The question of whether individuals should be allowed grow their own marijuana in states where it is legal has created discord among those who otherwise agree on broad cannabis reform, with advocates working to expand access while certain companies take an opposing stance.
The latest example comes out of New Hampshire, where a lobbyist representing the medical marijuana dispensary Sanctuary ATC testified this week against a bill that would allow patients and caregivers to cultivate cannabis.
But after the testimony was delivered to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday, advocates sounded the alarm and the CEO of the company said it was all a big misunderstanding.
The lobbyist, Michael McLaughlin, argued before lawmakers that the legislation would drive up retail prices, pose health concerns and undermine New Hampshire’s regulatory system.
Many patients and legalization advocates view a home grow option as a basic principle that should be permitted in all states where marijuana is legal. They see it as a civil liberties issue and a way to offer access to those who can’t afford retail prices.
But Sanctuary, based in Plymouth, New Hampshire, didn’t make that case when the company’s hired lobbyist appeared before lawmakers this week.
Instead, McLaughlin told the panel members that the legislation, if enacted, would essentially represent a breach of an agreement that the government made with cannabis licensees, which invested significant capital into the medical cannabis program under the impression that patients wouldn’t be allow to grow their own and would, therefore, have to spend their money at dispensaries.
New Hampshire lawmakers approved a medical marijuana in 2013, but the first dispensaries, including Sanctuary, didn’t open until 2016.
“We have a therapeutic cannabis program that’s a little under three years old, and the economics of the therapeutic cannabis centers is dramatic and millions of dollars have been invested,” McLaughlin said. “The whole compact between the people who are licensed in the state is undermined immediately by putting home grown cannabis into the equation.”
While the witness raised other concerns about ensuring quality control and enforcement standards for cannabis products, the financial matters received the greatest emphasis. He argued that three years wasn’t enough time to get the return on investment needed to expand the company, and said prices on medicine would be increased if the bill passed.
“You’re going to hear some poignant stories from patients who are using therapeutic cannabis, and we have great empathy for them, but if you look at what the state asked the three licensees to do, which is invest millions and millions of dollars in a program for New Hampshire citizens, you’re now saying to them, ‘Well, we’ve changed our mind.'”
But Sanctuary CEO Jason Sidman told Marijuana Moment that McLaughlin inadvertently misrepresented the company’s position and that it actually supports the legislation. He said that there were certain amendments the company wanted to see—mostly concerning certain definitions included in the bill—but that he’d never even heard of arguments the lobbyist made about the economic impact of allowing home cultivation.
He also rejected the idea that permitting patients and caregivers to grow cannabis would drive up prices at dispensaries.
“At the end of the day, I believe that it’s every patient’s right to cultivate their own medicine should they choose,” Sidman said. “I just think that there has to be—some of the definitions surrounding this bill really need to be clarified. And of course, again, that’s just our opinion.”
“I wish I was there yesterday, but all I can do now is just basically move forward, clarify Sanctuary’s position and support the therapeutic cannabis program and our patients to the best of our ability,” he said.
To correct the record, Sidman said he plans to submit a letter to the committee chairman and members to explain that Sanctuary does not oppose the legislation, which was approved by the full House earlier this month, and to clarify what changes to the bill the company does support.
“There could have been some possible miscommunications between our thoughts surrounding HB 364, and I think that this clarification will really clear that up,” he said.
While it seems unusual that Sanctuary’s lobbyist would visit the legislature and deliver both written and oral testimony without first running it by the company’s chief executive, the alleged miscommunication could represent an unexpected opportunity for advocates. Sidman’s letter, which he said he’d deliver by Thursday at latest, could ultimately bolster efforts to pass the home grow legislation.
“The public testimony offered on Tuesday by Sanctuary’s lobbyist in opposition to HB 364 was very offensive to patients who feel strongly about being allowed to grow their own plants,” Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “However, Sanctuary CEO Jason Sidman seems to be very sincere about helping to pass HB 364.”
“For the sake of patients who cannot afford to continue waiting, I hope our efforts to persuade the Senate will be successful this year,” he said. “Taking care of your own medical needs should not be a felony in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to McLaughlin for comment, but he did not respond by the time of publication.
Outside of this specific example, conflicts between advocates and industry interests are heating up. Legislatures across the country are seeing calls to go beyond simply legalizing a commercial cannabis market and also take steps to ensure that small businesses, people of color, women and others from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition are not left in the dust as large companies take over the industry.
That’s partly why there was widespread condemnation after Marijuana Moment reported last month that a New York-based medical marijuana business association advocated against home cultivation in a policy statement submitted to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The association, comprised of large companies like Vireo Health, Acreage, Columbia Care and, at the time, MedMen, did not directly indicate that their opposition was profit-driven, but advocates said they suspected money was at the bottom of the recommendation not to let people grow their own marijuana.
In New Hampshire, while the bill to allow home cultivation of medical cannabis advances through the legislature, lawmakers are also working to pass legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use after the full House, and then a key committee, approved the proposal.
