University of Kentucky Opens New Cannabis Research Center

The Bluegrass State’s flagship university is getting some green. In an announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky heralded the opening of “a new center that will advance research on the medical use of cannabis.”

The “UK Cannabis Center,” as it is known, “will conduct research on the health effects of cannabis, including its risks and benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions.”

The center is the result of a bill passed by Kentucky lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this year.

“The legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition,” said Dr. Shanna Babalonis, who will serve as director of the UK Cannabis Center.

The announcement on Wednesday said that Babalonis is “an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and a cannabis researcher at CDAR, is increasingly recognized as a leader in the cannabis field and an expert on the topic of medical cannabinoids,” boasting “three active National Institutes of Health grants, totaling nearly $3.5 million, aimed at examining cannabis-opioid interactions, cannabis effects in those with opioid use disorder and the effects of cannabis on simulated driving performance.”

“The new center will allow us to expand our clinical research, particularly focusing on medical conditions that may be helped by medical cannabis,” Babalonis said in the announcement.

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was passed in the closing days of the Kentucky legislative session in April. Beshear, a Democrat, used a line-item veto in his signing of the legislation, striking out certain parts of the bill that he said would “limit the purpose of the center and dictate who the president of the University of Kentucky should consider appointing to the advisory board after giving the president of the university sole appointing power.”

Beshear said earlier this year that he was entertaining the idea of using executive action to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

“We’re going to explore that,” Beshear said in April. “It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come.”

That didn’t sit right with members of legislature, including Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers.

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stivers said in a statement in April. “He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statute by executive order because it’s a Constitutional separation of powers violation.”

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was viewed as a compromise by Republicans in the state Senate who were not ready to fully legalize medical cannabis treatment. A bill legalizing medical cannabis passed out of the Kentucky state House of Representatives in March, but the measure was never brought to a vote in the state Senate.

In the announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky said that the bill “also requires UK to apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a license to grow and cultivate cannabis,” and that if approved, “the center will be able to conduct agricultural research pertaining to optimal growing conditions.”

According to the announcement, “UK President Eli Capilouto recently appointed a multidisciplinary team of UK faculty members that will oversee the research center’s work and finances,” and the “12-member board includes an executive or steering committee that will work with Babalonis to establish the center’s research goals and agenda and make key financial decisions, and an advisory board to help guide and provide feedback on the center’s progress and overall direction.”

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Medical Pot in Utah Costs Right Around National Average

Lawmakers in Utah met on Monday to go over the cost of medical cannabis in the state. The gist: patients there are paying no more or no less than what they would in other states where the treatment is also legal.

Local news station KUER reports that the meeting was part of the state legislature’s Medical Cannabis Governance Structure Working Group, which “listened to presentations on the analysis from the Utah Cannabis Association, Utah Cannabis Co-Op and the Center for Medical Cannabis under the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.”

The group of lawmakers compared “the cost of three cannabis products in Utah to 19 other states with medical marijuana programs,” KUER reported, and concluded that “Utahns are forking over about the average price for cannabis flower (bud), gummies and vape cartridges.”

“We were asked when working with the policy analysts to compare apples to apples, but with all of the different nuances in the different states, it really is a difficult task,” said Alyssa Smailes with Utah Cannabis Association, as quoted by KUER, who along with Utah Cannabis Co-Op “selected 19 states with various cannabis markets in different stages of progress to compare with Utah.”

The groups collected data from the “last week of July for other states and all products available for sale in Utah in July 2022,” for the three most common products: Vape Carts (38% of sales); Flower (35%); and Gummies (25%).

Scott Erikson of Utah Cannabis Co-Op told the lawmakers, “he isn’t sure why Utah’s flower market is noticeably lower than the 36 other states with medical cannabis programs,” KUER reported.

“Most states the amount of flower is over 50%. Some states it’s as high as 60%,” Erikson said, as quoted by the station. “There are all sorts of speculation as to why.”

