Welcome to the POLITICO Pro Cannabis preview newsletter. Free access to the preview newsletter is available through Sept. 30, 2019.
— Americans spent $5.9 billion on THC and CBD vape products last year. There are 512 different cannabis-based vape brands being sold in American dispensaries. One person’s death has been linked to a marijuana vape cartridge bought at a dispensary. But marijuana vape cartridges were not mentioned Wednesday when the White House issued new regulations on e-cigarettes in the midst of a growing health crisis.
— Democratic front-runner Joe Biden’s marijuana plan differs from the competition. In a field where most candidates support comprehensive legalization bills, Biden wants to reclassify the substance to a category that includes cocaine and meth.
— Nevada’s “nightmare” licensing process continues as at least a dozen lawsuits seek to challenge the state’s marijuana licensing process. Such legal challenges are common in states with limited cannabis licenses.
IT’S THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. WELCOME TO POLITICO’S DAILY CANNABIS NEWSLETTER. “People are going to keep dying.” That’s the text message I received Wednesday from a marijuana vape user, after they learned the federal government is not able to regulate marijuana the same way it can regulate tobacco. So please, keep sending along cannabis news, tips or feedback: [email protected] or @natsfert. And follow us on Twitter: @POLITICOPro. Read more about our mission in our inaugural issue.
ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER — On Wednesday morning, we reported that the marijuana industry has largely avoided the spotlight amid the news of vaping-related deaths. “You can’t protect consumers if research is essentially banned and there are no federal regulations,” Sen.
Scrutiny of the e-cigarette industry culminated in federal change. Twenty-three Democratic senators issued a letter demanding federal agencies answer questions about the health impacts of e-cigarettes, and the White House moved to ban flavored e-cigarettes completely.
Marijuana, though, was absent from the conversation — despite its reported role in at least one death. Oregon Sen.
We said this in Wednesday’s edition, but we’ll going to say it again: Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and that means Congress and the FDA cannot pass regulations on marijuana vape cartridges in the same way they can address e-cigarettes. Federal prohibition does allow the DOJ to walk into every state-licensed dispensary and collect all vape products, though. But even the White House cannot create new oversight or regulations beyond what is outlined in the Controlled Substances Act. When asked what the federal government is doing to address health risks associated with marijuana vape products, Wyden said “it is critical Congress pass laws to safely regulate these products … in the meantime, it is incumbent on federal and state authorities to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
Without federal involvement, regulatory oversight falls to the states. But there has been no real call to action to revisit existing regulations. Tobacco e-cigarettes aren’t now federally regulated, while legal marijuana states have extensive regulations for marijuana vape products. The overwhelming reaction, therefore, of both pro-cannabis advocates and state regulatory bodies, has been to list existing regulatory structure and say they continue to closely monitor the situation.
New Jersey took a stance on marijuana vape cartridges. New York is investigating. POLITICO New Jersey’s Ryan Hutchins reports that Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney on Wednesday moved to ban the sale of all vaping products, including marijuana vape products. That announcement came a day after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said “no one should be vaping until further notice.” New Jersey, though, has only a medical marijuana market that serves just over 50,000 patients. And in New York, POLITICO New York’s Amanda Eisenberg reports, the state health commissioner has said the health complications from vaping are associated with cannabis oil and subpoenaed three companies that it identified as adding pure vitamin E acetate to THC oil.
A few pro-cannabis lawmakers and many advocates reiterate that this goes to show how badly the federal government needs to legalize marijuana, because then the FDA will be at liberty to issue uniform basic regulations that all states must meet within the industry.
CANDIDATES ARE TALKING CANNABIS IN DIFFERENT WAYS — Most Democratic candidates are talking about comprehensive marijuana legalization in a way that hasn’t been seen before in a presidential race. “It’s been historic to see candidates in droves supporting marijuana legalization,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at Drug Policy Action.
But one candidate is on a different page: front-runner Joe Biden, whose marijuana proposal involves reclassifying marijuana under federal law to a category that includes cocaine and methamphetamine. “There’s definitely blood on Joe Biden’s hands and he’s unapologetic about his role in the criminalization” of drug users, she said, referring to his role in passing the 1994 crime bill.
Other candidates, including
Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, is calling for decriminalizing all drugs — a policy that has seen public health gains for some countries in Europe. But in a country that hasn’t even managed to pass a marijuana banking bill, is drug decriminalization politically feasible?
Voters increasingly support a public health approach to drug use rather than criminalizing those who suffer from addiction, especially in the midst of the opioid crisis. And last year’s criminal justice reform bill that offered relief to some drug offenders had broad bipartisan support. “It’s not that this policy push is not palatable to voters,” said Adesuyi. “What’s really needed here is political will.”
HALF OF STATES GREW HEMP LAST YEAR, LED BY MONTANA AND COLORADO — Montana and Colorado were by far the biggest hemp growing states in 2018, each with more than 20,000 acres cultivated, according to a new report by Forbes Tate Partners analyzing the burgeoning market nationwide. No other state cultivated more than 10,000 acres last year. Although hemp — defined as having less than 0.3 percent THC — was only legalized in the 2018 farm bill, states have had the option to create pilot projects since 2014. Roughly half of all states had some hemp farming last year. Nebraska had the smallest program, with just half an acre planted. But that will change soon: An expanded program has received 176 applications.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release long-awaited hemp production rules as soon as this month. USDA already has issued guidance on importing hemp seeds, transporting the plant across state lines and other areas where the lack of national rules is creating legal headaches for growers and processors.
