Utah Making More Changes with Medical Marijuana on the Horizon

Almost a full year after passing a controversial substitute law for a ballot initiative passed by the voters, the Utah state legislature and the governor once again altered the state’s plan to legalize medical cannabis. In a unanimous vote, the biggest change involves scrapping plans for a centralized state-run dispensary in favor of the private sector coming in to manage the system.  

While there are still lingering doubts in the community about the legislature’s intentions and standing to change how medical cannabis is legalized in the state, the reaction to these latest changes have mostly been positive. For one thing, it would seemingly prevent the state from sabotaging access to medical cannabis for populations with a legitimate need. The private sector also provides an extra voice that can advocate for patient safety and access.

The new changes also increase the number of dispensaries to 14—a modest increase that may still leave rural areas without a dispensary within a reasonable drive. It will allow for 10 cannabis production and distribution licenses to be issued to somewhere between 5 and 8 growers.

For those familiar with the state’s governing history, it might seem like an odd choice to relinquish control of implementing the new market for medical cannabis. For many years, the state has maintained a centralized and strictly controlled system for buying, marketing, and selling beer and alcohol. It is not, however, unique in its centralized regulatory authority as many believe.

Moreover, the state isn’t exactly relinquishing its normal regulatory authority when it comes to marijuana. The new law also allows for the creation of an online central state portal for “patient safety and education.” Ideally, this educational portal will include reasonable guidelines for medical providers who remain skeptical about their ability and liability in prescribing marijuana as a medication.

In this context, Utah provides a unique case for legalized medical cannabis with several factors to keep an eye on moving forward. How quickly will the medical community find a reliable and safe way for patients to get a marijuana prescription? How proactive will the state be in incrementally increasing the number of dispensaries allowed? And when it does so, will the new dispensaries focus on increasing access in rural areas or increasing tax revenues by adding dispensaries in population-dense urban areas? Will Utah eventually usurp and create a centralized state-run system if medical cannabis becomes legalized on the federal level?

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Shops Suffering from Lack of Financial Services

Count Oklahoma as one of the states that isn’t making it easy on marijuana businesses since the inception and implementation of medical marijuana. Campaigns to legalize medical cannabis got serious starting in 2014 and—after the legislature tried to rewrite the language of the referendum initiative—was put on the ballot for the primary election on June 26, 2018. State Question 788 passed by a vote of 57 percent to 43 percent. Ah, but that’s not the end of the story. The legislature then tried to ban marijuana leaf or smokable cannabis products. They also tried to require a licensed pharmacist be on-site at all times.

All that being said, medical marijuana businesses in Oklahoma have now reached the point where they’re simply dealing with the normal amount of hassle that comes with their quasi-legal status. And like these business in other states, one of the biggest hassles they’re running into is a lack of basic financial services enjoyed by most other small businesses.

Available Financial Services in Oklahoma

First Fidelity Bank is one of the only options in the state that provides financial services to businesses that deal with large amounts of cash, most commonly vending machine operators including ATMs. With this type of cash-heavy business account, that can also be a money-laundering front, every single transaction must be tracked and cross-referenced. This means more administrative costs for the banks, which are then passed on to medical marijuana shops. Shop owners are then left with the choice to pass these costs on to their patient consumers or else operate a cash-only business. On the other hand, even if they’re following all the applicable state laws and financial service rules with their bank, there’s still no guarantee that the feds won’t seize the business’s assets under federal drug laws.

Regulatory Catch-22

In another obstacle that makes people wonder if the state is approaching the issue with incompetence or sabotage, the state passed a law requiring that medical marijuana providers regularly submit their products for proof of testing. Except the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority hasn’t licensed any labs to test the cannabis and at first didn’t even issue interim rules other than to say that medical businesses should have their products ready for most standardized cannabis testing.

Other Small Business and Accounting Services

Of course, these businesses must also keep up with the typical requirements for small business management and tax accounting services. Just because the business is technically illegal by federal law doesn’t mean these businesses don’t have to file employment, income, and other relevant business taxes. If anything, these businesses can be assured their filings will be given extra scrutiny.

Oklahoma is typically known for its small business financial support services—for local companies as well as out-of-state firms. Based just outside of Oklahoma City, Advanced Micro Solutions is known for its small business accounting products and platform for W-2 and 1099 software.

Colleges and Medical Schools Reveal New Tensions between State and Federal Law

Marijuana legalization is drawing attention to conflicts between state and federal laws. Colleges and universities have become a battleground for hashing out discrepancies and precedent in medical marijuana usage.