One theory, per KUER, “is the cultural influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” which “doesn’t approve of smoking tobacco products but has said the use of marijuana is permitted under medical circumstances.”

Voters in Utah passed a measure legalizing medical cannabis treatment in 2018.

Patients with the following conditions may qualify for the treatment there: HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Alzheimer’s disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; cancer; cachexia; persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment, except for nausea related to pregnancy; cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting syndrome; cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis; epilepsy or debilitating seizures; multiple sclerosis or persistent and debilitating muscle spasms; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is being treated and monitored by a licensed health therapist, and that has been diagnosed by a healthcare provider by the Veterans Administration and documented in the patient’s record or has been diagnosed or confirmed by evaluation from a psychiatrist, masters prepared psychologist, a masters prepared licensed clinical social worker, or a psychiatric APRN; autism; a terminal illness when the patient’s life expectancy is less than six months; a condition resulting in the individual receiving hospice care; a rare condition or disease that affects less than 200,000 individuals in the U.S., as defined in federal law, and that is not adequately managed despite treatment attempts using conventional medications (other than opioids or opiates) or physical interventions; pain lasting longer than two weeks that is not adequately managed, in the qualified medical provider’s opinion, despite treatment attempts using conventional medications other than opioids or opiates or physical interventions.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Utah passed a bill that protects medical cannabis patients in the state against discrimination in health care and public employment.

“What this bill does is it provides some clarity to what the legislative intent was… in recognizing medical cannabis as a legitimate use of cannabis for treating certain ailments such as chronic pain,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Joel Ferry, said at the time.

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Australian Cannabis Patients Turning to Prescriptions Over Illicit Market, Study Shows

New research from the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative seeks to take a closer look at cannabis consumers’ habits. The results found that most Australians medicate with illicit cannabis, though the number of patients accessing medicinal cannabis has risen dramatically over the years. The study’s findings were recently published in Harm Reduction Journal.

It’s the third Cannabis as a Medicine Survey (CAMS20), following two previous iterations, CAMS16 and CAMS18. The authors note that, even though Australia has had its legal framework for medicinal cannabis since 2016, prior surveys indicated most consumers were still using illicit cannabis products, while regulatory data indicated an increase in medicinal cannabis prescriptions since 2019.

Researchers administered a cross-sectional anonymous survey to 1,600 participants from September 2020 to January 2021. Participants were eligible if they were over 18 years of age, used cannabis for self-identified medical reason(s) in the past year, and a resident in Australia.

The survey ultimately found that 37.6% of respondents received a legal prescription for medical cannabis, a major increase from the 2.5% of respondents who reported prescription use in the 2018 iteration of the CAMS survey. Those who exclusively used prescription cannabis were often older, women, and less likely to be employed.

Prescribed participants were more likely to use cannabis to treat pain than those using illicit cannabis (52% vs. 40%) and were also less likely to treat sleep conditions (6% vs. 11%). Mental health conditions were also common indications for both groups (26% and 31%, respectively). Additionally, prescribed medicinal cannabis was predominately consumed through oral routes (72%), while illicit cannabis was more often smoked (41%).

As far as medicinal cannabis access, and despite the fact that medical patients in Australia have drastically increased over the past several years, few participants (10.8%) described the existing model for accessing prescribed medicinal cannabis as “straightforward or easy.”

Survey participants mostly called out the cost of medicinal cannabis as a barrier, with an average cost of $79 per week, highlighting the need to reexamine the cost of treatment for patients. People using illicit cannabis also reported that they had trouble finding medical practitioners with the ability or willingness to prescribe medicinal cannabis.

The study’s lead researcher, Professor Nicholas Lintzeris from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, said this data suggests that Australia has seen a transition from illicit use toward the legal use of medicinal cannabis.

“A number of benefits were identified in moving to prescribed products, particularly where consumers reported safer ways of using medical cannabis. People using illicit cannabis were more likely to smoke their cannabis, compared to people using prescribed products who were more likely to use oral products or vaporised cannabis, highlighting a health benefit of using prescribed products,” Lintzeris said.

