Trulieve's Court Victory a Win for MMJ Patients in Florida

As a rare disease patient facing chronic pain from Fibromyalgia and Sjögren’s Syndrome, I have a vested interest in Florida’s medical marijuana laws. While I enjoy practicing cannabis law and working with a variety of companies in the space, I am directly impacted too. A recent ruling has pushed the needle forward for greater access to MMJ for patients in the state of Florida.

Trulieve sued in April 2018 over the caps placed on the amount of dispensaries allowed in the state, saying it was ‘unconstitutionally added after-the-fact and that such restrictive caps were never contemplated during the application and selection process.’ A judge ruled in their favor, saying that the legislature, “used language that was different from what voters approved, effectively ignoring voters' instructions.” Finally, someone who say what we have been advocating for since this law was written!

I often hear from patients that they have to travel some distance to obtain their medical marijuana products, creating a hurdle that can be extremely difficult given their condition. For MMJ patients with mobility- limiting conditions such as ALS or Muscular Dystrophy, long trips just to pick up medication can be a challenge. I am hopeful that Trulieve’s victory will alleviate this burden for patients all over the state. Particularly for those in rural areas, who already face overwhelming healthcare disparities.

We still have a ways to go in bringing access to all patients in Florida, so let’s keep pushing.

Congress Already Moving on Marijuana Legislation

Members of the 116th Congress were sworn in today, and a few wasted no time introducing a bill for medical marijuana reform.

Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) re-introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The bill aims to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and permit doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans to treat serious and chronic conditions. It does not address the issue of federal legalization, but embraces the seemingly popular idea on the Hill that states should create their own marijuana policy.

It will be interesting to see how many members cosign onto the bill. With pressure mounting to reschedule cannabis, this bill does not go far enough for most advocates. Still, it is a solid start in the push for better research involving cannabis. There are huge opportunities on the horizon for hemp and marijuana companies looking to create products for patients with chronic diseases and serious ailments.

Growing Your Cannabis Business in a Regulatory Firestorm

Until cannabis is legalized at the federal level, companies working with marijuana-based products will continue to face regulatory burdens that make conducting business rather difficult. Every week, I hear of a new hurdle for patients and companies, these roadblocks leave cannabis businesses at risk for regulatory action.

A strong business strategy for those producing, selling, promoting, and providing cannabis, whether it is recreational or medicinal, is to get involved with state legislators who are creating business guidelines. Far too often, companies wait until proposed rules are up for a vote to get involved. This leads not only to a significant amount of stress and last minute scrambling, but the fall out from burdensome regulations can kill cannabis businesses all together. If your company doesn’t have someone paying attention to your state’s legislative and administrative actions of cannabis regulation, you have a major problem.

It is important to protect your intellectual property, have properly executed contracts, put plans in place to protect patient data, and form a solid business plan. However, this means little if these contracts, agreements, and plans are not being reviewed by an attorney who understands the complexities of state regulatory actions and legislation on the horizon. Your business should be able to adapt to the ever evolving world of cannabis, and so should your legal counsel.

Is Kratom The New Marijuana?

While the war against opioids rages on, chronic pain patients are struggling to find a suitable alternative to manage their condition. As a chronic pain sufferer myself, I am always concerned about any action taken by state governments and the FDA to limit access to medication. 

Kratom is a tree from Southeast Asia, with leaves that contain compounds that have psychotropic effects. Two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain, especially when users consume large amounts of the plant. The FDA has identified Kratom as an opioid like substance with similar properties, creating a wave of regulatory actions that impact both industry and patients.

Some states are banning Kratom by classifying it as a Schedule I controlled substance, like in Ohio. Unfortunately, it may be years or even decades before enough research is conducted to prove the medical benefits of Kratom for chronic pain. Ideally, the FDA would hear the patient voice about the potential clinical benefits and investigate further. Unfortunately, as we have seen with cannabis, this is not the case.

Actions to ban Kratom and limit research initiatives hurts patients. Congress passed major opioid legislation this week that was signed into law, again showing that our government knows we desperately need to do something about the opioid crisis in our country. Limiting access to alternatives like Marijuana and Kratom is counter productive. Instead, we should be actively researching the medicinal benefits to help pain patients. They do not deserve to suffer and have their medication taken from them.

Until the FDA recognizes the potential benefits, Kratom will end up in the same battle as marijuana.

New Jersey May Move to Full Cannabis Legalization

Exciting news coming from the state legislature in New Jersey this week, after Senate President Steve Sweeney said he may be able to pass legislation to legalize recreational marijuana (New Jersey already has a medicinal cannabis program). 

Politico ran a story highlighting the upcoming challenges for the Jersey legislature, including figuring out the appropriate tax levels to discourage the black market, expunging criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses, and possibly adding opioid addiction to the list of conditions under the state's medicinal cannabis program. 

It will be interesting to see how the proposed legislation plays out. Sweeney has expressed interest to work with Republicans, who have supported the medicinal but not recreational push. Hopefully, patients in New Jersey will have greater access to cannabis-based products and not be taxed to death for them. The proposed 25% tax rate from Governor Phil Murphy is extreme, and hurts low income patients who may not qualify for the medicinal program. 

Let's hope New Jersey takes the time to do this correctly, it is better to take the time to write great law, than rush and spend years trying to change it. 

Big Changes in Florida’s Medical Marijuana Industry

On Friday, Christian Bax submitted his resignation from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, planning to leave by August 10th. Bax’s tenure was tumultuous, filled with litigation ranging from smoking marijuana to licensing issues. I often heard from patients that their wait for cards was excessively long, dispensaries were understocked, and many felt Bax was to blame. This change in leadership is great news. Deputy Director Courtney Coppola has been named the interim director. 

The agency is so bogged down in litigation that the state has allocated $13.3 million for legal fees, a new seed-to-sale tracking system, and new license application reviews. This should help expedite an already long and drawn out process, and law makers have taken note. Businesses interested in Medical Marijuana and those already in the application stages should start to see improvements within the next few months. 

The state announced it has enrolled over 100,000 patients in June, opening the door for four more licenses to grow and sell marijuana. However, the system is still imperfect leading to delays, issues with supplies at dispensaries, and the looming “smoking” litigation. 

In other news,  3 Boys Farms sells to CannaCure/Scythian. The Canadian company will buy 60% of the shares before the end of August, with an option to acquire the rest of the company by the end of the year. The marijuana industry on a global scale is extremely lucrative, and our firm is keeping tabs on the mergers and acquisitions occurring internationally.