate recently voted down a decriminalization measure, but a bill that would legalize cannabis oil to be used for medical purposes has been making progress. Senate Bill 1235 passed through the Senate with flying colors and a similar counterpart, House Bill 1445, was also passed through the House.
Virginia is generally a conservative state, but legislators have been changing their tune in regards to the low-THC, high-CBD extracted cannabis oil and its use for patients with seizure disorders, especially after the dramatic scene in the Virginia General Assembly while legislators debated the bill – a young girl, Haley Smith, who has Dravet’s Syndrome, suffered a seizure in front of the Senate committee.
Several new amendments aimed at reconciling the vastly unregulated medical marijuana market with the shiny, new, tightly-controlled retail market have failed. Senate Bill 5052, to protect cannabis patients, did pass through the Senate and is heading to the House for consideration, but another amendment proposed by Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles that would have allowed adults over the age of 21 to cultivate up to six plants in their own home unfortunately failed.
Vancouver, B.C. is home to many a medical cannabis dispensary. However, with the most recent changes to Health Canada’s MMPR program, technically all dispensaries are illegal, with the only legal means of acquisition for cannabis being licensed producers, widespread Canadian manufacturers of cannabis licensed by Health Canada. The only thing stopping these dispensaries from being shut down is an injunction that will be going to court in February, where the federal government will defend the new regulation changes.
As a result, the City of Vancouver is exploring the possibility of zoning these medical dispensaries as pharmacies, which would give local authorities more control over regulation, as well as protect the dispensaries from federal prosecution. Nice workaround there, Vancouver!