According to KCRG, in states where medical marijuana is legal, students disciplined for using it are suing their schools. Specifically, legal challenges are coming from nursing students and those in other medical specialties who, under school policy, must undergo occasional random drug testing.

College officials argue they could lose important federal funding for failing to follow federal laws that label all cannabis use – both recreational and medicinal – illegal. However, state legislation has made medical use legal in some parts of the country. When hardline laws hold the purse strings, which legislative body comes out on top?

The Case in Arizona

Arizona schools have become a hotbed for hashing out this issue. The state legalized medical use of marijuana in 2010, and in 1996, an initiative passed that allowed doctors to prescript cannabis. The state’s history with medical use is a surprisingly long one, and while a recreational use initiative was shot down in 2016, its medical laws remain fairly liberal.

Last year, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a 2012 state law that made possession or use of marijuana on college campuses a crime. It is no longer illegal for the drug to be on college campuses, and it is legal for many students to use it for medicinal purposes. But colleges continue to uphold federal law for fear of losing important federal funding.

Arizona is one of 33 states, plus Washington D.C., that allow medical marijuana. Federal law continues to prohibit its use. With more than half of the United States legalizing the plant for medicinal purposes, conflicts are beginning to arise where state and federal funding meet.

Lawsuits May Provide an Answer

There are several ongoing lawsuits taking place around the country, including in Florida, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These lawsuits have the potential to set legal precedent on the use of medical marijuana at colleges, but they could also shift the conversation toward a more liberal interpretation of federal marijuana laws.

In the meantime, advocates are encouraging colleges and universities to lighten penalties for medical marijuana use. This will prevent students from facing expulsion or suspension, effectively decriminalizing the drug.

Georgia Shows Inaction its Own Form of Obstruction

When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 324 earlier this year, families and patients were hopeful they would receive the products they needed. Six months later, there has not been a single legal cannabis plant made available for patient needs.

Patients and parents are continuing to wait for Gov. Kemp to appoint a commission that will assist in regulating medical marijuana in Georgia. This commission, a startup, will oversee medical marijuana production and distribution within the state. Without this appointed body, there can be no legal production, distribution, or consumption.

Moreover, Georgia’s medical marijuana law is a shell of what other states might allow; it is legal for those with registry cards to consume THC oil, but there is no medical marijuana supply. As a result, many say medical legalization has done nothing to help Georgia residents. They still cannot get the medications and products they need.

Georgia’s Medical Marijuana Law

Currently, the state’s medical marijuana law allows qualified persons to legally possess up to 20 fluid ounces of “low THC oil.” This oil is derived from marijuana, and individuals need to obtain a “Low THC Oil Registry Card” from the state Department of Public Health.

If this sounds like a strict law, you’re right – Georgia’s law is far more limited than other states’ medical marijuana use regulations. The state does not legalize the use or possession of the plant in leaf form, as vapor, or as included in food products. As a result, residents cannot manufacture their own marijuana and must instead rely on state-vetted products. Herein lies one of the main issues with the legislative stalemate.

The Problem

Currently, Georgia law allows more than 8,400 patients on a state registry to use THC oil. Those on the registry live with a range of illnesses and conditions, including daily seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and terminal cancers. While the state has granted them the permission to utilize THC oil, there is currently no way to legally obtain the product. The oil is usually acquired in another state and brought across state lines into Georgia. This is a violation of federal law.

Additionally, Georgia continues to prohibit marijuana in plant form, which means residents cannot manufacture their own THC. Most states with recreational and/or lax medical laws allow individuals to grow their own marijuana, preventing residents from relying wholly on state-sanctioned dispensaries. This is not the case in Georgia.

Legislative Inaction Continues to Obstruct

Though no members of the commission have been appointed, more than 50 applications have been submitted. Gov. Kemp, as well as Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state House Speaker David Ralston, are charged with appointing members. They have not tapped a single member to serve on the essential panel.

Until a commission is appointed, legal medical marijuana use in Georgia will remain impossible.

Nevada Accused of Not Playing Fair with Cannabis Licensing

Count Nevada as another state that isn’t make it easy when it comes to the implementation of recreational cannabis. In what was ostensibly an effort to create a more effectively regulated marijuana industry, the state sought to limit to the number of available cannabis business licenses in the state. How exactly this was done has been the subject of about a dozen lawsuits from businesses that say they were unfairly denied licenses. A central part of the accusations is campaign contributions made by foreign actors with the design to influence who got cannabis licenses. The lawsuits have required the state to spend considerably in legal resources as part of its recreational marijuana implementation.

