HIGH TIMES magazine has reported on marijuana in all its aspects and wonders. This magazine is dedicated to medical cannabis patients and providers nationwide, particularly those living in the 14 states (and growing) with laws protecting their rights.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the state legislature Thursday to repeal the ban on smokeable cannabis from the state’s medical marijuana statute. At a press conference in Winter Park, Florida, DeSantis said that the ban is not in line with the will of the voters.
“What the Florida Legislature has done to implement the people’s will has not been done in accordance with what the amendment envisioned,” DeSantis said. “Whether [patients] have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved. I don’t think this law is up to snuff.”
DeSantis also said that if the ban is not rescinded by the middle of March, he will drop an appeal filed by former Gov. Rick Scott to keep it in the law. In May, a judge ruled that prohibition against smoking cannabis violated Amendment 2, the measure passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016 that legalized medical cannabis in the state.
Cannabis Advocates Support Repeal of Ban
Agriculture commissioner and cannabis advocate Nikki Fried called on lawmakers to act before March.
“Every day that medical marijuana in the pure plant form is unavailable to patients, Floridians continue to suffer,” she said. “This is an issue I’ve seen firsthand throughout our state and country, and one that touches my family personally — my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she is struggling to find medicine that relieves her suffering. The fact that she can’t access the medicine she needs breaks my heart.”
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, another supporter of medical cannabis in Florida, said that the ban on smokable cannabis is an overreach of authority.
“What other drug does the government tell you how to ingest?” said Brandes. “It’s a doctor-patient issue. The government doesn’t insert themselves in there.”
Brandes also said he would introduce legislation to remove regulations requiring vertically integrated medical marijuana providers to cultivate, process, and sell all of their own cannabis products. DeSantis also said he would abandon appeals on those regulations and some licensing requirements. DeSantis said the legal challenges should be abandoned so the government could concentrate on more important matters.
“We have a lot of fish to fry in Florida,” DeSantis said. “The last thing I want to do be doing is cleaning up something that should have been done two years ago. I don’t want to continue fighting some of these old battles.”
Unlicensed businesses are attempting to gain access to California’s legal cannabis market, and for now, it’s up to licensed firms to make sure the rules are being followed. Despite regulations from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control that require licensed cannabis companies to only do business with other licensees, there is not yet a system in place to verify compliance.
Ben Ballard is the chief operating officer at Silo Distribution, a licensed cannabis distributor serving Southern California dispensaries from its facility in Palm Springs. He told High Times that both unlicensed sellers and buyers have attempted to complete illegal cannabis transactions with his firm.
“I’ve never completed a transaction and found out retroactively that there was a license that didn’t check out, but it is something that people have attempted to do,” Ballard said.
Ballard added that there are several reasons a license number might be invalid.
“It could be a number of things,” he said. “It could be expired. It may be completely phony. The license they have might not permit them to do what they’re trying to do.”
Currently, companies can look up licensee information on the BCC website. But unscrupulous operators, including one who tried to sell black market vape cartridges to Silo, can take advantage of the same publicly available information.
“I’ve been given a license before and I looked it up,” Ballard explained. “The company name on the license didn’t match the brand, and they were in a completely different part of California.” Ballard says things got even fishier from there.
“So when I asked about it they said ‘Sorry, wrong licensing,’ and provided another one and it was the same drill. And they said, ‘Well, there’s some ownership stuff here.’ It was a very half-assed attempt at trying to pull it off, so it was pretty easy to figure it out.”
Ballard said he’s also had unlicensed dispensaries attempt to purchase products from his company. He said those cases are easier to spot because deliveries must be made to the address on the license. And when a sales representative is in a retail shop, it’s not difficult to determine if it is licensed.
“It does take due diligence, but it’s not an overwhelming amount of work.”
“License information does need to be prominently displayed,” Ballard said. “So if you have concerns about dealing with licensed or unlicensed groups, then you should be able to locate that yourself or they should be willing to share that with you. I would say if someone’s not willing to share their licensing information with you, then you may have a problem. It may be an indicator that something’s not above board.”
Virginia Falces is the communications director at OutCo, a microbusiness license holder in San Diego County. The company cultivates, manufactures, and distributes cannabis products from its headquarters in suburban San Diego. She said that although she hasn’t seen unlicensed firms attempt improper transactions with OutCo, she knows that there are imposters out there. And until METRC, the state’s upcoming seed-to-sale tracking system is in place, it will be difficult to verify the source of cannabis products.
