As state and local governments across the U.S. shutter businesses and prohibit gatherings in an attempt to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical marijuana patients and advocates are urging policymakers not to close down cannabis dispensaries completely.
Such a move, they warn, would leave hundreds of thousands of patients stranded without access to medicine, and many would have no choice but to turn to the illicit market.
In an “emergency call to action” sent Monday to governors of legal medical marijuana states, Americans for Safe Access, a leading nonprofit medical cannabis advocacy group, asked the officials to take immediate steps to ensure that patients have access to products during a period of social distancing that has no clear end in sight.
Yesterday, we sent a letter to governors and directors of state medical cannabis programs asking them to take immediate action to ensure that patients continue to have access to medical cannabis and that the supply chain is not interrupted. #SafeAccesshttps://t.co/MjhTK4pkN1
— Americans4SafeAccess (@SafeAccess) March 17, 2020
The letter came the same day that San Francisco’s Department of Public Health ordered all dispensaries in the city closed, announcing that both storefront dispensaries and delivery services “are not considered an ‘essential business’” and will need to close as of Tuesday.
San Francisco cannabis dispensaries, briefly beneficiaries of coronavirus-induced buying panic, are now shuttered. Ordered closed starting tomorrow by order of city Department of Public Health, joining bars and restaurants. Delivery also banned. No medicine for patients. pic.twitter.com/IYknfvvZ9A
— Chris Roberts (@cbloggy) March 17, 2020
Other jurisdictions are taking more proactive approaches to meeting patient needs. In Pennsylvania, dispensaries are expected to remain open because they fall into the same classification as pharmacies. In Michigan and Illinois, officials have temporarily allowed curbside pickups at cannabis retail stores in order to allow medical patients and consumers access to marijuana while limiting the spread of the virus from person to person.
Medical marijuana dispensaries deemed "essential" and won't be told to close, according to PA Health Department. They're akin to pharmacies, said health spokesman. All bars, liquor stores and eat-in restaurants, however, have been asked to go dark for at least two weeks.
— sam wood (@SamWoodIII) March 14, 2020
In its letter to governors, ASA recommends that policymakers take steps now to protect cannabis patients and ensure they have access to medical marijuana in coming months. It lists eight measures to put into place “immediately to ensure that patients do not have disrupted access to their medicine”:
- Make sure that cannabis businesses that serve patients are considered “essential” businesses.
- Instruct medical cannabis businesses on how they can make legal temporary changes to their business plans, including delivery and purchase limits, to accommodate patients and staff during the crisis.
- Give tax relief to patients and businesses.
- Allow cultivation and processing centers to stay open to ensure a steady supply of medicine in the future.
- Extend the expiration dates of state-issued cannabis identification cards so that doctors and other health care providers can focus on COVID-19.
- Permit authorized caregivers to serve additional patients during the crisis period.
- Allow telehealth visits for new and renewing medical cannabis patients.
- Allow dispensaries to deliver medical cannabis to qualifying patients and caregivers in vehicles parked in the dispensary parking lots.
ASA is also asking concerned citizens to write to their governors, insisting that patient access to cannabis be protected during the pandemic.
Medical marijuana patients “represent some of the states’ most vulnerable citizens,” ASA interim Director Debbie Churgai said in the letter. “We are calling on states to take precautions now to help ensure that patients have access today and that measures are taken to ensure that the supply chain is not interrupted.”
Summit County and the towns in the county are ordering restaurants, bars and retail shops with general foot traffic to close at 10pm to slow the spread of COVID-19. Banks grocery stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, pharmacies and gas stations can stay open. #9News pic.twitter.com/yeEONKlrzD
— Matt Renoux (@MattRenoux) March 16, 2020
As officials scramble to determine which businesses can remain open during the outbreak, jurisdictions so far have taken a variety of approaches to marijuana availability, for both patients and adult non-medical consumers. In Massachusetts, medical dispensaries “have been advised they may consider the promotion and geographic expansion of delivery service,” the state Cannabis Control Commission said in a release last week, “and to remind patients of the ability to acquire up to a 60-day medical grade marijuana supply.
