ASA Activist Newsletter - Sept 2015
In this issue
- Maryland Taps ASA to Train Cannabis Compliance Inspectors
- Quality Control Testing Evolving in States
- Clock Ticking on Regulation Bill in California
- DOJ Contradicts itself about Cannabis Enforcement
- Michigan and Colorado Reject New Conditions
- New Mexico Expanding Medical Cannabis Cultivation
- First Dispensary Licensed in Illinois
- Georgia Registering Medical Cannabis Patients
- Activist Profile: Remembering Larry Harvey
- ACTION ALERT: Register for Unity 2016 today
Maryland Taps ASA to Train Cannabis Compliance Inspectors
Maryland officials tasked with watching over the state’s emerging medical cannabis program will be trained by the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program, a project of Americans for Safe Access Foundation. The announcement of the decision by Maryland's Natalie M. laPrade Medical Cannabis Commission came shortly after they finalized state regulations in late August at the end of an 18=month process. The PFC-trained auditors will ensure medical cannabis businesses operating in Maryland comply with those regulations.
Maryland will issue 15 licenses to cultivate cannabis, permit two dispensaries for each of the 47 state senate districts and allow an unlimited number of licenses for processors. Applications for permits to cultivate, process and dispense medical cannabis will be available online by Sept. 15. Officials say their state’s program should be operational by 2016 with medicine available to patients in 2017.
Maryland has adopted seed-to-consumption quality control measures for medical cannabis products, including the American Herbal Product Association’s (AHPA) Recommendations to Regulators in the areas of: cultivation, distribution and manufacturing. The PFC program is based on both AHPA standards and those published by the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. PFC has trained thousands of employees of the medical cannabis industry and is currently under contract with the District of Columbia to train all medical cannabis staff on regulatory compliance.
“We are focused on implementing industry best practices to ensure Maryland’s medical cannabis compliance inspectors are the best trained in the nation,” said Hannah Byron, Executive Director of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. “The rigorous regulatory and clinical oversight called for in the ASA PFC program will ensure the safety, security and quality of the medicine being grown, processed, inspected and delivered in our state.”
Maryland has also adopted laboratory requirements based on the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia’s (AHP) cannabis monograph as well as the AHPA guidelines. AHP monographs are commonly used as guidance for regulating botanical medicines by the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the European Union.
Elements of the AHP cannabis monograph and the AHPA cannabis guidelines have been included in regulations in 12 states: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington State. Pennsylvania and California have pending legislation that includes components of these guidance documents.
“The Maryland Commission has created a shining example of how to regulate the medical cannabis industry to ensure patient access and public safety,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. “We are honored that our Patient Focused Certification program can help give patients’ confidence in the safety and quality of medical cannabis products in Maryland.”
The PFC program was developed following a long-term collaboration between ASA, AHPA and the AHP to address product safety and quality control standards for the medical cannabis industry.
Quality Control Testing Evolving in States
Product safety testing required by the state of Nevada has resulted in a shortage of medical cannabis. Many pounds of medicine have been destroyed after pesticides, mycotoxins and heavy metals were detected in the products. Those problems have postponed the opening off at least one dispensary. Nevada now allows dispensary operations, but only a few are open yet.
Nevada is not alone. An expose in Oregon that found products laden with pesticides were making it on to dispensary shelves. A study in Colorado found many medical cannabis products were mislabeled as to their potency and content, and the city of Denver six months ago began a crackdown on the presence of pesticides in products. A follow up study just published this week by the Denver Post found that banned pesticides are still present in some products, though most were in conformance with regulation.
“Patients and the public alike should be able to trust the medical cannabis products distributed under state oversight,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “That’s why sensible regulations based on the best-practice standards developed by the American Herbal Products Association and the American Herbal Pharmacopeia are so important.”
Oregon’s medical marijuana rules do not prohibit many of the pesticides detected in independent analysis, but of the 14 found, six have been identified by federal health officials as posing potential cancer risks. Colorado and Washington State provide cannabis cultivators with guidelines for pesticide use and oversee tests, but many say they do not go far enough. Oregon does not exercise oversight of labs responsible for testing medical cannabis.