“We have not experienced anyone pretending to be a licensed operator when they are not,” Falces told High Times. “However, we did receive a cease and desist order from the BCC at our address in El Cajon; there was an unlicensed company using our license number and address but with a different name. Since license numbers, addresses, and business names are readily available on the BCC website, it would be very easy for an unlicensed operator to get and use any license number. Either the track-and-trace system being in place or a copy of the BCC license would have prevented that.”
Ballard says it is usually easy for him to distinguish the “above board, up front players in this industry and the people that are doing stuff completely outside” of the regulations. He added that he’s followed his intuition and investigated further when things haven’t seemed right.
“It does take due diligence, but it’s not an overwhelming amount of work.”
Most recently, officials in the state clarified confusion regarding home delivery. According to these officials, California cannabis laws allow for home delivery in any part of the state—including localities that have chosen to ban retail activity.
California’s Laws for Home Delivery of Marijuana
Earlier today, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control approved and released hundreds of pages of regulations and language to clarify rules governing the state’s adult-use marijuana laws.
One of the most important rules clarified by the Bureau has to do with home delivery. More specifically, the Bureau today made explicitly clear that California law allows for home cannabis deliveries in every single jurisdiction.
As a result, home deliveries can be made in locations where retail operations are allowed to operate, as well as locations where retail operations are banned.
Under California’s cannabis laws, local county or city governments have the ability to regulate marijuana-related activity. And that includes deciding whether or not to allow dispensaries to open.
But confusion has remained over how those bans impact home deliveries. On the one hand, local governments typically advocate for increased control over cannabis. And many places want the right to decide how to handle home deliveries.
On the other hand, many consumers and cannabis advocacy groups insisted that home deliveries were legal statewide.
Either way, today’s actions from the Bureau of Cannabis Control could help put an end to the confusion. As reported by local news sources, officials with the agency cited a California law that says local governments “shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads.”
Officials reportedly interpret that to mean that no local jurisdictions have the right to prohibit home delivery of marijuana. And that includes localities that have chosen to block retail cannabis sales.
According to the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the agency is not creating a new rule. Rather, officials at the Bureau said they are simply reiterating laws that already exist.
Regardless, the agency’s endorsement of statewide home delivery is already creating controversy. As local media reports, police chiefs and other critics throughout the state, including the League of California Cities, are opposing the rule.
In general, these groups argue that the rule undermines local control over cannabis activity. Further, cops in the state argue that home delivery could open the door to unregulated marijuana sales and distribution.
But for many in the state, the bureau’s clarification is being celebrated. In particular, consumers who live in locations where retail sales have been blocked see home delivery as their only reliable way to access legal cannabis.
That is especially true for medical marijuana patients. In many places that have blocked dispensaries, patients struggle to access cannabis. But home deliveries could be a viable way for them to obtain their medication.
Local media reports that the controversy could end up going to court. Alternatively, it could spark future legislative considerations.
Two Virginia bills that would have legalized marijuana in the state were killed by a legislative committee on Wednesday. The House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee also shot down several measures that would have decriminalized cannabis by 5-3 votes, according to media reports.
Del. Steve Heretick, who introduced both a legalization and decriminalization bill, announced the defeat of the proposals in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
“It’s a sad day for Virginia. Today the House Courts of Justice Committee defeated both my marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills,” Heretick wrote. “This is just the beginning of the fight. I have heard from thousands of Virginians this week who have flooded my office with calls, emails, visits, and social media posts, sharing their personal stories. I have been truly touched by the outpouring of support. I decided to take a bold stand and while many politicians in Richmond quietly supported the bill, only a few had the courage to stand publicly with me. I will continue to fight for Virginians of all walks of life, from all political backgrounds, who believe as I do, that marijuana prohibition has been a failure.”
Legalization Bill Included Retail Sales
Had Heretick’s legalization bill succeeded, it would have legalized the recreational use and home cultivation of cannabis for adults 21 and older. The measure also would have established a regulatory framework for commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. The bill would have imposed a 15 percent tax on cannabis sales, with 67 percent of the revenue generated going into the state’s general fund. The remaining 33 percent had been earmarked for a public education “Retail Marijuana Education Support Fund.”
“Whether the politicians realize it or not, the time has come for adults to have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes,” Heretick said when he introduced the bill only last week.
Del. Lee Carter, the sponsor of one of the second legalization bill, said that because of the lasting effect of drug convictions the “most dangerous thing about cannabis is getting caught with it.”
After the bills were introduced in the House of Delegates, Jesse Scaccia of the cannabis advocacy group Virginia NORML said that it was time for cannabis reform.