NEVADA LICENSING KERFUFFLE — At least a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the marijuana licensing process in Nevada. Will Kemp, an attorney who filed one of the suits, described the process as a “nightmare” after oversight was transferred from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Taxation. Most of the lawsuits are filed in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, though a few were filed in federal court. “We think it’s going to be one big case pretty soon,” said Kemp, who expects the state to file a motion to consolidate.
Earlier this summer, the state legislature passed a bill to create a Cannabis Compliance Board to handle cannabis regulations. But the agency isn’t going to hire its first staffer until next summer, Kemp said. Meanwhile, a top marijuana regulator was placed on administrative leave last week in connection with the lawsuits, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Why this is important: State marijuana programs vary widely in how many licenses are awarded and how many a single company can hold. In states with a limited supply of licenses, it’s common to see legal challenges by businesses that lost out during the selection process. Similar suits have been filed against regulators in Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE PASSES BILL ADDRESSING VAPE LABELING — A bill that would address a major marijuana industry concern about the size of the mandatory universal symbol on cannabis vaporizer cartridges was passed by California lawmakers today, POLITICO California’s Alex Nieves reports.
CA AB 1529 (19R) would reduce the minimum size of the universal symbol — a cannabis leaf and exclamation point surrounded by a triangle — on vape cartridges to a quarter-inch by quarter-inch. The symbol would continue to be the standard half-inch by half-inch on other cannabis products.
Why is the change needed? Industry groups and manufacturers say that the current symbol size is too large to be engraved on vape cartridges, which are cylindrical and typically smaller than 1-quarter-inch in diameter. This leaves little room for other information, like product contents and safety warnings, to be included.
Also in California… Alex reports that a transportation omnibus bill passed in the state Senate with an amendment that would ban marijuana consumption in vehicles like party buses and limousines. A standalone bill that would have required drivers to be sealed off from marijuana consumption was tabled last week.
FLORIDA AG CHALLENGES LEGALIZATION CAMPAIGN — POLITICO Florida’s Arek Sarkissian reports that the state attorney general is trying to stop a proposed marijuana ballot initiative. AG Ashley Moody argues that the proposal — which is 10 pages long — can’t fit into a 75-word summary on the ballot. Sensible Florida Committee Chairman Michael Minardi told POLITICO that it is “ready to defend” the measure. It is one of two campaigns in the state seeking to put recreational legalization on the 2020 ballot.
Why this is important: Not only is Florida a potentially lucrative recreational market, it is also a crucial swing state in the general election. While marijuana legalization isn’t the most important issue, having it on the ballot can turn out more left-leaning voters.
MARIJUANA RESEARCHERS URGE APPEALS COURT: DON’T DITCH LAWSUIT AGAINST DEA — Lawyers for Scottsdale Research Institute urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit not to toss a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration in a new filing on Wednesday.
Last month, the DEA announced that it was moving forward with reviewing 33 applications by organizations seeking to grow marijuana for research purposes. Currently, there is just one such facility at the University of Mississippi, and researchers complain that the product is of poor quality and bears little resemblance to the highly potent marijuana often sold in states with legal markets. Attorneys for the DEA argued that the progress in reviewing applications rendered the lawsuit moot, and it should be tossed out.
But in Wednesday’s filing, lawyers for Scottsdale Researcher Institute decried the latest maneuvers by DEA as a ploy designed to keep its research application in “agency purgatory.” It wants the court to issue an order requiring the DEA to start a process that would force it to make a decision on the application within a certain time frame.
Joy Strand, the executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, is resigning from her post October 1. Will Tilburg, the commission’s policy director, will step in as acting executive director.
3,200 kg (or 7,055 lbs) — That’s the amount of research marijuana that the DEA has proposed for 2020 production. The agency said it nearly tripled the quota from 2018 thanks to an increase in DEA-registered marijuana researchers. A DEA spokesperson confirmed that the University of Mississippi would supply the additional marijuana, and that the agency is “still working through the process to register growers for research purposes outside of the University of Mississippi.”
4 — That’s the number of CBD companies that got an “A” grade from the Center for Food Safety’s report on hemp-derived CBD. The nonprofit evaluated 40 CBD companies for organic certification, processing, and lab-testing. Ten companies received a failing grade, including Lord Jones and Haleigh’s Hope.
— Patient advocates in Missouri fought hard to get medical marijuana legalized in the state. KBIA reports that families involved in the legalization push face trouble paying for the medicine, which is not covered by insurance.
— Legislatures in New York and New Jersey both failed to pass marijuana legalization bills last session. The Asbury Park Press reports that police departments on the NY-NJ border are preparing for the possibility that one state legalizes before the other.
— Ten Dutch cities will soon sell government-approved weed in coffeeshops. CityLab reports that the pilot program includes medium-sized cities (sorry Amsterdam!) that will eventually be able to license and regulate cannabis growers to supply their coffeeshops.