State of the Leaf: Hawaii Misses Dispensary Launch, and Washington MMJ Shift Sparks AlarmLisa RoughJuly 6, 2016
U.S. News Updates
Although the applications for Alaska’s new recreational cannabis licenses were originally scheduled to have been processed by the end of May, so far just two licenses for testing facilities have been awarded. (CannTest, a testing facility, was awarded the first.) Countless other companies have secured zoning permits and moved forward with the hope that they will receive one of the coveted marijuana business licenses. Under Alaska law, all cannabis must be tested by a state-licensed facility, but so far the only two licensed facilities are in Anchorage. That raises a critical question: What happens if state-licensed cultivators send cannabis through the mail to a state-licensed testing lab? Sending cannabis through the U.S. Postal Service is illegal, even in a legalized state, presenting a challenging obstacle for cannabis businesses in Alaska.
The earliest date that Hawaiian dispensaries are allowed to open is July 15, but it appears the day will come and go without a single storefront opening. The Department of Health says it’s unable to predict when the stores will be able to open due to the many requirements licensees must meet before opening shop. Among other things, operators are required to have enclosed indoor facilities, 24-hour security, certifications to possess and handle cannabis, as well as fencing to deter intruders. The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance recently predicted that the new system of medical marijuana dispensaries could generate between $12 million and $38 million in revenue in the first year of operations.
Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program has been extended through 2020 and expanded to include PTSD as a qualifying condition. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill not only extending the pilot program, but also adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition, after Judge Neil Cohen ordered the addition. The ruling came after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a military veteran seeking medical cannabis. The judge concluded that the Illinois Department of Public Health violated the veteran’s right to due process by wrongly rejecting the PTSD petition.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered a change in the title of a cannabis legalization measure, arguing that the title “Marijuana Legalization” was unfair and misleading. The court ordered that the measure be renamed “Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana” and proceed to the November ballot. Sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, to be sold with a 3.75-percent excise tax. The measure would also create a state cannabis commission to oversee the creation, enforcement, and regulation of a retail cannabis system.
On the one-year anniversary of Minnesota’s first medical marijuana dispensary opening, the state’s final two dispensaries will open for business, finally bringing the program into full implementation. This means that all eight locations will now be open and serving the state’s more than 1,500 registered patients. In addition, this is the first time that Minnesota patients who suffer from intractable pain will be allowed to register. Once the patients have been registered, they may visit medical marijuana dispensaries and purchase medical cannabis products starting August 1, 2016.
The New Jersey teen who inspired a change in policy allowing medicinal cannabis on school grounds has yet to benefit from the law that she helped pass. Seventeen-year-old Genny Barbour suffers from seizures that are kept in check through cannabis oil mixed into her soda. Because of the way the law is written, however, school officials are forbidden from administering cannabis to students. Instead, qualified caregivers must administer medicinal marijuana to avoid liability issues for the school district. But adovates argue that it’s an undue burden on families for a parent to take the time to leave work and travel to school to administer medicine that could otherwise be administered by a nurse. So the Barbours have asked Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) to sponsor a new version of the bill that would allow anyone designated by the parent or guardian as a caregiver to administer cannabis oil to the patient on school grounds.
This week it came to light that New Mexico’s medical cannabis program has been underreporting its sales. The latest gaffe from the New Mexico Health Department — already under fire for not processing applications within the legally mandated window — came when the agency reported on May 26 that it had earned $9.9 million in medical cannabis sales during the first quarter of 2016. However, when financial reports were made public, total sales topped $10.2 million, no small disparity. Health department officials say they used numbers provided by producers to calculate the sales but the numbers were not double-checked, resulting in the error.
There are just two medical dispensaries operating in western New York and one of them is about to cut its hours in half. Bloomfield Williamsville is scaling back its availability to just three days a week, for a total of 20 operating hours for patients. It’s the latest sign of trouble for the state’s restrictive cannabis program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was recently put on the defensive when asked about medical marijuana patients who cannot access medicine. “I haven’t heard issues that people can’t find access,” Cuomo told reporters, despite reports from the Drug Policy Alliance indicating that patients could not, in fact, find access. According to a June report from DPA, between the high costs, lack of qualified physicians, and the small number of licensed dispensaries, too few patients are able to procure the cannabis their doctor recommends. A whopping 77 percent of respondents reported being unable to afford medicine due to the prohibitively high costs.
Ohio’s new medical marijuana law specifically prohibits employers from disciplining employees for working with cannabis businesses, but Ohio lawyers are wondering whether this law applies to them as well. Attorneys are asking regulators whether they can use medical cannabis, own or operate a cannabis business, or represent members in the cannabis industry without legal or ethical repercussions. It’s a tricky situation, because state laws prohibit lawyers from knowingly assisting a client to break the law, but many marijuana-related businesses are still illegal on the federal level. The Board of Professional Conduct is considering the question and is set to issue an advisory opinion in August.
Washington’s medical marijuana system just got folded over into the state’s existing retail infrastructure, but the rollover process hasn’t been without a few hiccups. First, the patient registry database (a source of contention for many Washington patients) was not readily available on July 1, the day the new program took effect. Now there are concerns over third-party traceability software and the privacy of patient information. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board received requests for patient information such as qualifying medical conditions and medical history, information that is private and prohibited from solicitation or disclosure to third party services. Take heed, Washington retailers with medical endorsements – disclosure of private information to a third party site could put you and your establishment at risk for a Class C felony.
International News Updates
Canada launched a task force to study and make recommendations for the implementation of recreational cannabis in spring 2017. The task force will be chaired by Anne McLellan, who most recently served as Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister. The task force will also include professors, members of law enforcement, and medical professionals. It will accept input from the general public between June 30 and August 29, in preparation for the development of a new recreational cannabis system. Once the task force has compiled and considered all input from the public, it will provide the federal government with a report of its findings and recommendations.