Dispensaries are to remain open in Puerto Rico, too, where the Department of Health announced on Monday that the medical cannabis industry will be excluded from the governor’s recent mandatory shutdown order there.
Parts of Colorado are also allowing dispensaries to stay open. Summit County, for example, will allow cannabis retailers to remain open, along with liquor stores, gas stations, banks, grocery stores and pharmacies.
And in the Netherlands, the country’s iconic coffeeshops are staying open, but they’re no longer social destinations. For the foreseeable future, only to-go sales are allowed.
— Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum (@HempMuseumBCN) March 17, 2020
In other areas such as Washington State, individual businesses have adopted policies designed to limit interaction between visitors and avoid spreading coronavirus. Lines have begun to grow on sidewalks as stores restrict the number of people inside at one time. To help speed transactions, businesses are asking customers to place orders in advance through online menus.
Complicating the social-distancing effort is the fact that delivery services remain illegal in the state for both medical and adult-use marijuana, forcing patients and customers to show up in person. Home cultivation is allowed only for state-licensed medical patients.
Other cannabis-related efforts have seen obstacles as COVID-19 spreads through the country.
In California, organizers behind a proposed ballot initiative to expand cannabis access (including filmmaker Kevin Smith and actor Jason Mewes of “Jay and Silent Bob” fame) have asked officials to let them seek signatures online rather than in person.
In Washington, D.C., organizers also want to be able to collect signatures online for a measure that would decriminalize certain psychedelics. And throughout the country, uncertainty and fears of prolonged quarantines have led patients and consumers to flock to retail outlets.
Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem
Senator Files New Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana And Regulate It Like Tobacco
A Democratic senator filed a new bill to federally legalize marijuana on Thursday, creating yet another potential avenue through which Congress could enact the policy change.
This piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and direct several federal agencies to develop regulations for the plant.
Titled the “Substance Regulation and Safety Act,” the bill would deschedule cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop rules that treat marijuana the same as tobacco, create a national research institute to evaluate the risks and benefits of cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose quality control standards and mandate that the Department of Transportation study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.
The descheduling provisions “are retroactive and shall apply to any offense committed, case pending, or conviction entered, and, in the case of a juvenile, any offense committed, case pending, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency entered, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the text of the bill states.
HHS would have to come up with a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” Further, text of the legislation states that the department would be required to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” as it does with tobacco.
That includes “applying all labeling and advertising requirements that apply to tobacco products under such Act to cannabis products.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be tasked with working with other agencies to develop policies on allowing marijuana imports and exports.
The legislation further contains racial justice provisions. For example, HHS would have to consult with “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to determine “whether cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies are likely to have racially disparate impacts” within 100 days of the bill’s enactment.
The Department of Transportation would similarly have to determine whether its impaired driving prevention policy “is likely to contribute to racially disparate impacts in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.”
Agencies charged with establishing these regulations would have one year following the bill’s enactment to finalize those rules.
A federal age requirement for marijuana sales would be set at 21 under the measure.
The short title of the bill as published on Congress’s website states that it would “decriminalize and reschedule cannabis.” However, the text of the legislation as introduced that was shared with Marijuana Moment says it would go beyond rescheduling by removing marijuana from the CSA entirely, a process known as descheduling. Representatives from Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
This is the latest legalization bill to be introduced this Congress. In some ways, it appears to be a more modest reform compared to other pieces of legislation that reform advocates are backing such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which includes provisions beyond rescheduling to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
Sources recently told Marijuana Moment there are plans in motion to get a House floor vote on that bill in September, though it’s prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are more dubious. It’s possible that this bill from Smith would be more palatable to GOP members given its more narrow focus.
“It’s terrific to see Senator Smith engage so substantively in the cannabis policy reform debate,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We at NORML look forward to propelling many aspects of the new legislation into the broader conversation on the future of federal regulations in regards to a post-prohibition America.”