Respondents also reported positive outcomes from their medical cannabis use overall, with 95% stating that using medical cannabis has improved their health.

Professor Iain McGregor, academic director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, added that there are advantages in using medicinal cannabis instead of its illicit counterpart, including safer routes of administration, greater certainty of access, and better communication between patients and doctors.

“Patients can also be informed of the exact THC/CBD composition, which is an ongoing problem with illicit product,” McGregor said. “There should be further efforts to transition patients from illicit to regulated, quality-controlled, cannabis products.”

In the study conclusion, authors echo similar sentiments, noting the progress and uptick in medicinal cannabis prescriptions since the regulatory framework was first introduced in 2016. While they similarly note the benefits of using medicinal cannabis, authors recognized the barriers that may keep illicit cannabis users from securing a prescription.

In closing, the authors suggest further research to address the barriers respondents reported in accessing medical practitioners willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia. The CAMS series is conducted every two years, and if the stark contrast between this survey and the previous iteration is any indicator, hopefully the upcoming iteration will close some of these gaps in patient access to medicinal cannabis in the future.

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Thai Lawmakers Withdraw Bill to Regulate Cannabis

A proposed bill that would have brought greater regulation to cannabis use in the country was withdrawn by lawmakers in Thailand on Wednesday, the latest attempt by the government to get a handle on a burgeoning marijuana industry.

Bloomberg reports that lawmakers “in the House of Representatives voted 198 to 136 to pull the bill and send it back to the drafting committee for further revision late on Wednesday.”

The bill “passed the first reading in June and was designed to give the government more control over the industry,” and “may now be reintroduced in November,” according to Bloomberg.

“The bill doesn’t control cannabis but even promotes it, leaving room for its use to stray from medical to extremely recreational,” said Thai lawmaker Sutin Klangsang, as quoted by Bloomberg. “We’re afraid that children and people will smoke it and become addicted.”

The proposed bill follows the Thai government’s decision in June to decriminalize marijuana, which made it the first country in Asia to do so.

The new policy has led to the opening of several cannabis cafes in the country’s capital city, Bangkok, much to the dismay of government officials there.

Last month, Thailand’s health minister Anutin Charnvirakul issued a blunt message to would-be tourists looking to visit the country for an easy toke.

“We don’t welcome those kinds of tourists,” Anutin told reporters at the time.

The new decriminalization law removed cannabis from the country’s list of banned substances, but officials such as Anutin insisted at the time that it should not be construed as the legalization of recreational pot use.

“It’s a no,” Anutin said in June. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”

“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin continued. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”

He added: “Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong. Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”

But perhaps not surprisingly, that is exactly what has happened in the months following the enactment of the new law.

Reuters reported last month that the new measure “has led to an explosion in its recreational use,” even though “that government officials – concerned about negative effects on health and productivity often linked to uncontrolled use of the drug – have retro[s]pectively tried to discourage.”

That set the stage for members of parliament to get their arms around the new law this week.

Bloomberg has more details on the bill that fizzled out on Wednesday: “The parties opposed to the cannabis bill in its current form have threatened to vote against the legislation unless the revised version clamped down on recreational smoking. They are also against a clause that allows households to register and grow up to 15 cannabis plants. The opposition to the bill was also seen as a political tussle ahead of a general election due to be called by March. The passing of the bill would hand a fresh victory to Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul’s Bhumjaithai Party, which led the drafting of the bill and spearheaded cannabis liberalization as part of its campaign promises during the 2019 general election.”

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New Zealand Approves Domestic Medical Cannabis Products

New Zealand health regulators last week began allowing the use of domestically produced medicinal cannabis products, ending patients’ reliance on imported medical marijuana products. The Ministry of Health allowed access to local medicines beginning on September 9, opening a new opportunity for New Zealand cannabis growers and manufacturers.