“There has really been a national and cultural brainwashing when it comes to marijuana, but the facts and the signs are really clear that it is so much safer than say alcohol for our communities,” said Scaccia. “The facts and the research are on our side, we are very lucky that there are 10 states ahead of us with adult regulated use so that’s essentially ten case studies.”
The death of the legalization and decriminalization bills comes only one week after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called for the decriminalization of cannabis in his State of the State address on January 9.
Oklahoma patients pay one of the highest tax rates for medical marijuana in the country. As a result, the state’s young medical cannabis program is already generating substantial revenue. The numbers are eye-catching. In December alone, medical cannabis sales almost topped $1 million, collecting just under $70,000 in tax revenue—not including standard sales tax. But taxes aren’t the only source of medical cannabis revenue for Oklahoma. Money generated from licensing fees has vastly exceeded tax revenue. And it’s piqued some in the industry, leading to class action lawsuits. Are high tax rates and licensing fees hurting Oklahoma’s patients and businesses?
Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Program is Generating Significant Revenue in Taxes and Fees
Compared to the more than 30 states with some form of legal medical cannabis, Oklahoma’s program is one of the most costly to both patients and businesses. Medical cannabis sales are taxed at 7 percent, on top of standard sales tax, which hovers around 9 percent. That means patients are paying 16 cents on the dollar when they make medicinal purchases. The only other state that comes close is Washington, which in 2016 revised its tax code to impose an excise tax of 37 percent. But at the point of sale, customers just pay standard sales tax. By contrast, some states exempt medical cannabis purchases from sales taxes. It’s important to note that Oklahoma doesn’t charge sales taxes on prescription medications.
The high tax rate in Oklahoma is generating considerable revenue. According to the AP, Oklahoma collected $69,425 on medical marijuana sales in December 2018. Midway through January, the state’s already collected more than $43,000. The data reflects the rapid growth of Oklahoma’s industry. So far, more than 30,000 patients have enrolled in the program and received their licenses, along with 900 dispensaries.
With so many businesses entering the space, Oklahoma is generating way more in licensing fees than it is in taxes. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority reports that since June 2018, it’s generated more than $10 million in licensing fees.
Oklahoma State Agencies Face Legal Challenges Over High Taxes and Licensing Fees
When Oklahoma voters said yes to Question 788 last June, there was little public discussion about the measure’s high tax rate. The public also didn’t have much of a debate about how taxes and fees should be spent. Critics of Oklahoma’s tax rate and licensing-fee schedule say that was the intention. They say state agencies tried to kill the industry with onerous costs.
“We’re finding out more and more that there was a concerted effort by other state agencies to exert influence and control in this industry to try to kill it,” said attorney Ron Durbin back in October.
Durbin is representing a Tulsa, Oklahoma, grower and a private citizen in a class action civil suit against the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Bureau of Narcotics and the Tax Commission. Their lawsuit alleges the state agencies unlawfully collected taxes and fees from patients and businesses. Specifically, the suit claims the law does not require the $300-500 grower/processor/dispensary registration fee and the $2,500 license fee businesses have been paying. Patients also have to pay a $100 fee for their two-year medical cannabis license.
Question 788 specifies a 7 percent tax. But the lawsuit says that language meant total taxes on sales, not an additional tax on top of standard sales tax. Question 788 also directs three-quarters of any funds left over from paying to regulate the medical cannabis program to a common education fund. So far, it’s unclear how much excess revenue Oklahoma has been able to generate, or where that excess has gone.
A new bill introduced in the New Mexico state Senate would allow for the use of medical marijuana in schools. The measure, Senate Bill 204, is sponsored by Sen. Candace Gould, a Republican from Albuquerque.
If the bill is passed, it would allow students with a medical marijuana certification and a treatment plan to use cannabis medications at school. The treatment plan would be agreed upon by the school principal and the child’s legal guardian. Cannabis would be administered by designated school personnel or legal guardians only. Students would not be permitted to administer cannabis medications to themselves or store them on school grounds. The use of cannabis medications would not be permitted to cause “disruption to the educational environment or cause other students to be exposed to medical cannabis,” the bill says. School districts that were able to prove that they have lost or would lose federal funds by implementing the policy would be allowed an exception.
Parents of Patients Support Bill
Lindsay Sledge moved from Utah to New Mexico so she could have access to cannabis medications for her five-year-old daughter Paloma, who has a seizure disorder. The mother of three says that cannabis is the only medicine that helps her daughter’s condition but New Mexico’s medical marijuana laws are impacting Paloma’s ability to go to school. She hopes that Gould’s bill will be noticed in other states.
“If it does pass, it’s going to be a huge precedent for other states also dealing with this issue,” Sledge said.
