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.
Not one, but two medical marijuana initiatives are set to appear on the ballot this November in Mississippi.
Initiatives 65 and 65A would amend Mississippi’s state constitution to allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to access medical marijuana after having been approved by a licensed physician.
The process of getting these amendments on the ballot began in September 2019, when the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign submitted 214,000 signatures collected from local Mississippians in support of the initiative. In order for an initiated constitutional amendment to make it to the ballot in The Magnolia State, sponsors are required to garner signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes in the previous year’s gubernatorial race. For 2020, the number required was 86,185.
When voters show up to the polls in November, they will face a two-part question. First, they will be asked to vote for “either measure” if they support either initiative 65 or 65A, or “neither measure” if they want neither measure to pass.
Regardless of the answer to the first question, voters will then be asked which of the two initiatives they prefer. If the “either measure” gets the most votes, then the version of the initiative that received majority support will be enacted.
The Differences Between 65 and 65A
Initiative 65 contains much more specific language regarding the stipulations around who can use medical marijuana, and how much they can possess at a time, than its alternative 65A.
Under initiative 65 there are 22 specified conditions that could qualify a patient for access to medical marijuana including cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, HIV, and more. Patients would be allowed to possess 2.5 ounces at a time, and would be prohibited from smoking cannabis in public spaces. Medical marijuana sales would be taxed at the state’s current sales tax rate of 7 percent, and the costs of a medical marijuana patient ID card would be capped at $50.
In contrast, Initiative 65A makes no specifications for qualifying conditions, tax rates, possession limits, restricts medical marijuana usage only to “terminally ill patients,” and would require medical marijuana treatments to be overseen by a physician. Because of the vagueness of the language in 65A, many of these details would need to be decided by the state legislature. House Democrats have made the argument that 65A is “designed to confuse voters by placing a similar initiative on November’s ballot to dilute the vote to legalize medical marijuana. … The sole intention of HCR 39 [65A] is to mislead and confuse voters and kill a measure for which the majority of Mississippians are in favor.”
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) has come out in support of the initiative saying, “legalizing medical marijuana just makes sense.”
Representative Bomgar is quoted saying:
“Almost everybody seems to know somebody who could have benefited from medical marijuana or who lives in another state and did benefit from medical marijuana. When you have almost everybody in Mississippi that knows somebody, has an experience, or knows someone in another state, it just starts to make no sense to anyone that 33 states allow medical marijuana and Mississippi is one of 17 that does not.”
Opposition to Initiative 65
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell is worried that legalized medical marijuana would make more work for the officers in his department. Ezell said, “The sheriff’s office now answers between 26 and 2,800 calls a month. You add marijuana to this mix and, you know the teenagers and young adults, they’re gonna get it. It’s just like we talked about earlier with the brownies and the gummies and all the things they bring back from Colorado. We’ve made a number of arrests since I’ve been in office.”
Member of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s board of directors, Edward Langton, doesn’t believe Initiative 65 is the right way to bring medical marijuana to his state and is skeptical of its proponents. “Wealthy millionaires are trying to establish a new industry, a cartel in Mississippi for marijuana. That’s basically what it boils down to. When people spend $3 million, you can’t say they woke up that morning to be compassionate and provide something medical for people, to make them better.” Langton said.
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.
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.
Members of the New Zealand parliament have been negotiating a cannabis legalization referendum for more than two years now, and the final details of that bill have officially been released. The cannabis legalization and control referendum will appear on the general election ballot in September, and the people of New Zealand will make the final decision.
The legislation, called the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, aims to establish a legal system and framework for regulating the possession, use, sale, and cultivation of cannabis in New Zealand.
“It has taken two and a half years of negotiation behind the scenes across our Parliament and decades of work by activist, advocates and researchers, who have sought to understand how best to create an evidence-informed approach to reduce drug harm in our communities,” Green Party drug reform spokesperson and member of parliament Chlöe Swarbrick said in video. “We are taking this conversation out of petty partisan politics and placing it in the hands of you.”
The Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill, if approved, will regulate how adults in New Zealand can consume, cultivate, and buy or sell marijuana for recreational purposes. Members of parliament report that they crafted this bill carefully, with the idea of harm-reduction in mind, to protect Kiwis of all ages throughout every part of the country.