Under New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis legalization laws, any licensed general physician can prescribe cannabis medications to any patient to treat any health condition. But since 2017, only imported cannabis medicines have been approved for use by patients, notes Tim Aldridge, managing director of cannabis grower Puro New Zealand.

“Up until now, New Zealand patients could only be prescribed medicinal cannabis grown overseas, with the vast majority being imported from Australia and Canada,” Aldridge said in a statement.

Puro New Zealand grows organically produced cannabis at its outdoor facility on the nation’s South Island. Earlier this year, the company signed a multi-million dollar, five-year deal to provide cannabis to Helius Therapeutics, a firm that manufactures cannabinoid medications at its facility in East Auckland. Carmen Doran, chief executive of Helius, noted that a change in the law now allows New Zealand patients access to the company’s products.

“In 2018, Parliament’s legislative intent around improving access and affordability was clear,” said Doran. “The subsequent Medicinal Cannabis Scheme has also strived for both locally grown and made cannabis medicines. That national ambition to better serve long-suffering Kiwi patients is finally a reality and that’s exciting.”

“This is great news for many patients who have long sought legal access to both New Zealand-grown and made medicinal cannabis products,” Doran added.

Medications Approved for Local Market

On Tuesday, Helius was notified by the Ministry of Health that two of its medications had passed quality standards tests, a requirement that must be met before cannabis products can enter the local market under regulations adopted in 2019. New Zealand already has 35 cannabis companies across the country, with Helius Therapeutics being the largest in the nation.

Helius was New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis business to achieve a GMP Licence for Manufacturing Medicines in July 2021, bringing the first products to market three months later. The new products will first be launched in New Zealand before being rolled out internationally, with Europe and South America already identified as priority foreign markets for the company.

“Gaining approval of medicinal cannabis products that are truly New Zealand-grown and made is a significant milestone for our industry,” Doran said. “Local patients and their advocates have fought long and hard for truly Kiwi products which are both high quality and cost-effective.”

Aldridge said that his company has spent four years bringing its operations up to government standards.

“It hasn’t always been plain sailing,” Aldridge said. “Navigating this new industry, coming to grips with the regulatory regime, and growing a new crop at scale has been a massive undertaking.”

Although the work to develop a local cannabis production infrastructure has not been easy, he says that patients will soon reap the rewards. Locally produced cannabis medications are expected to cost patients half as much as imported medicines.

Doran of Helius said that a local source of CBD and other cannabis products will help ensure that patients in New Zealand have access to their medicines, noting that global logistical challenges over the past two years have affected imports of cannabis products from producers abroad.

“We have seen significant delays and disruptions in the availability of imported products as COVID continues to impact supply chains,” said Doran. “It is disconcerting for patients and prescribers when products that are making a difference in people’s lives are not available. Fully New Zealand-grown and made products will help alleviate such issues.”

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In Hawaii, People Prefer Black Market Cannabis to State-Managed Facilities

Admittedly, since recreational cannabis remains illegal in Hawaii—with decriminalization only happening in 2019—such a high number isn’t very shocking. Still, those legally operating in Hawaii’s cannabis industry claim those numbers are only so high due to poor “market structure and regulation.”

When it comes to why people choose black market cannabis, one of the most common responses is high taxes. As the industry stands now, Hawaii’s cannabis market is worth about $240 million. With estimates that it could climb to $354 million upon recreational legalization.

That being said, this recent report claims such numbers are modest compared to the $8 billion a year of tax collections the state already sees. Therefore, beyond the fact that there’s no financial incentive to raise taxes, there may be a legal incentive to lower taxes.

Some responders to the report believe that, if legalized, Hawaii should avoid “burdensome levels of regulation and taxation” in order to overshadow the state’s illicit market.

Still, this black market issue likely goes beyond taxes. Currently, there are only 8 legal medical dispensaries across the state. All of which have struggled to turn a profit.

According to Randy Gonce, executive director of the Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association, only 3 of these dispensaries are breaking even. And none of them are paying a return on investors.