The introduction of this legislation comes one day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
While Smith has only been in Congress since 2018, after she replaced Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) following his resignation, she has signed onto various pieces of cannabis reform legislation as a cosponsor, and she’s made several comments in favor of reform.
For example, the senator attached her name to bills to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized from federal regulators and to legalize industrial hemp. She also cosponsored a resolution condemning “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings” over drug crimes in the Philippines.
Smith also recently remarked racial disparities in drug enforcement in a Senate floor speech.
This bill is being introduced as Minnesota lawmakers push for state-level legalization, with a top legislator unveiling a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older in May.
It also comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to adopt legalization as a 2020 party plank, with members opting instead to embrace more modest reforms. Advocates suspend that there may have been pressure for the panel not to formally embrace a policy change that is opposed to by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Read the new Senate marijuana legalization below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect
A new Louisiana law significantly expanding the state’s medical marijuana program officially takes effect on Saturday.
This comes two months after the legislature approved the bill and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed it. The legislation will allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.
Other new laws coming into force this weekend include ones to set hemp and CBD regulations, shield financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by state regulators and provide legal protections for doctors who recommend medical cannabis and medical facilities that have marijuana patients in their care.
The medical marijuana expansion bill as introduced by its sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), initially only would have added traumatic brain injuries and concussions but was amended in committee to include several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any malady that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”
“I’m excited. I’m expecting it to be a pretty big day,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “All the people out here tell me all the wonderful stories about how they were in terrible pain and then they took it and then they’ve gotten away from the pain.”
The lawmaker is particularly hopeful that providing this expanded access will help curb the opioid epidemic by providing patients with a safer alternative to prescription painkillers.
“The medical marijuana is not [like opioids] because not not addictive. No one’s ever died from it,” he said.
“I’m hopeful I think this is gonna be a big day. I’m really expecting this to be a game changer for Louisiana, for the state, for the pharmacies that are doing this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a big moneymaker for state. At least I hope it is. And I think that everybody’s going to be really happy about it, but time will tell.”
Bagley had also introduced a House-passed bill to allow delivery services, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration, telling Marijuana Moment at the time that he felt the debilitating condition bill would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.
The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”
It remains to be seen if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis, and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. But regulators did move to temporarily authorize delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s possible they will be amenable to extending the allowance on a permanent basis.
State lawmakers also passed a resolution in June to create “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.” Text of the legislation, which does not require gubernatorial action, states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday defended the decision to include marijuana banking protections in Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief bill.
The speaker was asked about various provisions of the legislation that Republicans had criticized as not germane to the health crisis, with a reporter citing the cannabis component in particular. Pelosi took issue with the suggestion and said there is a role for marijuana reform amid the pandemic.
“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” the top House Democrat said. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”
It’s not clear whether the speaker was suggesting that marijuana has medical value for a coronavirus infection specifically or was more broadly referencing the plant’s therapeutic potential. The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.
Several lawmakers have argued that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is relevant to the health crisis for a different reason, as protecting financial institutions that service cannabis businesses would mean fewer cash exchanges at dispensaries, thus minimizing the spread of the virus.
Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.
That said, Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, and it does not include the SAFE Banking Act provisions. It remains to be seen whether bicameral negotiators will be able to get it in the final bill sent to the president’s desk.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said in May that he felt there was a 50-50 chance the Senate would adopt it as part of their COVID-19 bill.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to slam Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments.
“Hey Nancy, let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot,” he said.
Incredibly irresponsible—Pelosi just doubled down on her $3 trillion dollar cannabis legislation, falsely claiming that it's a proven therapy for coronavirus.
Hey Nancy, let's focus on the pandemic. Not pot. pic.twitter.com/Eo8pfwwZez
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) July 31, 2020
The Senate Republican Communications Center also chimed in.
“House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out,” the group tweeted.
PELOSI on cannabis provisions in House coronavirus bill:
"I don't agree that cannabis is not related to this.”
House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out. pic.twitter.com/3yYf8QSv0r
— Senate Republican Communications Center (@SRCC) July 31, 2020
Meanwhile, the standalone SAFE Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
Pelosi’s latest comments come one day after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.