If approved, adults of at least 20 years of age will be permitted to purchase up to 14 grams of dried marijuana per day from a licensed facility. Like in the coffee-shops of the Netherlands, of-age Kiwis will also be able to consume cannabis on-site at licensed businesses. Each adult will be permitted to cultivate up to two cannabis plants at home with a maximum of only four plants per household. While it will remain illegal for any individual to sell cannabis to another person, they will be allowed to gift or share up to 14 grams.
Members of the New Zealand Parliament recognize that people are going to consume cannabis whether authorities approve of it or not. Under the current system where recreational marijuana is illegal, black market dealers make all of the profit, and the health of consumers is at the mercy of the unregulated cultivators.
Buying cannabis on the black market can be dangerous because the plants are grown without strict regulations and quality control measures in place. This means that a grower may use harmful chemicals and the consumer would be none the wiser.
Purchasing cannabis that has been lab-tested for contaminants from a licensed retail facility protects the consumer, thereby reducing harm to the people of New Zealand. Licensed retailers also prevent children from being able to make purchases by checking identification, something black market dealers are not commonly known to do.
If the people of New Zealand choose to approve the referendum in September, legal cannabis purchases will be taxed, and the tax revenue is estimated to be as much as $490 million each year.
According to a recent survey conducted by Horizon Research, 54 percent of people support legalizing cannabis in New Zealand. The poll also found that 83 percent of respondents believe that the current system of prohibition is not working, and 72 percent report that “having controls for growing and selling cannabis for personal use would be better for society.”
The most recent survey, conducted in March of this year, showed a six-point increase in support from a similar one that was taken in November 2019.
“Over the next six months, Kiwis need to consider who they ultimately want to control the cannabis market. It’s either gangs or government. Through regulation you can ensure product quality, a safer environment for Kiwis, and significant tax revenue for healthcare,” said Mr. Manning of the New Zealand medical marijuana company Helius Therapeutics.
The practice of social-distancing because of the Covid-19 pandemic has effectively hit the pause-button on some voter-backed legalization measures in states like Missouri and Montana this year, but according to Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas, lawmakers in her state still aim to move forward with the legalization of medical marijuana.
With the coronavirus limiting the amount of time lawmakers have left to make decisions this year, they are forced to prioritize topics. Gov. Kelly says legalizing medical cannabis and expanding the state’s Medicaid program are at the top of the priority list for lawmakers to discuss when they come back. If a measure to legalize medical cannabis reaches Kelly’s desk, she plans to sign it.
“There’s been some discussion about legalizing medical marijuana, and I think that discussion continues,” Kelly told local news outlet KSNT. “I think if it actually was able to come to a vote, I think that it probably would pass the legislature.”
The entire state Legislature originally planned to reconvene on April 27, but after the state’s stay-at-home orders were extended through May 3, plans changed. Now, only the Legislative Coordinating Committee will reconvene on May 6, and then committee members will decide when the rest of the legislature will meet again.
What would a medical marijuana market look like in Kansas?
Smoking dried cannabis flowers would not likely be a permitted method of delivery for patients in Kansas because according to Sen. Bud Estes (R-Dodge City), Ohio has the right idea when it comes to medical marijuana regulations.
“The Ohio bill…comes the closest to doing what we feel like we should be doing here in Kansas,” Estes told KCUR.
Gov. Kelly’s picture of what retail medical marijuana looks like seems to be aligned with Estes’. “I have always said that I want it well regulated so that it’s controlled and it doesn’t get…so that it’s not the first step to the legalization of marijuana,” said Kelly. “I want it to be seen as a pharmaceutical.”
The policy structure in Ohio does not allow patients to smoke or combust dried flowers, but vaporizing them is acceptable as long as the heating element does not make direct contact with the product.
Edible forms of medical cannabis, such as gummies and brownies, would most likely be available in Kansas as well as topical forms like lotions and balms. In Ohio, transdermal patches are also an option for patients, but lawmakers have not reported whether or not patches will be on the shelves if it is legalized in Kansas.
What about recreational legalization?
While Gov. Kelly has said that legalizing recreational marijuana for adults is not a top priority or even a goal for the future, she is not completely opposed to it.
When asked if she would approve legislation to legalize the recreational sale and use in The Sunflower State, Kelly said she would probably sign it if that is what voters wanted and lawmakers sent it to her desk.
The majority of voters in Kansas are actually in favor of recreational legalization according to the Kansas Speaks Fall 2019 Statewide Public Opinion Survey.
The survey, conducted from August 26 to October 14, 2019, revealed that 61.3 percent of participants are in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and over, in order to generate tax-revenue for the state from product sales. According to the survey, 25.8 percent of respondents oppose recreational legalization.