Gonce continued: “On paper, they’re not successful businesses. You’re working on a very limited consumer base with heavy, heavy regulations. Your tax is really, really high, you can’t write your taxes off… at the federal level – it’s just a hard industry to be in.”

So, what can be done to get more people to turn to the state’s medical program?

Breaking Down Hawaii’s Medical Cannabis Program

While medical cannabis has been legal in Hawaii since 2000, it hasn’t progressed significantly in the last two decades.

One of the biggest issues is its list of qualifying conditions is extremely limited, with only 15 ailments acceptable for a prescription. Even still, the severity of these conditions plays a major role in whether or not a doctor will even recommend marijuana as a remedy.

However, an even bigger issue is the lack of access to cannabis. Currently, Hawaii has just under 35,000 registered medical patients. As mentioned, all those patients are limited to the eight dispensaries across the state which are limited to specific islands. In turn, medical patients on Lanai or Molokai have no direct access to medical cannabis.

The cherry on top of these issues is the 4.5% General Excise Tax (GET) attached to all marijuana products. Admittedly, this number is lower in other parts of the country. For example, in California, there’s a 15% excise tax on all retail cannabis products.

But since access to business licensing in California is more attainable, we’ve seen more farms growing products. In turn, this has driven down prices—allowing for an overall more affordable product for consumers.

In Hawaii, on the other hand, cultivation licenses start at a $75,000 fee—with a $50,000 renewal fee every year. Since the market has been around for some time and it’s obvious that there’s little profit within the industry, it’s a no-brainer not to invest in such ridiculous fees.

With Lack of Production, Hawaiians are Importing Cannabis

So, how do you circumvent the problems of Hawaii’s medical industry?

An easy answer would be recreational legalization in order to broaden the consumer base. However, this may prove more difficult than it seems. For one, Hawaiian voters are split nearly 50/50 on the issue. Secondly, outgoing Gov. David Ige opposes recreational use, keeping lawmakers away from the topic over the last few years.

The upcoming midterms will play a significant role in how this issue is tackled in the next few years. With nominees Lt. Gov. Josh Green (D) supporting recreational legalization and Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona (R) opposing it.

Still, even if legalized, chances are Hawaii’s market will continue to struggle. And this is simply due to the fact that the state’s industry is lacking in terms of production. In fact, most of the cannabis in Hawaii isn’t even grown within the state—it’s being shipped in from California.

With that said, it may be impossible for Hawaii to tackle the problem of the illicit market as the source of this issue is thousands of miles across the Pacific.

As a task force report states: “Illicit California cannabis is cheap and of relatively good quality. This market dynamic will not go away even if Hawaii opts to legalize adult use.”

In order to combat the issue immediately, Hawaii’s law enforcement has become more aggressive in prosecuting illegal operations. But even such aggressiveness hasn’t been able to stop growth. As the task force reported, the illicit market has gotten so large that the state’s already a part of the national cannabis market.

So, What Can Be Done Within Hawaii?

Ultimately, in order to start coming down on the black market, Hawaii needs to produce a more equitable legal market. As mentioned, the price of entry into the industry is ridiculously expensive—with capital investors even weary of such large financial incentives due to the lack of demand.

As Gonce says: “What we want to do is a very low barrier to entry, but still with certain things to keep the integrity of the business.” He furthered this by saying that groups should be monitored, cash flow should be tracked, and the government should be testing products for purity and potency.

However, these changes should only be implemented if they’re reducing prices for consumers. As of now, legal Hawaiian cannabis is 40% to 100% higher than that of the illegal market. To give an example, an ounce in a dispensary costs around $350 whereas the price drops to $250 in the illicit market.

In order to lower prices, production within the state needs to increase. And in order for an increase in production, the state desperately needs to make the market more accessible to newcomers.

As the report indicates: “issues related to the market structure and regulation result in high prices that are uncompetitive relative to the gray [illicit] market. Laws and regulations that limit scale, market size, competition, and specialization create an unfavorable market structure.”