You can read the home cultivation testimony from the Sanctuary lobbyist here:
You can read a letter from Sanctuary’s CEO clarifying its position below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Idaho Senator Files Bill To Decriminalize Drug Possession
A new bill filed by an Idaho senator would decriminalize possession of currently illegal drugs in the state, though it also contains a provision that advocates consider troubling, allowing the government to involuntarily commit people convicted of certain offenses to treatment.
Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D) introduced the legislation, which would remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession by “requiring intention to deliver for criminal trafficking.”
Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment the bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Rules Committee, where Chairman Todd Lakey (R) has agreed to hold a hearing on it.
“We have too much of a focus on prosecution and punishment and not enough on treatment,” Burgoyne said in a separate interview with KTVB. “We don’t have a functioning mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment capability for the needs of our people. We need new strategies, how we draw the lines between what is criminal conduct and what is not criminal conduct when it comes to drug possession and usage.”
The bill sets different possession thresholds for different drugs. Having just two grams of heroin could be considered trafficking, while for cocaine and methamphetamine, the amount is set at 28 grams. One pound of marijuana, or 25 plants, could be treated as a trafficking offense.
Any amount of LSD could be considered a trafficking offense, as could any amount of a “simulated controlled substance,” possibly referring to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Using drugs with friends would also be harshly penalized, as “sharing or providing a controlled substance for use by another person shall constitute intent to deliver.”
“This will reduce arrests, but how much is very hard to predict,” Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, illegal drug use, even in private, is too often accompanied by the commission of other crimes, which my bill does not excuse and which could lead to arrest.”
Burgoyne’s bill would also allow people using drugs to be “placed in protective custody” or “admitted for community-assisted behavioral health treatment.” This would apply to people under the influence and in various circumstances, such as being pregnant, posing a risk to themselves or others or in withdrawal.
But existing research on mandatory drug treatment suggests it is not helpful for people with substance use disorder. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found that when people are ordered to undergo drug treatment without their informed consent, the practice does more harm than good and does not reduce their drug use. The researchers explained that harm reduction efforts like syringe exchanges and drug education were more effective.
“Although there is some theoretical danger of adverse consequences to mandated drug treatment, we already mandate it for prisoners with drug issues,” Burgoyne said. “I’d like to shift treatment out of our jails and prisons to a more appropriate place. Furthermore, a civil commitment is not an easy thing to obtain, and I think our courts will be conservative in how they handle them.”
If the senator’s legislation passes, it remains to be seen what effect it would have on drug arrest rates in Idaho. According to the FBI, in 2017 Idaho had 8,432 arrests for “drug abuse violations,” which is a little over 16 percent of all arrests that year.
Burgoyne’s reform proposal comes amid a growing national debate about the value of decriminalizing drug use over more arrests. Last year in May, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms. Oakland’s City Council followed the next month by decriminalizing a wide range of psychedelics.
Advocates are also raising the issue on the national stage. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed decriminalizing drug consumption in November. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed decriminalizing drug possession and reducing sentences. His primary opponent, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), recently called for legalizing and regulating drugs in order to treat substance misuse as a public health issue.
Photo coutersy of Markus Spiske.
U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Annual Speech
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) repeated his call for marijuana legalization in his annual State of the Territory address.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who called the legislature into a special session last month to begin taking up cannabis reform legislation, stressed that establishing a commercial marijuana market would bring in needed tax revenue to support a variety of government programs.
The proposed amendment to the territory’s existing medical cannabis law, which Bryan signed last year, would allow adults 21 and older to obtain a license from the government in order to purchase and cultivate marijuana. It would also promote participation in the industry by small farmers and local businesses, as well as providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions.
“Most importantly, it creates a taxing regime for the local industry that will generate higher revenues than the current law allows,” he said in the speech last Monday, noting that tax revenue will be distributed between the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) fund (75 percent), implementation of regulations (20 percent) and services for senior citizens (5 percent).
“The revenues generated from this industry can benefit the system as a direct contribution,” the governor said. “However, the goal is to create a funding stream that is reliable enough to ultimately support a revenue bond that can provide a needed cash infusion to the system.”
Watch Bryan’s marijuana comments, first reported by Vibe High, about 36:24 into the video below:
“This is by no means the panacea or final solution for the GERS crisis, but a small part of a larger solution,” he continued. “It begins the process of generating the new revenues required to stave off the insolvency of the System. It takes existing policy, approved by this body, and leverages it to support this critical area of need.”
“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits to the GERS,” he said. “I urge this body to take the necessary action to approve the amending legislation we have proposed.”
Bryan’s proposal calls for a 30 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue expected to be upwards of $20 million annually. His administration is also expecting the policy change to stimulate tourism, and visitors interested in participating in the market would be charged a $10 per day fee to access legal cannabis.
This year has seen several governors voice support for marijuana reform during their high-profile annual addresses and in legislative agendas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reaffirmed his commitment to legalization in his State of the State speech and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pledged to pursue decriminalization, for example.
In New Mexico, the governor included legalization in her 2020 agenda, and lawmakers followed suit by filing a cannabis reform bill on Thursday. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) proposed legalizing marijuana through a state-run model in a budget proposal released on Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is calling for the U.S. to legalize currently illicit drugs.
“If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we’re no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need,” the 2020 presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.