Politics  The latest in cannabis legalization including laws and policies, legislators’ views, election coverage, and more.

State of the Leaf: California Has New Regs, Arkansas Has Reciprocity, and Florida Allows No Leaf

US News

ARKANSAS

State regulators approved rules governing registrations cards, labeling, and testing for Arkansas’ voter-approved medical cannabis program. It’s mostly boilerplate stuff, with two juicy caveats: Regulators were surprisingly mindful to not miss their (May 8th) deadline and Arkansas’ program will honor out-of-state medical cardholders.

CALIFORNIA

California regulators unveiled new draft medical cannabis rules last Friday. It’s a lot of legalese and even more bureaucracy. We’ve distilled things into something more digestible here and here.

Highlights include home delivery and the novel ability to smell before you buy. Unfortunately, these regulations severely curtail dispensary hours of operation. The latest you could purchase is 9pm, so kiss those late-night dispensary runs goodbye.

But one new rule jumped out: you must be 21 years old to purchase medical cannabis. So if you’re a 20 year old cancer patient in the state of California, you’ll have to bring mom or dad to the dispensary. Or some other grownup.

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Arbitrary potency caps are also problematic, especially for the most vulnerable medical cannabis users.

Debby Goldsberry runs Magnolia Wellness, a dispensary and community center in Oakland. She’s not impressed.

”It is kind of offensive and a punishment to our most seriously ill patients who have very high tolerances and need a high dose,” Goldsberry said. “I think regulators didn’t spend enough time looking at the needs of the most critically ill members, because this regulation is going to harm them. We need regulations that are going to support them. We need to flip this regulation completely.”

Fortunately these draft regulations are only a starting point.

Worth a read: Brentin Mock, in The Atlantic’s “CityLab” vertical, has a nice wrap on Oakland’s recently created “equity points program,” which aims to ensure people of color aren’t shut out of the booming legal cannabis industry.

Why is the program necessary? “Well, because racism,” Mock writes. Check out this data table on the racial disparities in cannabis arrests in Oakland:

tableSOTL

COLORADO

Colorado is much changed since voters ended cannabis prohibition at the ballot box in 2012.  How much? Roughly $2.39 billion in economic impact. That’s according to the Colorado Springs Gazette‘s trenchant five-part series on the “State of Marijuana” in Colorado.

Kurt Hodel, right, came from suburban Chicago to eastern Colorado to work in the marijuana industry. Nathaniel Kollarits works for the family business, Sedgwick Alternative Relief, where Hodel is general manager. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
Kurt Hodel, right, came from suburban Chicago to eastern Colorado to work in the marijuana industry. Nathaniel Kollarits works for the family business, Sedgwick Alternative Relief, where Hodel is general manager. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

But more than those eye-popping dollar figures, the biggest change may be in “tone” and how we talk about cannabis in America.  long, interactive, and immensely satisfying read.

FLORIDA

It’s two steps forward, one step back in Florida where lawmakers continue to work on a bill to “overhaul” Amendment 2, the medical marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November.

After the initial Amendment 2 modification bill was criticized as too strict, lawmakers made big changes to the measure late last week. Among the changes:

* Patients with chronic pain may qualify, but only if their condition is linked to another debilitating condition.

* Marijuana dispensaries can sell edibles and products that can be vaped. The bill still prohibits cannabis smoking.

* The new version of the bill eliminates a requirement that patients have a three-month relationship with a doctor before the physician can recommend marijuana. Patients will be required to visit the doctor at least once every seven months to remain in the statewide database of qualified patients. That’s an improvement from the previous requirement of 90 days.

* Training requirements for doctors have been reduced to two hours, which is expected to remove barriers to doctors.

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“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) told local media.  “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”

Now they just need to actually pass the bill they crafted.

GEORGIA

It’s legal in Georgia to possess low (less than 5%) THC cannabis oil to treat a limited number of qualifying conditions. But legal to possess doesn’t mean legal to acquire. Enter conservative Georgia state Rep. Allen Peake, who is helping bridge the gap created by political inaction in Atlanta.

Rep. Allen Peak. (AP Photo)

But this advocacy comes with a lofty price tag: Rep. Peake shells out roughly $100,000 of his own money each year to acquire the oil, which he in turn donates to sick people.

“Every day I receive a message from someone in our state thanking me for supporting this effort, telling me that because of medical cannabis their quality of life, or the life of their loved one, has improved drastically,” Rep Peake told Leafly earlier this week. “That is why I am willing to sacrifice so much, and fight so hard, for the right of Georgia citizens to legally possess and access medical cannabis here in our state.”

“It is literally changing people’s lives,” he said. “What greater calling could I have?”