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Medical Cannabis Advocate, MMA Fighter Elias Theodorou Passes Away

Elias Theodorou, known for his successful mixed martial artist (MMA) career and medical cannabis advocacy, passed away at age 34 on September 11 after a long battle with liver cancer.

Born in Mississauga, Canada, located in the province of Ontario, Theodorou’s career began after his first year in college. High Times had the pleasure of interviewing him in January 2021, where he explained that a video posted on YouTube of him losing a fight went viral.

“Demoralized, I confided in my father, and he said, ‘You love that [Ultimate Fighting Championship] UFC stuff so much, why don’t you go to a gym and make sure this never happens again?’” he told High Times. “And I did. At first my intentions were to win back my pride against the person that embarrassed me, instead, I won a sense of purpose—enlightening both body and mind now in ‘higher’ education.”

Theodorou’s career took him to great heights, leading him to become a UFC fighter, and become winner of “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia” in the middleweight bracket in 2014. He was released from his UFC contract in 2019, but continued to fight and win in the Prospect Fighting Championships in December 2019, Rise FC in March 2021, and Colorado Combat Club 10 in December 2021.

His coach and longtime friend, Lachlan Cheng, was a medical cannabis patient for more than 10 years. Seeing his coach using medical cannabis exposed him to the benefits of cannabis, the negative effects of prescription medications in comparison.

Personally, he began using medical cannabis to treat his bilateral neuropathy (nerve damage) in his upper extremities. “Fighting is a grind, so my options to medicate were opioids and painkillers or cannabis,” he said. “One is highly addictive and has caused death from abuse—not to mention the side effects like constipation, upset stomach, bloating and many other debilitating repercussions as both patient and athlete. The alternative is cannabis, a medicine that helps me compete and live on an even playing field while treating my condition.”

In 2020, Theodorou became the first athlete to receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption in North America for his cannabis use. “I was the first pro athlete and UFC fighter to apply for a therapeutic-use exemption in the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) testing pool, which is part of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA),” Theodorou said. “My [therapeutic-use exemption] for the UFC was not accepted, even with USADA agreeing with my condition and potential need for cannabis because it is funded by the U.S. government, which still has cannabis as a Schedule I substance. Meaning they don’t believe it has any medical properties… They only recommended painkillers, opioids and anti-depressant drugs.”

His advocacy for medical cannabis continued up until his passing. On August 29, he shared the support of a cannabis brand called Game Day. “Game on!  #PlantsOverPills @gameday.98 has officially launched! Couldn’t be more excited to be apart of a company and team ready to change the game in both cannabis AND sports! Ready to fight the stigma because “I choose cannabis instead”. #Dope #Sports” he wrote.

In the wake of his passing, many remember Theodorou’s career and his light-hearted personality during the course of his career. “I have the biggest smile and constantly laugh with my team throughout training camp and fight week,” he told High Times. “It might sound the opposite of what a fighter does, but I love what I do, so it’s easy to enjoy the process.”

He also served as a “ring boy” for Invicta FC, an all-pro women’s MMA championship, to promote equality. “The addition of ring boys is just another way to even the playing field in another area of the sport. I think we’re on the right side of history,” he told BBC in March 2018. “The response so far has been, I’d say, 70-80% positive. Some people don’t get it, but that’s okay. Anyway, those who know me will know that I put out a pretty positive conversation in general. When people troll me for other things, I show them kindness.”

Many noteworthy advocates have passed away recently, including Olivia Newton-John and Zahra Abbas in August.

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Pressure Builds on Florida Gov. DeSantis to Toss Out Dosage Limits

Patients and advocates in Florida are fed up with restrictions to access for medical cannabis. Florida health officials enacted new emergency rules on August 29, imposing explicit limits on the amount of medical cannabis that patients may legally obtain and consume.

Advocates like NORML are concerned, saying that the emergency rules were established behind closed doors—absent of any public input. Further, the rules arrived almost six years after voters initially approved Florida’s constitutional amendment establishing a medical cannabis system.