Sledge added that she hopes that officials at Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) will support the measure.
“I’m hopeful APS will implement this if it gets passed, because they would be setting the standard for every other district in the state,” said Sledge. “If the law is changed, I’m hopeful it will be an easy transition.”
David Peercy, the APS Board of Education President, has not yet considered the proposed legislation.
“We have not discussed this bill or the issue in general, so there is no board position at this time. Our government relations staff will keep us informed on this bill, as well as all education-related bills. As this bill progresses, the board and administration may decide to take a position,” he wrote.
Sledge urged lawmakers to pass SB 204 in a written statement.
“Children in New Mexico who rely on medical cannabis to treat their debilitating conditions are being denied an education,” she wrote. “I’m hopeful lawmakers will hear the stories from these families and vote yes on bill 204. The current Lynn & Erin Compassionate act discriminates against children who are medical cannabis patients and needs to be changed. There are currently six other states that have comprehensive laws that allow medical cannabis at school. I’m hopeful New Mexico will be next and that my daughter will soon be able to attend school with the life-saving medicine she needs.”
The core part of the problem? D.C. was prohibited from using local tax dollars to establish a tax-and-regulate scheme by Congress. Under Republican control, the legislative body attached a provision in federal budgets each year since 2014 that’s left D.C. in limbo when it comes to recreational marijuana sales.
One D.C. lawmaker, however, is determined to change that. With Democrats now in the majority in the House of Representatives, where the rider on federal budgets originates, D.C. At-Large Councilmember David Grosso sees an opportunity to get the District out of this limbo once and for all.
“This status quo has led to a confusing and problematic state of affairs with residents and businesses unclear on what is legal, what is not, and wondering how it can be that it is legal to possess marijuana but not to buy or sell it,” Grosso, who is an Independent, said in a press release. “We need to fix this. The new reality on Capitol Hill means that chances of D.C. legalizing marijuana sales are greater than ever.”
Grosso credits the passage of Initiative 71 with keeping District residents away from “needless involvement in the judicial system.”
“Since D.C. voters approved Initiative 71 to decriminalize recreational cannabis, we have seen marijuana-related arrests plummet, representing thousands of District residents who were spared needless involvement in the judicial system,” Grosso said. “The logical next step, to continue to reduce arrests and to bring marijuana totally out of the shadows, is to set up a strong tax and regulatory system.”
Grosso introduced a form of his cannabis sales legislation in every council period since 2013. In the latest version of the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, he included new provisions aimed at rectifying the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs.
“The War on Drugs was a failure — it was increasing our mass incarceration problem and not helping with our drug dependency problem,” he said. “Further, the data also has consistently shown that the War on Drugs has been racist in its implementation. It’s a racial justice issue. It’s not enough that we change these policies, we also have to proactively heal the communities most negatively impacted.”
At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Robert White, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, signed on as co-introducers of the legislation.
Wisconsin’s new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, announced Tuesday his plans to include the initial steps of cannabis legalization in his state budget proposal for 2019. Speaking before Wisconsin Technology Council board members, Gov. Evers responded to a question about his views on cannabis. Evers said he personally favors adult use legalization, echoing Minnesota’s new governor, Tim Walz.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers “Personally Would Sign” a Cannabis Legalization Bill
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers supports cannabis legalization. At the same time, he doesn’t want to rush the process. In response to a question about his views on marijuana, Evers expressed an interest in taking incremental steps toward a full adult-use industry in Wisconsin.
Evers said his first steps would be to work toward medical cannabis legalization. That’s something that Wisconsin can accomplish legislatively, and Gov. Evers could kickstart that process by including medical legalization in his two-year budget proposal. Taking a longer view, Evers said his administration would push for a statewide voter referendum on full legalization. Wispolitics.com reports Evers told Technology Council board members that he “personally would sign that bill,” but just wants “to make sure we do it correctly.”
“Correctly,” of course, has meant different things to different legislatures and offices of the governor around the country. For Gov. Evers, correctly appears to mean, with an emphasis on small businesses and social justice.
Gov. Evers Wants to Avoid Corporate Takeover of Cannabis in Wisconsin
A followup question from Milwaukee lawyer Alexander Pendleton prompted the governor to reveal more of his views on the “right way” to legalize cannabis. Pendleton posed the question of legalization from criminal justice and budgetary perspectives. And in response, Evers agreed that “marijuana connects all the dots.”
