Tag Archives: Focus Article

Microbiology 101 Part Two

By Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
No Comments

Microbiology 101 Part One introduced the reader to the science of microbiology and sources of microbes. In Part Two, we discuss the control of microorganisms in your products.

Part 2

The cannabis industry is probably more informed about patients and consumers of their products than the general food industry. In addition to routine illness and stress in the population, cannabis consumers are fighting cancer, HIV/AIDS and other immune disorders. Consumers who are already ill are immunocompromised. Transplant recipients purposely have their immune system suppressed in the process of a successful transplant. These consumers have pre-existing conditions where the immune system is weakened. If the immunocompromised consumer is exposed to viral or bacterial pathogens through cannabis products, the consumer is more likely to suffer from a viral infection or foodborne illness as a secondary illness to the primary illness. In the case of consumers with weakened immune systems, it could literally kill them.Bacteria, yeast, and mold are present in all environments.

The cannabis industry shoulders great responsibility in both the medical and adult use markets. In addition to avoiding chemical hazards and determining the potency of the product, the cannabis industry must manufacture products safe for consumption. There are three ways to control pathogens and ensure a safe product: prevent them from entering, kill them and control their growth.

Prevent microorganisms from getting in

Think about everything that is outdoors that will physically come in a door to your facility. Control the quality of ingredients, packaging, equipment lubricants, cleaning agents and sanitizers. Monitor employee hygiene. Next, you control everything within your walls: employees, materials, supplies, equipment and the environment. You control receiving, employee entrance, storage, manufacturing, packaging and distribution. At every step in the process, your job is to prevent the transfer of pathogens into the product from these sources.

Kill microorganisms

Colorized low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria.
Image courtesy of USDA ARS & Eric Erbe

The combination of raw materials to manufacture your product is likely to include naturally occurring pathogens. Traditional heat methods like roasting and baking will kill most pathogens. Remember, sterility is not the goal. The concern is that a manufacturer uses heat to achieve organoleptic qualities like color and texture, but the combination of time and temperature may not achieve safety. It is only with a validated process that safety is confirmed. If we model safety after what is required of food manufacturers by the Food and Drug Administration, validation of processes that control pathogens is required. In addition to traditional heat methods, non-thermal methods for control of pathogens includes irradiation and high pressure processing and are appropriate for highly priced goods, e.g. juice. Killing is achieved in the manufacturing environment and on processing equipment surfaces after cleaning and by sanitizing.

If you have done everything reasonable to stop microorganisms from getting in the product and you have a validated step to kill pathogens, you may still have spoilage microorganisms in the product. It is important that all pathogens have been eliminated. Examples of pathogens include Salmonella, pathogenic Escherichia coli, also called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Listeria monocytogenes. These three common pathogens are easily destroyed by proper heat methods. Despite steps taken to kill pathogens, it is theoretically possible a pathogen is reintroduced after the kill step and before packaging is sealed at very low numbers in the product. Doctors do not know how many cells are required for a consumer to get ill, and the immunocompromised consumer is more susceptible to illness. Lab methods for the three pathogens mentioned are designed to detect very low cell numbers. Packaging and control of growth factors will stop pathogens from growing in the product, if present.

Control the growth of microorganisms

These growth factors will control the growth of pathogens, and you can use the factors to control spoilage microbes as well. To grow, microbes need the same things we do: a comfortable temperature, water, nutrients (food), oxygen, and a comfortable level of acid. In the lab, we want to find the pathogen, so we optimize these factors for growth. When you control growth in your product, one hurdle may be enough to stop growth; sometimes multiple hurdles are needed in combination. Bacteria, yeast, and mold are present in all environments. They are at the bottom of the ocean under pressure. They are in hot springs at the temperature of boiling water. The diversity is immense. Luckily, we can focus on the growth factors for human pathogens, like Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.

The petri dishes show sterilization effects of negative air ionization on a chamber aerosolized with Salmonella enteritidis. The left sample is untreated; the right, treated. Photo courtesy of USDA ARS & Ken Hammond

Temperature. Human pathogens prefer to grow at the temperature of the human body. In manufacture, keep the time a product is in the range of 40oF to 140oF as short as possible. You control pathogens when your product is at very hot or very cold temperatures. Once the product cools after a kill step in manufacturing, it is critical to not reintroduce a pathogen from the environment or personnel. Clean equipment and packaging play key roles in preventing re-contamination of the product.

Water. At high temperatures as in baking or roasting, there is killing, but there is also the removal of water. In the drying process that is not at high temperature, water is removed to stop the growth of mold. This one hurdle is all that is needed. Even before mold is controlled, bacterial and yeast growth will stop. Many cannabis candies are safe, because water is not available for pathogen growth. Packaging is key to keep moisture out of the product.

Nutrients. In general, nutrients are going to be available for pathogen growth and cannot be controlled. In most products nutrients cannot be removed, however, recipes can be adjusted. Recipes for processed food add preservatives to control growth. In cannabis as in many plants, there may be natural compounds which act as preservatives.

