New laws expanding the medical marijuana program in Louisiana went into effect on August 1. The state’s medical marijuana program has been criticized for being too limited and too restrictive since the program was established in 2016, but the three laws that went into effect on Saturday aim to improve the situation.
Louisiana’s medical marijuana program may have been established three years ago, but patients were not granted access to medicine until August of 2019 when the first round of the product became available. Home cultivation remains illegal for the more than 4,000 registered medical marijuana patients. Only two facilities are allowed to cultivate medical cannabis for the entire state, and only nine pharmacies are licensed to distribute it to patients.
House Bill 819
Previously, the number of physicians that were allowed to recommend medical marijuana therapy was limited and so were the conditions that would qualify a person for the program. Under the new regulations established by HB 819, any physician licensed by the state of Louisiana has the authority to recommend medical cannabis to his or her patients. Previously, only physicians registered with the program were permitted to discuss it with patients. As a result, the program struggled to recruit physicians to participate.
This legislation also expands conditions which qualify a person to apply for the program and puts more emphasis on the patient-physician relationship by opening the program’s door to any person suffering from “any condition” which is deemed to be debilitating by the physician. Under the prior regulations, only patients suffering from a certain list of conditions, like cancer, epilepsy, or HIV, could qualify for the medical marijuana program.
House Bill 418
Even though more than half of the states in America have legalized some form of cannabis use, whether medical or recreational, the plant and its derivatives remain federally illegal. House Bill 418 aims to provide extra protection for those businesses that operate within the parameters of Louisiana state law. This legislation certifies that: “Any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health and has patients in its care using medical marijuana shall be exempt from the prohibitions provided in this Section for possession and distribution of marijuana.”
House Bill 211
House Bill 211 addresses another major restriction placed on state-legal cannabis businesses by the federal government. While cannabis remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, businesses licensed by the federal government, like those that provide banking services, are not able to work with any cannabis-related company without fear of federal prosecution.
Unlike federal regulations, the enactment of House Bill 211 is meant to motivate financial institutions to service those cannabis-related businesses that are licensed and operating legally in the state of Louisiana.
This legislation sets the expectation that the state will not: “Penalize a state bank or credit union for providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider solely because the account holder is a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or is an employee, owner, or operator of a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”
Federal Law: SAFE Banking Act
Many proponents think that federal lawmakers should take a page out of Louisiana’s playbook regarding the relationship between financial institutions and legitimate cannabis businesses. As long as cannabis remains illegal under federal law, banks that choose to work with cannabis industry businesses are at risk even though those businesses are operating legally under state law.
The United States Congress is currently considering legislation known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) which would effectively lift the restrictions preventing banks and insurance service providers from openly working with cannabis businesses.
The House has already approved the SAFE Banking Act, and the legislation is currently being held up by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Some Senators may need encouragement from you, the constituents, to support the SAFE Banking Act. NORML has made it incredibly easy to contact your state’s Senators to let them know that you want them to approve the SAFE Banking Act. Click here to be redirected to NORML’s website where all you have to do is enter your information and it will automatically send your letter of support.
One of the most important pieces of cannabis-related legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), has the chance to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation in the United States. The House approved the inclusion in May when representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), and it will soon be the Senate’s turn.
The United States Senate has never approved legislation regarding banking services for cannabis businesses before. Many Senators may not have the spirit or understanding to make sure this legislation is enacted, so they need to hear from you, the constituents. Now is the time to contact your Senators. Tell them to support the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act. Click here to find the contact information for your state’s Senators,and send them an email telling them to support the SAFE BANKING Act.Don’t wait. It only takes a few minutes to voice your opinion. Your letter may be the one to sway the vote.
I urge you to support the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), HR 1595 / S. 1200, to allow state-licensed marijuana-related businesses to engage freely in relationships with banks and other financial institutions.
Presently, more than 30 states authorize the licensed production and dispensing of medical cannabis. ten states permit similar commercial activities and retail sales of marijuana to all adults. Yet, thousands of these licensed and regulated businesses do not have access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. This situation is untenable. No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions.