MAINE

Maine voted to legalize adult-use cannabis last November. And while the state’s regulatory system remains under construction, a grassroots effort to expedite the process is discreetly playing out. Someone’s gotta make that first recreational cannabis sale. Why not a medical dispensary that’s already open?

“If our medical marijuana regulations are sufficient for Maine’s patients, they should most certainly be adequate for Maine’s adults,” Marijuana Policy Project’s David Boyer told Leafly. He’s Maine’s political director.

“We should follow the lead of states like Colorado and Oregon and allow existing dispensaries to sell marijuana to all adults 21 and over. In addition to this, the state should allow medical marijuana caregivers the opportunity to become dispensaries.”

For starters, early sales would begin generating tax revenues to cover the costs of running Maine’s nascent recreational program. Likewise permitting medical dispensaries to make these early transactions discourages recreational users from using the black market to acquire the cannabis they’re allowed to possess but not to purchase.

MONTANA

Remember when political candidates tripped over themselves to exhibit their anti-marijuana credentials to voters? The special election to choose Montana’s next (and only) member of the House of Representatives—replacing former Congressman Ryan Zinke, who became Secretary of the Interior—shows how far we’ve come. The Republican hopeful Greg Gianforte supports medical cannabis, while his Democratic rival Rob Quist wants to end prohibition altogether.

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“To me the war on drugs has been an abject failure,” Quist, the Democrat, said during the most recent debate. “I think the majority of Montanans and Americans agree they would like to see the decriminalization go forward and not criminalize people for something that should not be criminal.”

Montana legalized medical cannabis years ago, and then re-legalized it last November in a ballot measure meant to ensure that patients could access their medicine in legal storefront dispensaries.

 NEW JERSEY

With the clock winding down on Gov Chris Christie’s time in office, many medical cannabis activists are switching gears. Rather than talking about a piecemeal approach to fix NJ’s chronically underwhelming medical cannabis program, they’re now working to end prohibition altogether.

Ken Wolski runs the Coalition of Medical Marijuana of NJ. (CMMNJ). His group was instrumental in passing NJ’s medical marijuana law in 2009, just before Christie came to power. Eight years later, NJ has only five functioning dispensaries serving a state of more than nine million people, so CMMNJ has decided to join New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform in endorsing adult-use legalization.

“Legalization is the best way to get the right medicine to the most people,” Wolski told Leafly late last week. “Along with undoing the societal harms caused by prohibition, legalization is the most efficient and effective way to get the therapeutic benefits of marijuana to the vast number of patients who can benefit from it.”

As if on cue, the Star Ledger editorial board concurred.

That’s good news because sources tell Leafly that NJ legislators are “this close” to dropping a bill to end prohibition—probably mid-month. The leading candidate to replace Christie, Phil Murphy, has campaigned to end prohibition. In fact, other Democrats in the running have too. The top GOP candidate, Lt Governor Kim Guadago does not support ending prohibtion.

NEVADA

Nevada’s republican Governor Brian Sandoval had a message for Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department: hands off Nevada’s medical and recreational cannabis industry! In fact, the Governor’s budget projections already reflects $60m in expected cannabis tax revenues.

“I can’t speak for the attorney general, but I advised him that it’s in our state law now,” Sandoval said. “We are moving forward. I told him that [legalized cannabis is] in our constitution and it’s going to be tightly regulated.”

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Also in Nevada: Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is considering allowing cannabis delivery services. I have six words for you: Cannabis room service at the Bellagio.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program is set to go live next spring without provisions for whole, smokable flower. Unless—oh wait what’s that? A loophole?! Senator Daylin Leach sponsored PA’s medical marijuana law and he predicts that it’s “likely that [dispensaries] will have whole plant on their shelves from day one.”

“It was always our intent to have whole flower, and all methods of consumption, available to patients who need it,” Sen Leach told Leafly. “There is no rational reason to deny someone cannabis in the form that will be most helpful to them.”

WASHINGTON STATE

Is Washington state’s top cannabis testing lab inflating THC numbers? More importantly: Is the lab endangering medical consumers by lowballing evidence of contamination? That’s the heart of a complaint lodged by the Washington Cannabis Laboratory Association, and first reported by Leafly’s Tobias Coughlin-Bogue last Friday.

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INTERNATIONAL

CANADA

Canadian oil companies are worried what legalized cannabis means for their bottom-line. In Colorado, oil company officials say it’s now more difficult to find new recruits, typically young men, who can pass pre-employment drug tests. “We have certainly failed more people in Colorado (for drug use) after legalization than we did before,” the official said, though he was unable to give specific numbers.

And…if consumption of cannabis is legal during an employee’s off hours, why exactly are you testing them for it?

MEXICO

A bill to legalize medical cannabis derivatives in Mexico cleared its final parliamentary hurdle last week.

The legislation now awaits President Enrico Pina Nieto’s signature.

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