Clock Ticking on Regulation Bill in California
As the legislative session enters its final days, California lawmakers may be poised to finally take the regulatory action on medical cannabis that voters directed them to with the passage of Proposition 215 nearly 20 years ago. The session has seen numerous medical cannabis measures introduced, modified and merged, but the big move came at the end of August, when Assembly Bill 266, the product of long wrangling over provisions governing all aspects of medical cannabis production and distribution, was amended by the Senate Appropriates Committee to simply a dozen words: “It is the intention of the state legislature to regulate medical marijuana.” It was passed 5:1.
The reason for the sudden restart was apparently Governor Jerry Brown’s intervention, though his office has refused comment. His aides have reportedly been “heavily involved” in crafting a more streamlined regulatory system for commercial production and distribution of medical cannabis.
Friday, September 11 is the last day the legislature can pass a bill this session. The last-minute negotiations and the tight time frame for taking action, with only a few days left for the legislature to act, makes it difficult for citizen lobbyists and advocacy groups to have a voice in what emerges. But lawmakers say they are motivated to establish the type of comprehensive regulation the U.S. Department of Justice has said states must adopt in order to avoid federal interference.
Those who have seen the draft language say all production and distribution other than the basic rights created by Prop 215 for patients and caregivers will be classified as regulated commercial activity. Some type of product testing and labeling is likely to be required, and commercial cultivation will likely be limited by square footage rather than plant counts. Separation between cultivation and retail operations has been proposed, with separate licenses for transporting medical cannabis products commercially.
One bill that has already made it through the legislature and gotten the Governor’s signature already is Senate Bill 212, which creates additional penalties for anyone convicted of operating a butane extraction operation within 300 feet of a residence. Butane extraction processes for cannabis were already prohibited in California because of risks of fire and explosion. Colorado and Washington allow butane extraction but only by licensed operations.
DOJ Contradicts itself about Cannabis Enforcement
Last month, it was revealed that the Department of Justice told Congress that the effect of limiting their budget on medical cannabis enforcement would be just the opposite of what they now claim. When Congress was considering passing the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the DOJ sent out talking points saying that it would effectively "limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well." The DOJ now says that the amendment limits them not at all in enforcing federal prohibition by prosecuting or pursuing civil asset forfeiture against individuals -- whether patients, caregivers, or recreational users – regardless of state laws.
"The February 27, 2015 DOJ memo shows that they were providing either deliberately misleading statements or, at the very least, contradictory and confusing messages in their talking points in opposition to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that was offered to protect citizen access and participation in state-level medical cannabis programs,” said ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski. “ The language of the amendment and numerous statements clarifying the intent of the bill's sponsors make it clear that DOJ is barred from interfering with conduct that is legal under a given state's medical marijuana law.”
A spokesman for the DOJ defended the original talking points when questioned by the Huffington Post, claiming the talking points were merely “informal guidance,” not a legal opinion. He said the DOJ’s current position is that their ability to prosecute private citizens or business entities was unaffected by the amendment, despite the floor debate, the strenuous protests of the bill’s authors, and the DOJ’s own talking points.
“If actual fulfillment of the state medical marijuana laws is not achieved due to federal investigations, raids, arrests, prosecution and incarceration, then by definition state implementation of these laws is being interfered with,” said ASA’s Liszewski. “It is not possible to accomplish the purpose of the state medical marijuana laws if patients, caregivers, physicians, cultivators, providers, landlords, etc. are being thwarted from engaging in this conduct due to federal interference, which is why it is prohibited by the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment.”
Michigan and Colorado Reject New Conditions
Last month, a state official in Michigan rejected a medical panel’s recommendation that autism be added to the list of qualifying conditions. That comes a month after Colorado officials rejected an attempt to add post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to its list. Both moves elicited complaints from advocates and actions aimed at revisiting the decisions.
In Michigan, three years of lobbying by parents and advocates to add autism resulted at the end of July in a 4-2 vote in favor by the review panel of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). That recommendation was overruled in September by LARA Director Mike Zimmer, who said he was concerned that medical cannabis would be used with children who are only mildly autistic.