Congress must move to change federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities.
Allowing tightly regulated marijuana businesses the ability to access the banking system will help reduce the threat of crime, robbery, and assault in our communities and keep the cash out of cartels. I urge you to support and cosponsor The SAFE Banking Act.
Why is the SAFE Banking Act so important?
While cannabis remains federally illegal as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, 33 states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws legalizing the medical and/or recreational use of the plant. Schedule I drugs are considered to be the most dangerous of all substances, and they are described as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Methamphetamine and cocaine are categorized as Schedule II substances, meaning they are technically defined as being less dangerous and less addictive than marijuana.
The fact that cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are listed among the ranks of ‘most dangerous’ with heroin and methaqualone (Quaaludes) simply does not make sense when there are more than four million registered medical marijuana patients in the United States, and the majority of Americans are in favor of legalization. Nonetheless, financial institutions and insurance providers are federally regulated, so they simply cannot work with cannabis businesses at this time without risking their operating licenses or federal prosecution. The SAFE Banking Act would greatly improve this situation.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans in more than half of the United States are working within a state-regulated, legitimate industry which generates billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, yet these businesses are denied these imperative services. This is not right. It is not fair, and it needs to change.
This also means that cannabis businesses and their employees, which were deemed ‘essential’ like grocery stores and pharmacies in nearly every state in which they operate, were denied access to the federal Payment Protection Program (PPP).
Dangers of Cash Only Operations
When a business is denied access to regular banking services like processing debit and credit cards or writing checks, it leaves them vulnerable. Without a business bank account, state-regulated dispensaries, cultivators, and product producers are forced to operate only in cash. Having large amounts of cash on hand makes these businesses targets for armed robbery which on more than one occasion has resulted in the death of employees.
In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, just handling cash is also potentially dangerous. While it is thought that the virus is most easily spread from person to person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that it is possible to catch it from handling infected items like cash.
Contact Your Senators
It is imperative that you communicate with your Senators. Without hearing from you, the people they represent, they may not know how many people support the SAFE Banking Act. If you want to write an email or make a quick call, click here to find the contact information for your state’s Senators. Many Senators are also active on Twitter, so Tweet at them if that is your preferred method of communication.
Ohio’s recreational cannabis initiative has been delayed due to coronavirus social distancing measures, and the petition’s language is also undergoing revisions at the request of Ohio’s Attorney General. Despite these setbacks, the movement is not dead in the Buckeye State.
During the election season, petitioners rely on interaction with the public to inform voters on ballot initiatives and to collect signatures. Without that in-person mechanism, all ballot initiatives and petitions could be delayed indefinitely. Tom Haren, Spokesperson for Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has indicated the group is taking social distancing measures seriously during the pandemic.
“We made the decision early on that the health of our volunteers, supporters, medical marijuana patients, and the general public would be our primary concern,” he said. “As Ohio begins the process of re-opening, we are evaluating our options and hope to have more to share soon.”
Being unable to exercise democracy through legislation and proposed ballot measures has First Amendment implications, and addressing this in court has already been problematic. Earlier this month, a judge in Ohio’s Franklin County said he lacked the ability to make alterations to the state’s constitution that would allow fewer signatures to be collected during the pandemic. Freda Levenson of ACLU Ohio, who is representing Ohioans for Fair and Secure Elections, has concerns about what this could mean for election laws.
“The First Amendment says any infringement on speech, even if it’s temporary or brief is a violation of your rights,” she said. “They can’t say ‘you can talk later.’ You have a right to say it.”
But coronavirus is only part of the petition’s setbacks. In March, the Attorney General of Ohio informed the petitioners by letter that proposed legislation, which would amend the state’s constitution in order to legalize recreational cannabis, was insufficient and required additional information.
“Upon reviewing Section (A) of the proposed amendment and comparing it to the summary language, I am unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful representation of the proposed amendment,” wrote Attorney General Dave Yost in the rejection letter. “Section (A) of the proposed amendment lists several findings and declarations that the amendment proposes to be made by ‘the people of the state of Ohio.’ The summary makes no mention of these findings and declarations. Thus, it completely fails to inform a potential signer that the amendment elevates these ‘findings and declarations’ to a constitutional standard.”
