State of the Leaf: The Battle for the BallotLisa RoughAugust 25, 2016
U.S. News Updates
Alaska USA Federal Credit Union has begun shuttering the personal accounts of customers who have applied to be a part of the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry. So far at least 10 accounts have been restricted, with account holders required to have closed their accounts by Aug. 19. A letter from the credit union said that Alaska USA does not “offer account services to any person or organization engaged in the operation of a marijuana-related business.” Cary Carrigan, director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, acknowledged the need for federal banking institutions to maintain legal compliance, but the policing of personal bank accounts is a new development. On top of that, none of the applicants have even begun legal sales of cannabis. “This all seems a bit premature,” Carrigan said. “It doesn’t make sense for the banking industry to go after people who are only applying for licenses.”
A Maricopa County judge threw out a legal challenge to Arizona’s legalization initiative. Opponents of Proposition 205 argued that the 100-word description of the proposed initiative did not include enough details for voters to understand the scope of the bill. However, Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry ruled that there was “no ability to prepare a summary that would comply with the 100-word limit and with [opponents’] objections,” and that a law passed by the Arizona Legislature limits lawsuits that challenge the legality of initiative petitions. Proposition 205, which would legalize adult use in the state, has already secured a spot on the ballot, but Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has vowed that it will continue to fight the proposition up until the election.
A second initiative to legalize medical cannabis in Arkansas just submitted an additional 34,804 signatures in hope of securing a spot on November’s general election ballot. Little Rock attorney David Couch has already submitted 72,309 verified signatures, but the would-be measure needs 84,859 valid signatures in order to qualify. Secretary of State Mark Martin has already verified the total number of signatures for a competing ballot measure, from Arkansans for Compassionate Care. Now some supporters are concerned that the two measures could divide voters, giving neither initiative enough support to pass.
Montana’s embattled medical marijuana scene was struck another blow when a Helena judge rejected a request to delay enforcement of newly imposed restrictions on cannabis distribution. U.S. District Judge James Reynolds ruled that as of Aug. 31, medical marijuana providers will be restricted to serving no more than three patients total. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling in April, which left patients and providers scrambling to find a solution that would allow the state’s 13,640 patients to access medicinal marijuana. In the months since, medical marijuana dispensaries have faced raids, and supporters and opponents have submitted dueling voter initiatives. One such measure to reverse the court decision, Initiative 182, has secured a place on November’s ballot. Due to an error in the measure’s text, however, the effects of I-182 may be delayed by 6 months if it passes.
The New Mexico Department of Health announced that it will extend the re-enrollment period for medical marijuana patients by up to 60 days to account for a backlog of applications still waiting to be processed by state officials. The extension is essentially a failsafe to ensure that patients’ enrollments don’t lapse while they are awaiting renewals. The department has faced delays due to an unexpectedly large number of patient applications and an understaffed agency in charge of processing them. At the height of the backlog, applications could take as long as 120 days to process, much longer than the 30 days required by state law. State Auditor Tim Keller warned that the situation was creating a public health emergency that could lead to costly lawsuits. The re-enrollment extension will allow patients with expired registry cards to continue to purchase cannabis from licensed producers in the interim, so long as they carry the expired card with them. Department officials have hired extra employees to bring the application processing time down to a target of 42 days, or about week longer than normal.
The Ohio Controlling Board has allotted $1.8 million to the Department of Commerce and the Ohio Pharmacy Board to begin regulatory duties for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. Gov. John Kasich signed the state’s medical marijuana measure into law in June. It will take effect Sept. 18, with full implementation expected by September 2018. The funds will be divided between the two agencies, with $882,400 going to the pharmacy board for oversight staff, dispensary licensing, and the creation of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. The state Commerce Department will receive $923,077 for the licensing of growers, processors, and testing laboratories. Information for prospective patients will be made available through a new government website.
Secretary of State Chris Benge announced that Oklahoma’s medical marijuana proposal officially has enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot. It’s slated to appear as State Question 788, but the battle isn’t over yet. Oklahoma’s attorney general will have five business days to review the ballot title. In the event that the proposed title is found to be lacking, the AG has 10 business days to submit a revised ballot title. Once the ballot title has been announced, members of the public may challenge it and/or the validity of the submitted signatures. Only then will the measure be placed on the ballot.
Revenue from Oregon’s legal cannabis sales is coming in faster than officials expected. Oregon raked in $25.5 million in cannabis taxes from January through the end of July, when the state’s 25-percent excise tax took effect. Officials had initially expected amount of revenue from the excise tax to be about $8.4 million, but new estimates place revenue at $35 million and rising.
International News Updates
The president of Guyana says he is open to easing a ban on the personal use of marijuana in the South American country, the Associated Press reports. President David Granger said during his weekly TV appearance Thursday that his Cabinet will soon be reviewing marijuana regulation as part of a broader effort to reduce prison overcrowding. Granger said the government is not in favor of decriminalization. But the president said personal use of the drug “would be given consideration” with a proposal to eliminate jail time for possession of less than 15 grams of the drug. The Cabinet is awaiting a report from the Health Ministry before taking up the matter. Guyana is part of the Caribbean Community trade organization, which has begun a formal review of marijuana regulation across the region.
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center have spent the last three years working to perfect cannabis cultivation. It hasn’t been an easy road, according to senior research scientist Dr. Nirit Bernstein. In fact, the research has been so controversial that, despite a research license from the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit, the entire operation was shrouded in a cloak of secrecy. Only a select few researchers were allowed to know where the plants were being kept. Ever since a June 26 decision by the government to regulate the medical cannabis sector, however, research at the Volcani Center is now in the public eye. The center is in the process of building a National Center for Research in Medical Cannabis, scheduled to be completed in mid-2017. In addition, the Agriculture Ministry also announced a NIS 8 million (USD $2.125 million) research fund specifically devoted to medical cannabis cultivation. Data will be available to all academics in Israel.