Evers went on to share his observations on other adult-use states. He pointed to Washington, where “hundreds of mom and pop” cannabis shops have been replaced by large cannabis companies. He pointed to Colorado, where “very few people are actually making money” in the industry because of the state’s tax structure. Evers said he wanted to avoid taking Wisconsin’s cannabis industry down the same path. “I think the last thing the people of Wisconsin want as it relates to marijuana is it eventually devolves into Pfizer running things.”
Evers’ emphasis on the importance of small businesses in the cannabis industry strikes a different chord than many of the legalization discussions around the country. It signals Evers wants to shift priorities from corporation-friendly tax rates to cannabis policy that works for the people of Wisconsin. “I want it to be set up in a way that people in the state of Wisconsin feel comfortable that they can make some money by doing this work without having to essentially go broke,” Evers said.
Gov. Evers Takes First Step on Long Road
But all of that is something Evers plans on tackling farther down the road. For now, the immediate objective is to legalized medical cannabis. And that will likely mean inclusion in Evers’ budget plan. There are however, different views on how committed the governor actually is to a budget proposal for legal medical cannabis. The governor’s budget proposal initiates debate in the legislature, where medical legalization is likely to face opposition. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, has a record of opposing medical cannabis.
It’s shaping up to be another big year for cannabis, as politicians and policymakers move to destigmatize, decriminalize, and — in some cases — legalize the drug nationwide. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently presented his plan to legalize recreational cannabis throughout the state. Democrat Tim Walz, the newly elected governor of Minnesota, wants his state to be the next to legalize. And in Rhode Island, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has conceded that it’s time for her state to move toward legalization, too.
Most notably, the bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act, essentially permitting any business in compliance with state cannabis laws to exist and operate without having to worry about the feds knocking on their door.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an especially vocal opponent of states’ rights regarding cannabis. Last summer, he didn’t say whether the Department of Justice had considered any enforcement actions that would compromise states’ legalization efforts.
“States have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law,” Sessions said at the time. He added that it was his personal view that “the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner.”
With Sessions out and a new attorney general going through the confirmation process, just how legalization will play out in 2019 is anybody’s guess.
“The president has said he will sign [the STATES Act] into law,” Neal Levine, CEO of CTF, told The Hill. “So it’s the one piece of legislation from our intel that we think we have a legitimate chance to pass into law that would fundamentally address all of the major issues that the cannabis industry faces today.”
CTF launched in 2018, and Levine considers its expanding presence in the nation’s capital as part of “the cannabis industry growing up.”
“This is all part of the cannabis industry growing up, coming into the mainstream, acting like every other industry that’s out there,” he said. “This is just the natural part of our evolution.”
Doctors at an Australia hospital will treat terminally ill patients with psilocybin in a study to determine if the drug can ease the anxiety often experienced at the end of life. Researchers at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne plan to administer the hallucinogenic compound to 30 dying patients in April, according to media reports.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Ross said that terminally ill patients in the study would be given a single dose of a synthetic psilocybin drug. Initial studies have shown that one psilocybin treatment session can give patients an altered outlook on life for up to six months. The treatments are conducted by trained observers in a supervised setting and therapists recommend that patients not use the drug outside of the clinical environment.
Officials at St. Vincent’s say that three out of 10 palliative care patients experience extreme distress during the final months of life. The study to be conducted at the hospital took more than a year to be approved by an ethics committee and regulators at the state and federal level.
Similar Study Shows Success
A similar study of terminally ill cancer patients was conducted at Johns Hopkins University in 2016. Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology, said that researchers found that psilocybin treatment can result in a marked improvement in the mental well-being of patients.
“The most interesting and remarkable finding is that a single dose of psilocybin, which lasts four to six hours, produced enduring decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms, and this may represent a fascinating new model for treating some psychiatric conditions,” said Griffiths.
Six months after psilocybin treatment, 80 percent of the patients in the study showed significant decreases in anxiety and depression. Increases in well-being were reported by 83 percent of patients and two-thirds said the treatment session was one of the five most meaningful experiences in their lives.
“A life-threatening cancer diagnosis can be psychologically challenging, with anxiety and depression as very common symptoms,” said Griffiths. “People with this kind of existential anxiety often feel hopeless and are worried about the meaning of life and what happens upon death.”
Griffiths said that the results of the study exceeded his expectations.
“Before beginning the study, it wasn’t clear to me that this treatment would be helpful, since cancer patients may experience profound hopelessness in response to their diagnosis, which is often followed by multiple surgeries and prolonged chemotherapy,” he said. “I could imagine that cancer patients would receive psilocybin, look into the existential void and come out even more fearful. However, the positive changes in attitudes, moods and behavior that we documented in healthy volunteers were replicated in cancer patients.”