Geography its Own Barrier to Access

It’s one thing to limit the number of cannabis licenses to avoid a free-for-all atmosphere that would inevitably lead to neighborhoods with higher than needed concentrations of pot shops with boom-and-bust cycles that change the character of neighborhoods. But like many western states, Nevada is dominated by just 1-2 population centers and a lot of rural areas in between. So, while a limited number of cannabis licenses in Las Vegas might create a green rush with an environment that’s ripe for corruption, it leaves serious questions about access in more rural areas of the state. The longer the drive for people, the more likely that they will find a closer, albeit illegal, source for their cannabis.

New Standards of Information Transparency

One of the ways in which the state is pushing back against the lawsuit is to take the “unprecedented” step of releasing details “regarding who applied for licenses, who received licenses, their ranking, score and the process of issuing marijuana license.” It’s unclear to how exculpatory this information may or may not be. While Nevada may not have as strong a religious moralism as other states, it does have a long-documented history of pay-for-play corporate and governmental culture. And this culture seems to be interfering with recreational cannabis implementation. A parallel issue isn’t just the process of choosing specific owners for the limited number of licenses. It’s also the total number, composition, and distribution of cannabis stores around the state.

The Future of Cannabis in Nevada

Despite current restrictions, the number of licenses is unlikely to maintain its current caps. As the state’s recreational cannabis industry matures and the state determines what does and doesn’t need regulations and restrictions, new licenses, businesses, and products are likely to come on to the market. The state already publishes information guides for applying for a license, calculating and paying taxes, and employees of these businesses.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are already third-party online tutorials, like this one from GreenZipp, helping people understand what’s involved in starting a recreational marijuana business in Nevada.

Marijuana 2018 Ballot Initiatives

Next week, among numerous other decisions that voters will make about the future direction of local, state, and federal authorities, voters in four states will also have the opportunity to weigh in legalizing medicinal or recreational marijuana. We wanted to give a brief overview and snapshot of the status for each ballot initiative. We’ll look to update this page next week after the election results are in.

 

  • Michigan: It may be too little, too late to stop the momentum toward legalizing recreational marijuana in Michigan. The attack ads are ramping up, but the number of undecideds has diminished considerably in the final weeks before the election. And with the latest poll showing a 17-point lead, it’s looking increasingly likely that the ballot initiative will pass.

 

  • Missouri: This is undoubtedly the most confusing of the four states with marijuana ballot initiatives this year. And that’s because in Missouri, there are three ballot initiatives, including two constitutional amendments and a separate ballot proposition. And so, while at least one if not multiple initiatives are likely to pass, it’s unclear which ones will prevail and this might ultimately impact the implementation of medical marijuana in the state.

 

  • Utah: This might be the most interesting one of all. Arguably, nowhere in the country is there a starker divide between the support for hard-luck medical cases and a broader cultural resistance against recreational marijuana. And then there’s also the influence of the LDS Church which came out against the ballot initiative. While the polls initially seemed to indicate strong support for medical marijuana, the latest polls now make the outcome seem like more of a toss-up.

 

  • North Dakota: The opposite dynamic is playing out in North Dakota in which early polling and a traditionally conservative electoral made recreational marijuana legalization seem far-fetched. More recent polling suggests that independent, libertarian, and younger voters are in support of legalization and poised to come out and vote this election.

 

Cannabis News: Legalization in Canada

Cannabis-News.org is a site devoted to resources regarding both medicinal and recreational use of Marijuana. However, we do like to report and discuss important breaking and ongoing news. This legalization move is too large and important to ignore. On June 19th, 2018, Canada voted to legalize recreational marijuana use. They are the second country to do so in the world.

 

The bill, which was first approved by the House of Commons, must be approved by the governor-general for a final approval. This legislation is expected to create a multibillion dollar industry and pave the way for future legalization processes around the world.

 

Tony Dean, the senator who sponsored the bill in the chamber, told the New York Times, “Now we can start to tackle some of the harms of cannabis. We can start to be proactive in public education. We’ll see the end of criminalization and we can start addressing Canada’s $7 billion illegal market.” The bill will foster a culture around cannabis knowledge and education and likely decrease cannabis-driven organized crime.

 

Provincial governments will need eight to twelve weeks to prepare retailing systems, but experts say the recreational industry should be in full-swing by late October of 2018. The legislation itself was an essential piece of President Justin Trudeau’s platform in the 2015 election campaign. Additionally, the way in which Canada’s system will operate is not yet known, but the government is expected to make public detailed regulations in the coming months.