On September 8, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried blasted the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and its Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), calling on them to roll back “extreme” dosage restrictions enacted through an emergency rule, a process that afforded less than three days advance notice to doctors and patients and provided no public comment opportunity.

Florida Department of Health’s OMMU website, Emergency Rule 64ER22-8 stipulates that a qualified physician may not issue a certification for more than three 70-day supply limits of cannabis or more than six 35-day supply limits of cannabis in smoking form. Also, a 35-day supply limit for cannabis in smoking form shall not exceed 2.5 ounces. Many more restrictions were added to the list.

The rules do allow physicians, however, to request exceptions to the limits for certain patients.

Commissioner Fried announced this letter at a press conference held September 8 at the Florida Capitol where she was joined by medical cannabis patients and advocates, including Dr. Barry Gordon with the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic and Jodi James with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FLCAN) to discuss why the emergency rules must be tossed out and how it can do harm to medical cannabis patients, such as ones who require higher doses of THC.

“This rule change is unnecessary, its implementation poorly noticed, and its impacts extremely harmful with hundreds of thousands of patients in Florida no longer able to access their medicine in the quantities they need for efficient treatment as determined by their doctors. This reflects a lack of understanding of medical cannabis by DOH and OMMU at best and is an act of cruelty at worst,” said Commissioner Fried. “We are sending a strong message to the DeSantis Administration to put patients first, protect their access to legal and lifesaving medicine, and roll back these restrictions. I will never stop fighting for our medical cannabis patients and full legalization.”

Watch the video of the press conference here.

Commissioner Fried sent a public letter to Florida’s Surgeon General, who oversees DOH’s OMMU, and the letter may be downloaded here.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano described the newly imposed limits as a “solution in search of a problem.” He said: “These arbitrary and unnecessary limits were established without input from either the patient community or from those physicians who specialize in providing oversight to medical cannabis patients. They will likely result in creating unnecessary confusion and they will place an undue burden upon patients and their doctors. Decisions regarding cannabis care ought to be between patients and their physicians; they should not be made by bureaucrats.”

Fried is an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a group of reporters on August 23 that medical cannabis license holders in the state need to pay more for their license application and renewal fees. State officials “should charge these people more,” DeSantis said.

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California Governor Passes Two Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Bills

On Sept. 2, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1954 and Senate Bill 988.

Assembly Bill 1954, which was introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk, will protect medical cannabis patients from being discriminated against by physicians and surgeons due to testing positive for THC.

According to Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer, AB-1954 will clarify the rules on patient cannabis use for physicians. “Many physicians are under the mistaken impression that they can’t prescribe medication to patients who test positive for cannabis,” Gieringer said. A NORML article specifies that many California health plans require patients to sign agreements stating that they will not use illegal substances during their treatment, and must agree to drug testing. Prior to this bill, NORML found that 18.5% of patients were denied prescription medication treatment due to a doctor becoming aware of their cannabis use.

“It is irresponsible and unethical for pain management programs to eliminate patients who are using medical cannabis for their chronic pain, because there is conclusive scientific evidence that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain,” physician Larry A. Bedard told NORML. Through the passage of AB-1954, physicians won’t be punished if their patients consume cannabis.

The second bill, Senate Bill 988, was introduced by Sen. Ben Hueso as an amendment to the existing bill known as either the Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act, or Ryan’s Law. “The bill would require a health facility to require a patient or a primary caregiver, as defined, to be responsible for acquiring, retrieving, administering, and removing medicinal cannabis and would require medicinal cannabis to be stored securely at all times,” the summary states. “The bill would require the patient or the patient’s primary caregiver to, upon discharge, remove all remaining medicinal cannabis and, if a patient cannot remove the medicinal cannabis and does not have a primary caregiver, would require the storage of the product in a locked container until it is disposed of, as specified.”

