Here’s the latest on cannabis legalization and legislation: In Kansas, the Republican governor acted to lower penalties for cannabis possession. In Louisiana, the state’s list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions was expanded. In Maryland, efforts to launch that state’s MMJ program have run into new delays, and dispensaries continue to struggle to get legal standing in Michigan. In New Jersey, with no MMJ program, lawmakers may be leaving $300 million in tax revenues on the table. And efforts to launch an MMJ program in North Carolina are scuffling for traction. Good news in Ohio, though, where lawmakers are attempting to craft MMJ legislation ahead of a public vote on this issue this fall.
Internationally, same-day MMJ delivery is coming soon to Canada—or, at least for now, Calgary and Toronto. And in the Philippines, historically one of the harshest anti-cannabis countries, the president announced he is in favor of medicinal marijuana—in the face of longstanding opposition from the nation’s Catholic leadership.
U.S. News Updates
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a measure that will reduce the penalty for a first-time cannabis possession charge from up to a year in jail to no more than six months. The penalty for a second offense would be reduced from a low-level felony to a sentence of up to a year in jail. Subsequent offenses would range from 10 to 42 months in jail, the current penalty for a second possession offense. Baby steps forward are better than no steps forward!
Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law this week to expand the state’s medical-marijuana program. Senate Bill 271 was introduced by state Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martin’s Parish), a pharmacist-turned-politician. The bill would broaden the law and expand the qualifying medical conditions, which were previously limited to glaucoma. The new MMJ conditions will be:
- A chronic, debilitating disease or treatment that may produce cachexia/wasting syndrome
- Seizure disorders
- Epilepsy; and
- Severe muscle spasms, including those characteristic of Crohn’s disease or multiple sclerosis
The bill also revises the language from the original medical marijuana bill to allow physicians to “recommend” medical cannabis. The previous language used the phrase “prescribe,” an act which is forbidden by the federal Controlled Substances Act, and which tied the hands of physicians who might otherwise be able to allow access for qualified patients.
How do you solve a problem like Maryland? Maryland’s medical-cannabis bill was signed into law last May, but has faced numerous hurdles along the path to creating a workable infrastructure. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission accepted applications for growers, processors and dispensaries through last November, but before the applications could be properly considered, Executive Director Hannah Byron unexpectedly resigned. The program did not get a new executive director until this month, when Patrick Jameson signed on and promptly gave conflicting statements on Maryland’s troubled timeline. He first claimed that the licenses will be issued in late summer or early fall, before backtracking and saying that the Commission will issue licenses within “weeks” of evaluating applications in July.
Michigan’s dispensaries just took another blow when a ruling found that patients can only access MMJ through home cultivation or through a registered caregiver who can serve up to five patients at a time. Two men were charged with distributing MMJ and took a plea, which led to the ruling. They may take the case to Michigan’s Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the ruling could have dire implications for dispensaries. Michigan’s MMJ law is unique in that the law contains no mention of dispensaries, leaving dispensary owners and employees essentially operating in a legal gray area, and meaning store owners are at risk for closure and raids by law enforcement.
A new report from the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform and New Jersey Policy Perspective showed that a legal cannabis marketplace could net the state a cool $300 million, if they were to legalize. Based on federal studies, about 365,900 New Jersey adults use cannabis illegally on a monthly basis, meaning that a 25 percent on cannabis sales could gain the state $300 million annually.
State Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr. (D-Mecklenburg) has introduced a new bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana in the state of North Carolina. This is not the first time Rep. Alexander has proposed a bill for medical cannabis, but it has failed to gain traction last year in committee, leading to its inevitable demise. Unfortunately, supporters fear that the same thing may happen to House Bill 983 this year, due mostly to a short legislative session and lack of support from Republican lawmakers in the Committee on Health.
The state’s MMJ initiative has passed through the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, and is headed to the Senate floor for a full vote. The committee made several crucial changes to the bill before approving it, including putting the program back under the supervision of the state Commerce Department, rather than the Board of Pharmacy. The House plan will also create a nine-member Medical Marijuana Control Commission tasked with regulating the cultivation, distribution and licensing of cannabis businesses. Ohio lawmakers are rushing to approve the bill before the end of the legislative session in the hopes that this bill will reign supreme over a well-funded MMJ push for the ballot this November.
International News Updates
For the first time, medical cannabis will be legally available for same-day delivery through Health Canada’s Licensed Producer (LP) program. Patients have had to order from LPs and wait for the cannabis to arrive through the mail, but two LPs recently announced plans to offer same-day delivery as a service for registered patients. Aurora Cannabis and Bedrocan Canada will now deliver cannabis the same day in certain geographical areas. Aurora Cannabis will offer deliveries for orders placed before noon to residents of Calgary (and the surrounding region), while Bedrocan will make deliveries by 8 p.m. for orders placed before noon to Toronto. They will start accepting same-day orders on May 26.
The Philippines have some of the harshest drug laws in the world—the possession of a joint can get you sent to rehab for six months, and subsequent offenses could land you between six and twelve years in jail. However, new President-elect Rodrigo Duerte has come forward in favor of medical marijuana, indicating that it is already an ingredient in modern medicine. House Bill No. 04477, or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act was filed in 2014 by Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, which has sparked debates between the Philippine Medical Association and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Interestingly, the Catholic association was more willing to accept MMJ than the Philippine Medical Association, who were quoted as saying that there is no sufficient evidence to prove its benefits.