 

There will, however, be some limitations around cannabis sales. There will be strict limits on advertising marijuana, and experts speculate that it will likely be sold in uniform packages that carry health warnings. Initially, candies, baked goods, and other forms of edible marijuana products will continue to be banned. The minimum age for use will be 18 or 19 years old, but individual provinces are authorized to make those determinations individually.

 

Once formally approved, adults will be able to carry and share up to 30 grams of legal marijuana in public. They will also be allowed to cultivate up to four plants or prepare products for personal use. Initially, marijuana availability will vary across the country. However, with time, availability will become widespread; in Newfoundland and Labrador, marijuana will be available in grocery stores.

Dennis Peron, a California activist and ‘father of medical marijuana,’ died at 72

 

From the Washington Post:

SAN FRANCISCOIn numerous communities and jurisdictions around the country, cannabis is now a widely accepted part of the culture, including both the medical and entertainment industries. But as cannabis grows increasingly mainstream, there’s a tendency to forget the pioneers who came before us. Dennis Peron, a marijuana activist who championed the medical benefits of cannabis for AIDS patients, died from lung cancer on Jan. 27, 2018 at the age of 72. He was also a big part of the movement to pass Prop 215 that legalized medical use in the state in 1996.

 

Cannabis as a Tool for General Research and Scientific Discovery

Cannabis is sometimes described as a miracle weed. As part of our ethos, Cannabis News defaults toward skepticism—but honest skepticism. From stories of dramatic improvement in childhood epilepsy to the plant’s many industrial uses, there are legitimate reasons to appreciate what the plant can offer. Whether or not it’s a miracle, there are truly distinctive qualities about the plant that warrant ongoing scientific inquiry. Beyond the proximal effects of the substance itself, cannabis has the potential to unlock all kinds of general research and scientific discovery. Check it out:

 

  1. The Role of Genetic Diversity.

Cannabis is one of the most genetically diverse species on Earth. For perspective, there can be more genetic diversity between different strands of cannabis than there is between humans and chimpanzees. Too often, cannabis gets broken down into binary categories: sativa vs. indica, high-THC recreational marijuana vs. high-CBD medical marijuana. But the reality is much, much more complicated. Even individual strains with branded names are something of a myth.

 

Interestingly, human history and cannabis prohibition played a large, if hidden, role in the diversification of the cannabis plant. While other commercial crops have been homogenized to just a few seeds and genetic lines with desirable and reliably expressed traits, marijuana has been cultivated in countless places that were isolated from each other. It helps that cannabis can be grown in tropical, moderate, and subarctic climates. Moreover, humans have cultivated cannabis since the early days of human civilization. Cannabis makes the delineation of dog breeds look like child’s play.

 

  1. Better Medications and Pharmacology.

From post-traumatic stress to childhood epilepsy, from pain relief to generalized anxiety, as well as plenty of other medical conditions, there’s a growing body of literature about the medical uses, side effects, and limitations attached to medical marijuana. There are definitely cases of miraculous results, especially with childhood epilepsy, but like so many medications, what works for one person may not work for another.

 

Again, both as a kind of blessing and curse, there are an almost endless number of strains and consumption methods that can influence how cannabis affects your physiology. Some of these differences are obvious. Have respiratory distress? You’ll probably want to avoid smoking your cannabis, for example. Others come from trial-and-error and rigorous scientific study. The good news is that there are already some links we’ve discovered. Again, childhood epilepsy provides the best example. Charlotte’s Web is a particular strain of cannabis that has been particularly effective in treating childhood epilepsy. What other cannabis strains might be targeted medications for particular medical ailments? Multiple studies are underway in an attempt to make these connections.

 

  1. Sustainable Farming and Land-Use Policies.

This is full of potential and potential pitfalls. The hemp plant is one of the heartiest and fastest-growing plants out there. It also plenty of commercial uses starting with textiles. One acre of hemp fiber is the equivalent of two to three acres of cotton, and one acre of hemp paper is the equivalent of two to four acres of trees, according to Hemp Basics. On the other hand, marijuana production methods have been anything but environmentally-friendly. Here, too, cannabis prohibition played a big role by forcing indoor marijuana grow operations. By some estimates, one percent of the electricity used in the United States goes toward indoor marijuana grow operations. Even outdoors, too many marijuana farms are located in areas that require extensive development and have an unexpectedly high impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

 

It’s a challenge and an opportunity, both introduced by the growing scale of the legal cannabis industry. Perhaps the good news is that many industry actors and the larger cannabis culture seems to recognize the issue. The Cannabis Sustainability Symposium is just one recent example of the cannabis agricultural community come together to discuss current best practices and potential solutions for the future of cannabis cultivation.