Newsom also has a number of other cannabis-related bills to consider signing, which he has until September 30 to sign. This includes bills that allow medical cannabis delivery in local jurisdictions, establish an automatic record-sealing statue, require the Department of Social Services to treat medical cannabis use similarly to alcohol or prescribed medication, allow veterinarians to recommend cannabis to pets, allow cannabis event licenses to take place where alcohol is sold, and a proposal to allow interstate cannabis commerce from California to other legal states.

Most recently, lawmakers gave final approval to Assembly Bill 2188. If Newsom signs AB-2188, it would make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person for cannabis use while off the clock. This applies to the “hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person.”

If passed, California would become the seventh state to implement protections for cannabis-consuming employees. According to Quirk, who is also the author of AB-2188 in addition to the previously mentioned AB-1954, the bill only protects off duty employees. “Nothing in this bill would allow someone to come [to work] high,” Quirk explained to ABC News in an interview.

A few weeks ago, Newsom vetoed a bill that would allow safe injection sites in an effort to prevent drug overdoses. The author of Senate Bill 57, Senator Scott Wiener, emphasized the importance of prevention with a bill like his. “Every overdose death is preventable,” Wiener said. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB-57 is long overdue, and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

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Missouri Lawmakers Want Weed Legalization Added to Upcoming Special Session

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and cannabis activists is calling on Missouri Governor Mike Parson to include recreational marijuana legalization in a special legislative session scheduled for later this month. The legislators and advocates also announced the launch of a campaign to oppose a voter initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis, which will appear on the Missouri ballot as Amendment 3 in the November general election.

Missouri state lawmakers will return to the state Capitol in Jefferson City on September 14 to debate a $700 million tax cut plan advanced by Parson. But cannabis activists and legislators including Republican state Representative Tony Lovasco are calling on the governor to add discussions for a marijuana legalization plan that could be passed before the electorate votes on Amendment 3, which is supported by the state’s medical marijuana industry.

“Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our (state) constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion,” Lovasco said.

The state legislature considered a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Missouri earlier this year, but the legislation stalled under intense lobbying pressure from the established medical marijuana industry. Instead, the medical cannabis lobby supported the initiative campaign for Amendment 3, which would give current medical marijuana licensees the first shot at recreational cannabis licenses and put a cap on the number of marijuana businesses that can operate in the state.

State officials announced on August 9 that Amendment 3 had qualified for the ballot for this fall’s general election. On August 19, however, opponents of marijuana legalization filed a lawsuit to block the initiative from the November ballot.

Whether Parson will grant the request and add adult-use cannabis legalization to the agenda for the special legislative session remains to be seen. The governor has received significant campaign funding from the medical marijuana industry and has publicly opposed the recreational marijuana legalization amendment, saying that it is a “disaster” that will mostly benefit “corporations behind marijuana.”

Missouri Group Opposes Amendment 3

Advocates for including marijuana legalization talks in the special legislative session repeated Parson’s complaints about Amendment 3. State Representative Wiley Price, a Democrat, said that the proposal would “corner the market for those already in position and continue a long tradition of predatory behavior on minority and poor communities.”

Opponents of Amendment 3 also note that the initiative includes provisions that criminalize some marijuana-related activities. Because the proposal is a constitutional amendment, changing it in the future will be a difficult process.

“We oppose any effort to put criminal or civil penalties for marijuana in the Missouri Constitution,” said Jeremy Cady, director of Americans for Prosperity Missouri. “The General Assembly should act to end marijuana prohibition and do so in a manner that adheres to free market principles.”

“It can be changed, but it’s going to be very, very hard, so the people who put this in place, will have full control over whether something changes again,” added cannabis activist Timothy Gilio.

John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, the group campaigning for the passage of Amendment 3, criticized Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist who is helping organize opposition to the ballot measure. He said if voters approve Amendment 3, it would “ruin [Thampy’s] business model of lobbying for failed marijuana legalization efforts year after year.”

“In November, we will become the 20th state to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and the first state to vote for automatic expungement of past, non-violent marijuana offenses,” Payne said. “Amendment 3 will allow law enforcement to focus on serious and violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenues to Missourians.”

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