Haren has said that the group will continue to revise their proposed amendment based on the Attorney General’s notes.
Ohio is one of several states who have a strict medical cannabis program that is largely unsuccessful due to overregulation and lack of available products. Of patients who are qualified and enrolled in the program, thirty percent have not made a single purchase.
“If you’re a patient in Ohio, it’s hard to participate in Ohio’s medical marijuana program,” Haren said. “We were promised a program that worked.” Ohio’s state medical cannabis business association is currently not supporting the bill.
Up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational use would be allowed under the proposed legislation, along with up to six plants for personal use. The state would establish a regulatory body that would oversee production, quality control, licensing, and retail distribution of cannabis along with a proposed sales tax structure, 25% of which would go towards social equity programs.
When the recreational possession and use of cannabis is legalized, but a regulated retail market is not, people are forced to think of creative ways to obtain and provide weed. In this case, though, the creativity comes from a cute canine named Sudo.
While a regulated recreational market has not been established in Washington D.C., the transfer of up to one-ounce of cannabis, from one of-age adult to another, is permitted. This hand-off is known as “gifting.” As a result, several creative businesses have popped up, operating in the grey area of the law, to meet the distribution needs for District residents.
In 2016, adults living in the nation’s capital could get free weed delivered with the purchase of fresh juice. Now, a pair of entrepreneurs have finally figured out what the people really want: to receive their free gift of cannabis by purchasing a painting made by an adorable Alaskan Klee Kai called Sudo.
District Derp is the Washington D.C. brand that is marketing “exceptional art for elevated minds,” and providing cannabis gifts in the form of dried flower, edibles, and vape cartridges to adults who buy one of Sudo’s paintings. Identification is required to make a purchase if you want the free “token of appreciation,” but the artwork alone is also for sale to those under the age of 21 or anyone living outside of Washington D.C..
Artwork orders can either be picked up or delivered. There is a minimum purchase amount of $40 required for pickup orders, and $80 for delivery. Orders are placed through the brand’s website, and a user account must be set up first for identity verification purposes. Once the account is created, customers have access to the art gallery offerings and corresponding gifts. Assuring that customers are 21 or older, the team requires that the name on an order match the valid identification shown at the time of hand-off.
Rather than a menu, since District Derp is not a licensed dispensary, there is a “gift guide” which details the different kinds of appreciative tokens available at the time the painting is purchased.
Flower offerings on the gift guide include strains like Pink Cookies, Papaya Dream, and Big Mac 11. Tahoe OG, White Widow, and Skywalker OG are available in vape cartridges, and edibles include a variety of chocolates, gummies, and an oat bar ranging in potency from 20mg to 65mg.
The star of the edibles has to be the 100mg Atomic Derps, which are described as “a brownie of epic proportions” that include a “cookie layer topped with Oreos, brownies and chocolate ganache.”
The plants harvested to make the tokens of appreciation come from seeds provided by the brand owners that are cultivated off-site by a licensed-caregiver. The edibles are created by the team in their home with extensive product testing and sampling to ensure that the goods are customer-ready before they are ever given out.
Overall, District Derp’s business model seems to value the important things when it comes to distributing cannabis. The brand’s website says that they focus on product quality and customer service. Most importantly, though, there is a cute dog who paints!
The brand also donates to charity. An appropriate choice, a portion of the revenue from selling Sudo’s paintings is donated to Homewards Trails Animal Rescue.
Due to the restrictions placed on nonessential businesses in Washington D.C., District Derp will remain closed until at least June 8. According to the brand’s website, they do plan to reopen when the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
How did Sudo learn to paint?
Sudo’s teammates say that it all started because she had a natural affinity for carrying sticks. She would often carry the stick of her choice, in her mouth, while on walks. Inspired by this, and a challenge from a friend, they created a special stick-like-prototype designed just for her. Sudo’s special doggy paintbrush is a “T-shaped brush that she can hold comfortably and naturally [to] look straight at the canvas while she paints.”
