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National News - May 2019

Marijuana Testing Booming as U.S. States Legalize, Feds Still a Roadblock

As cannabis legalization takes root in the United States of America, so too has the cannabis testing industry.  With an estimated worth of slightly more than $1 billion in 2017, it is expected to grow to $2.4 billion in the next five years, hitting its peak, according to speculators, in 2025.  And rightly so, as the USA stands the most to gain from marijuana testing.  As of March 2019 greater than 8,000 cannabis business licenses have been issued in the United States alone, the most of any country on the planet.  Due to this it is projected that the US will become the leader for cannabis testing industry standards, not to mention a profitable place for those who test marijuana, or sell testing equipment.  There is only one small problem on the horizon for the industry, the Federal Government.

Industrial hemp may have received Uncle Sam’s approval, but cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug.  This means no federal guidance for testing facilities as marijuana is not held to the same safety standards by the FDA as other consumables, this stemming from the idea that you should not be consuming it.  Researchers are optimistic, however, believing the need for high-quality cannabis testing products will drive lawmakers at the federal level to move into the 21st century.  According to the team at Insight, legal pressure from above may create “novel opportunities” in the testing market that could further legitimize the entire cannabis industry. 
Oregon Senate Favors Freeze on Production of Cannabis Citing Excess, Possible Black Market Ties

Oregon’s climate is ideal for marijuana growth, and since passing recreational legislation in 2014 production has boomed across the state.  This in turn has led to a vast surplus of cannabis.  So much so, according to State Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), Oregon has already produced enough marijuana to last it six years, based on retail market projections.  Coupled with data from the OLCC stating a mere 11% of the one million pounds produced in 2017 made it into the hands of retail customers, officials were led to ask: where is all that cannabis going?

Lawmakers believe producers are selling the excess out of state to the highly profitable black market, in places where the plant is still illegal.  The U.S. Attorney for the State of Oregon went as far as to write an op-ed in which he points to data from the postal service indicating they had seized 2,644 pounds of cannabis outbound from Oregon, as well as more than $1.2 million in cash in 2017 alone.  With not enough solid evidence, or even a proper understanding of the supply and demand chain for retail cannabis, a bill was proposed that would place a two year freeze on cultivation licenses.  This would have a two fold effect, both in curtailing the surplus, and allowing officials and the industry to collect managable data from a constant supply chain.  The hope is that once Oregon knows how much weed it needs, lawmakers will be able to more effectively measure the amount being trafficked on the black market.  The bill would freeze new cultivation licenses, but allow those with licenses to renew during the 24 month period. 

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes in Texas

The Texas House has approved a bill that would reduce punishment for small amounts of marijuana from jail time to a $500 fine with possible community service or drug education classes.  “This is a historic step forward in changing Texas’s current draconian marijuana laws,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, stated, “Now, we can turn our sights to the Senate so that this important policy can make its way through the legislative gauntlet and start helping Texans.”  Texas Gov. Greg Abbot is opposed to large sweeping cannabis legalization, but says he would support smaller limited reforms such as this decriminalization bill.  “One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana, “ the governor said in a statement. 

Last year the Republican Party of Texas endorsed decriminalizing cannabis for legal adults who were in possession of less than one ounce, punishable by a fine of up to $100 without jail time.  The bill was initially introduced with a $250 fine with possession classified as a civil infraction.  In order to garnish more support it was changed to a $500 fine and a class C misdemeanor, passing with a 98 to 43 vote.  Included with the proposal is a procedure for those with marijuana offenses to have them expunged from their records.

Veterans Affairs Says No To Cannabis

Lawmakers and veterans advocates debated a set of proposals on April 28 that would protect benefits for vets who use marijuana, allow the department’s doctors to recommend medicinal cannabis and expand research into therapeutic use of the plant.  “One of the great tragedies of our time is the failure to adequately address the needs of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan… An overwhelming number of veterans tell me that cannabis has reduced PTSD symptoms [and] the dependency on addictive opioids.”, was the opinion of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).  Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) shared his sentiment, “It’s an important bill” she went on to state that she too has spoke with veterans who want the policy change.  She also weighed in on the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, a proposal that would require the VA to conduct a clinical study of the benefits and risks of medicinal marijuana, “We need to push the VA forward on this.”  Rep. Lou Correa, who initially proposed the research bill had this to say, “It’s time to make sure that veterans get to know what cannabis is good for and what cannabis is not good for.  We need clinical research.  We owe our veterans a tremendous amount.  The least we can do it make sure we’re giving them the proper treatment for those invisible wounds that they brought back from the battlefield.”  Representatives from veterans advocacy groups, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Disabled American Veterans (DAV), all showed strong interest in the research bill, however not all could share support for VA patient access, citing an issue with the availability of marijuana in VA pharmacies should they start making recommendations. 

Federal representatives for Veterans Affairs offered their views as well, siding in opposition.  Keia Franklin, national director of suicide prevention in the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention plainly states that the department opposes all three of the cannabis bills.  Calling the research bill too ambitious and risky, she furthered her argument  bureaucratically, “a smaller, early-phase trial design would be used to advance our knowledge of benefits and risk regarding cannabis before moving to a type of more expansive approach as described in this proposed legislation, “ adding, “Any trial with human subjects must include an evaluation of the risks and safety and include the smallest number of participants to avoid putting subjects at increased risk unnecessarily so.”  Franklin also said the VA is against clinicians recommending medicinal marijuana because of guidance it has received from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stating that “no provision of the controlled substances act would be exempt from criminal sanctions as a VA physician who acts with intent to provide a patient with means to obtain marijuana.”  Finally, they oppose the bill protecting vets from losing benefits over marijuana usage because she says the VA already has a policy stating no benefits will be lost for cannabis use or discussing cannabis use with a VA health care provider.

Larry Mole, the VA’s chief consultant on population health, places the blame on the Justice Department for the VA’s unwillingness to listen to the desires of the VSO’s and vets.  “At the end, we will need to go back to the DEA and the Department of Justice for their opinion.  I’ve not seen anything myself that suggests their opinion will change.”  One member of the subcommittee, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL) has a potential solution, to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act.  “We’re not, I think, in a position here to protect the VA physicians who want to disperse or prescribe cannabis unless we change that law.”, he said, “So we might be looking at the wrong leverage point when we address these laws without addressing the scheduling of the drug.”

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