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
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.