Why doesn’t Washington D.C. have recreational dispensaries?
Voters in Washington D.C. overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71 in November of 2014, effectively ending the prohibition of marijuana in the nation’s capital. The measure did not, however, include a framework for licensing dispensaries or commercial cultivation centers. Despite efforts from local leaders, like city council members and even the mayor, Congress blocked cannabis dispensaries from being allowed in the District. The Congressional block remains in place until at least September of this year.
Medical marijuana is a different story in the District, however, as there are currently seven medical dispensaries open to serve registered patients. Medical dispensaries were deemed essential businesses and have remained operational during the stay-at-home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conditions which qualify a person to apply for a medical marijuana card in Washington D.C. include:
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis
Certain cancer treatments also qualify a person for medical marijuana. These include:
As a beacon of hope for patients in Georgia, an executive director has finally been appointed by the Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the next stages of development for the state’s medical marijuana program.
Andrew Turnage, who has experience as executive director for both the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers and the Georgia Board of Nursing, was selected over four other applicants.
“We have one goal, and that’s to get oil for families in need,” Turnage said to Valdosta Today. “Think about families that have struggled to have their basic needs met during this pandemic. We have families in Georgia that have struggled for years to get this basic need, low-THC oil, and our task will be to ensure that they receive it.”
Turnage came highly recommended for the position by The Goodwin Group, an executive recruiting firm that reportedly consulted with cannabis industry experts before making the recommendation.
“Mr. Turnage not only has the experience The Goodwin Group recommended, but specifically in the area of state licensing, which is essential to getting us up and running and producing low-THC oil,” said the commission’s chairman and principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute, Dr. Christopher Edwards.
Turnage will be responsible for establishing the selection process for licensing cultivation and distribution businesses as well as lab-testing and system regulations. At least six cultivation licenses are expected to be awarded, but the timeline for when the legal distribution system is expected to be in place has not been released.
According to the program’s website, conditions that qualify a person to be able to apply for the Georgia Medical Marijuana Program include:
Cancer, when such diagnosis is end stage or the treatment produces related wasting illness or recalcitrant nausea and vomiting
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage
Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries
Multiple sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage
Parkinson’s disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage
Sickle cell disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage
Tourette’s syndrome, when such syndrome is diagnosed as severe
Autism spectrum disorder, when (a) patient is 18 years of age or more, or (b) patient is less than 18 years of age and diagnosed with severe autism
Alzheimer’s disease, when such disease is severe or end stage
AIDS when such syndrome is severe or end stage
Peripheral neuropathy, when symptoms are severe or end stage
Patient is in hospice program, either as inpatient or outpatient
Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from direct exposure to or witnessing of a trauma for a patient who is at least 18 years of age
A Brief History
It all began in 2015 when Georgia lawmakers approved legislation to allow registered medical marijuana patients in the state to possess and use up to 20 fluid ounces of low-THC cannabis oil. In order to qualify as “low-THC” the oil must contain no more than 5 percent of the psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Last year, the state appointed members to the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, and an executive director was just elected by that board in May of 2020.
In five years of program development, patients still have no way to legally purchase the oil within state lines. Registered patients and caregivers are forced to obtain the medicine on the black market, where it is neither regulated nor lab-tested, or buy it in another state, breaking federal laws to drive it across state lines.
Georgia legislators have been aware all along that a system for distribution needed to be established. In 2017, a top Georgia lawmaker even made headlines when he admitted to smuggling medical marijuana into the state for patients who were suffering.
The chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that translate into the effects felt, and deliver medicinal value to the consumer, are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), work synergistically in a process known as the entourage effect. Simply put, this means that these cannabinoids are more effective when they are able to work as a team than when they are used separately. This is why many proponents insist that whole plant medicine or full spectrum cannabis oils are more effective treatment options than CBD oil that contains 5 percent or less THC. For many patients, low-THC oil and CBD isolates simply are not enough to treat debilitating symptoms.
Now that Georgia is one step closer to providing patients with safe, reliable access to medical cannabis oil, many hope the next step will be expanding the law to include different forms, more methods of delivery, and higher potency options.