Major changes are afoot! Alaska wants to regulate retail cannabis shops by jurisdiction, and Idaho and Utah have hit speedbumps in their fight to legalize medical cannabis. Montana’s medical program could be in serious jeopardy, and West Virginia has found an unlikely new advocate for cannabis. On the international scene, Jamaica is accepting applications for cultivators, and the U.K.'s Liberal Democrats are calling for nationwide legalization.
Here’s the news you need to know:
U.S. News Updates
Alaska’s retail cannabis market is slowly coming into focus. The Alaska Marijuana Commission is now accepting applications to enter the retail market, and jurisdictions, which in Alaska have the power to set local rules, are enacting business regulations. Many small communities, which are plentiful in the rugged Alaskan landscape, are waiting to see how bigger cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, regulate the burgeoning industry. Recently introduced legislation, House Bill 75, would ban cannabis businesses in small communities and allow them only in larger cities.
A misinterpreted statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to blame for the latest snafu in Idaho. New Approach Idaho made the decision to pull its medical cannabis petition after scrutiny from the AAP and Idaho Office of Drug Policy Administrator Elisha Figueroa. A statement from the group clarified the oversight as a misunderstanding, not the deliberate manipulation that Figueroa suggested.
A Montana Supreme Court ruling could spell disaster for dispensaries. The court upheld a 2011 law that limits dispensaries to just three patients each. The same law limits individual doctors to providing medical cannabis recommendations to no more than 25 patients — going over triggers a state review. All Montana dispensaries will be affected by the ruling, and the majority of access points are likely to close. There currently are more than 13,000 patients and more than 30 dispensaries that will be affected. Enforcement of the ruling will begin March 11, and patients still have the right to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and to grow up to four plants.
The Campaign to Regulate Like Alcohol in Massachusetts held a public hearing this week for H.3932, or the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The measure faces major opposition, most notably from Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The initiative could still move forward despite their opposition, however, as the campaign needs only 10,792 signatures by early July to qualify for the November ballot. In the meantime, the state Senate seems to have accepted legalization as inevitable, having released a comprehensive report studying the effects of legalization in Colorado and Washington and comparing those state's laws to Massachusetts’ proposed initiative.
Bad news for Utah. The state’s most comprehensive effort to legalize medical cannabis has all but died in the legislature. Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Senator Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), did not gain enough support to move forward. Madsen was upset, as this isn’t the first time he’s introduced MMJ legislation in the state. He accused House leaders of deliberately sending his bill to a committee full of opponents, which spelled the legislation’s demise. Following the defeat, Madsen announced that this will be his last attempt to legalize marijuana in Utah. He told his colleagues that he will not seek re-election and instead he will be moving, along with his family, to South America due to a desire for “more freedom.”
The window to apply for a retail cannabis permit in the state of Washington is closing. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board announced that they will be ending the application period on March 31 at 5 p.m. So far the board has processed 162 so-called Priority 1 applications, 63 Priority 2 applications, and 879 Priority 3 applications. Twenty-nine communities in the state have already closed their application periods after licensing the maximum allotted number of stores. There are 222 new retail licenses available in addition to the 334 licenses already issued. If you haven’t already submitted an application for consideration, apply now before it’s too late.
West Virginia gained an unusual new cannabis supporter in the House of Delegates. Delegate Bill Flanigan (R-Monangalia) went before his colleagues this week to speak out against House Bill 4576, which would increase the penalties for bringing drugs into the state. Flanigan, visibly nervous, told the story of his recent cancer diagnosis: the pain and nausea, the medications that he’d been prescribed, and the struggle he underwent. During his treatment, a “very dear loved one” brought him chocolate chip cookies infused with cannabis, presumably illegally transported to the state. The cookies changed his entire experience, the lawmaker said, helping him manage his pain and nausea without relying on the heavy narcotics he’d been prescribed. Flanigan’s speech was unplanned and emotional, and it had an immediate effect on colleagues. Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) moved to table the bill, and 59 delegates agreed to set the bill aside.
International News Updates
The Cannabis Licensing Authority of Jamaica will be ready to accept applications for "ganja licences" starting April 4. The approved regulations specify 11 different types of licenses available under five main categories: cultivation, transportation, processing, retailing, and research and development. The regulations were revised as an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) and make special provisions to accommodate small famers and cooperatives. The licensing fees have also been waived for small growers to encourage participation. The next step will be a series of town hall meetings to hear publiic comments building infrastructure for the newly legal industry.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for the legalization cannabis. The party has endorsed a new study that calls for the sales of cannabis to anyone 18 or over through licensed specialty stores and social clubs. The study also calls for home cultivation rights and a new regulatory agency to oversee the licensing and implementation process. The report, authored by former Chief Drugs Advisor Sir David Nutt and Mike Barton, estimates that the industry could produce between £500 million and £1 billion annually through taxes and licensing fees. Cannabis is currently scheduled as a Class B drug in the U.K., with penalties of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine for possession.