The review panel’s original vote was delayed eight days when LARA staffers admitted that they had withheld from the panel many hundreds of pages of supporting research that had been submitted by the petitioners, led by the mother of a 6-year-old boy with autism.
In Colorado, by a vote of 6-2, the state Board of Health for the third time rejected an attempt to add PTSD to the state’s qualifying conditions, despite the recommendation of the state’s chief medical officer. . The decision came in mid July, and last month a group of five patients, four of whom are veterans, filed suit against the state in response. Many veterans report cannabis alleviates their PTSD symptoms, and a federally approved research study on treating veterans with cannabis has received a multi-million dollar grant from the state of Colorado.
Legislation to make the change was introduced last year but failed to advance. Nine states list PTSD as a condition for which cannabis is an approved treatment.
New Mexico Expanding Medical Cannabis Cultivation
Years of medical cannabis shortages in New Mexico are being addressed by issuing new licenses to cultivate. The state’s Department of Health (DOH) announced August 31 that 17 applicants made the cut from a pool of 84 seeking medical cannabis production licenses. No new cultivation licenses have been issued since 2010.
Sometime this month, DOH Secretary Retta Ward will select from those 17 finalists the applicants who will receive state licenses to serve the more than 16,000 patients enrolled in the program. The applications and the information in them, including the identities of the applicants, are confidential, but the state is working on creating more transparency in the program.
State health officials have already approved plans for ten of the 23 cultivation operations already licensed to increase the number of plants from 150 to the maximum of 450 the state allows under its new rules. Six others will increase production to fewer than 400 but more than 200 plants.
First Dispensary Licensed in Illinois
The city of Marion is home to the first medical cannabis dispensary to be licensed in Illinois. The dispensary, named Harbory, will receive medical cannabis products from one of the state’s licensed cultivation centers, once it is available. A statement from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which is responsible for the licensing, says “Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will continue to be registered on a rolling basis.” Approved dispensaries will be listed online at www.idfpr.com as they are approved.
Georgia Registering Medical Cannabis Patients
Nearly 200 residents of the state of Georgia have registered to be part of its two-month-old medical cannabis program. An estimated 500,000 Georgians are eligible, which allows only extracts with low levels of THC, the cannabis component responsible for psychoactive effects.
Currently, cannabis cannot be cultivated in the state or legally purchased, but lawmakers are considering allowing it in the future and expanding conditions that qualify.
Activist Profile: Remembering Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey, a retired long-haul trucker and commercial fisherman from Northeastern Washington State who inspired a change in federal medical cannabis policy, passed away August 20 at the age of 71 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Larry became the face of continued federal interference with state medical cannabis programs after he and members of his family were charged in a case that came to be known as the Kettle Falls Five. Federal charges followed a raid by state law enforcement that found several dozen cannabis plants being cultivated on Larry’s rural property, where he lived with his wife. Larry, his wife, two other family members and a family friend all faced charges that carried a mandatory minimum of 10 years in federal prison.
Under pressure from prosecutors, the family friend took a plea deal, but Larry not only stood firm but travelled twice to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which cut off funds for interference with state programs. His trips to the Capitol paid off, and the amendment passed last year.
His fearless activism earned Larry ASA’s Patient Lobbyist of the Year award at the national Unity conference last year. Sadly, he was too sick to travel to accept it, but the government dismissed charges against him shortly after and returned his beloved motorcycle, which had been seized in the raid along with other personal property. His wife and the other two remaining defendants were acquitted of all but one lesser charge and await sentencing. Everyone at Americans for Safe Access joins his family in mourning the passing of a courageous man.
ASA Blog remembering Larry, by Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski
ACTION ALERT: Register for Unity 2016 today
Register now for the 2016 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference at the Lowes Madison Hotel in Washington, DC, March 18-22, 2016. Early Bird prices are in effect.
The Unity conference is your place to learn best practices, exchange ideas and learn how to navigate this new political landscape. This conference will provide professional development and leadership training in all areas of advocacy, including federal, state and local government relations, public affairs, community relations, public policy, legislation, Congressional relations, community activism, political engagement and campaigns.
Register today at nationalmedicalcannabisunityconference.org.
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