Oxygen. With the great diversity of bacteria, there are bacteria that require the same oxygen we breathe, and mold only grows in oxygen. There are bacteria that only grow in the absence of oxygen, e.g. the bacteria responsible for botulism. And then there are the bacteria and yeast in between, growing with or without oxygen. Unfortunately, most human pathogens will grow with or without oxygen, but slowly without oxygen. The latter describes the growth of Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. While a package seals out air, the growth is very slow. Once a package is opened and the product is exposed to air, growth accelerates.

Acid. Fermented or acidified products have a higher level of acid than non-acid products; the acid acts as a natural preservative. The more acid, the more growth is inhibited. Generally, acid is a hurdle to growth, however and because of diversity, some bacteria prefer acid, like probiotics which are non-pathogenic. Some pathogens, like E. coli, have been found to grow in low acid foods, e.g. juice, even though the preference is for non-acidic environments.

Each facility is unique to its materials, people, equipment and product. A safe product is made by following Good Agricultural Practices for the cannabis, by following Good Manufacturing Practices and by suppressing pathogens by preventing them coming in, killing them and controlling their growth factors. Future articles will cover Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and food safety in more detail.

Total Yeast & Mold Count: What Cultivators & Business Owners Need to Know

By Parastoo Yaghmaee, PhD
2 Comments

Editor’s note: This article should serve as a foundation of knowledge for yeast and mold in cannabis. Beginning in January 2018, we will publish a series of articles focused entirely on yeast and mold, discussing topics such as TYMC testing, preventing yeast and mold in cultivation and treatment methods to reduce yeast and mold.


Cannabis stakeholders, including cultivators, extractors, brokers, distributors and consumers, have been active in the shadows for decades. With the legalization of recreational adult use in several states, and more on the way, safety of the distributed product is one of the main concerns for regulators and the public. Currently, Colorado1, Nevada and Canada2 require total yeast and mold count (TYMC) compliance testing to evaluate whether or not cannabis is safe for human consumption. As the cannabis industry matures, it is likely that TYMC or other stringent testing for yeast and mold will be adopted in the increasingly regulated medical and recreational markets.

The goal of this article is to provide general information on yeast and mold, and to explain why TYMC is an important indicator in determining cannabis safety.

Yeast & Mold

Photo credit: Steep Hill- a petri dish of mold growth from tested cannabis

Yeast and mold are members of the fungi family. Fungus, widespread in nature, can be found in the air, water, soil, vegetation and in decaying matter. The types of fungus found in different geographic regions vary based upon humidity, soil and other environmental conditions. In general, fungi can grow in a wide range of pH environments and temperatures, and can survive in harsh conditions that bacteria cannot. They are not able to produce their own food like plants, and survive by breaking down material from their surroundings into nutrients. Mold cannot thrive in an environment with limited oxygen, while yeast is able to grow with or without oxygen. Most molds, if grown for a long enough period, can be detected visually, while yeast growth is usually detected by off-flavor and fermentation.

Due to their versatility, it is rare to find a place or surface that is naturally free of fungi or their spores. Damp conditions, poor air quality and darker areas are inviting environments for yeast and mold growth.

Cannabis plants are grown in both indoor and outdoor conditions. Plants grown outdoors are exposed to wider ranges and larger populations of fungal species compared to indoor plants. However, factors such as improper watering, the type of soil and fertilizer and poor air circulation can all increase the chance of mold growth in indoor environments. Moreover, secondary contamination is a prevalent risk from human handling during harvest and trimming for both indoor and outdoor-grown cannabis. If humidity and temperature levels of drying and curing rooms are not carefully controlled, the final product could also easily develop fungi or their growth by-product.

 What is TYMC?

TYMC, or total yeast and mold count, is the number of colony forming units present per gram of product (CFU/g). A colony forming unit is the scientific means of counting and reporting the population of live bacteria or yeast and mold in a product. To determine the count, the cannabis sample is plated on a petri dish which is then incubated at a specific temperature for three to five days. During this time, the yeast and mold present will grow and reproduce. Each colony, which represents an individual or a group of yeast and mold, produces one spot on the petri dish. Each spot is considered one colony forming unit.

Why is TYMC Measured?

TYMC is an indicator of the overall cleanliness of the product’s life cycle: growing environment, processing conditions, material handling and storage facilities. Mold by itself is not considered “bad,” but having a high mold count, as measured by TYMC, is alarming and could be detrimental to both consumers and cultivators. 

Aspergillus species niger
Photo: Carlos de Paz, Flickr

The vast majority of mold and yeast present in the environment are indeed harmless, and even useful to humans. Some fungi are used commercially in production of fermented food, industrial alcohol, biodegradation of waste material and the production of antibiotics and enzymes, such as penicillin and proteases. However, certain fungi cause food spoilage and the production of mycotoxin, a fungal growth by-product that is toxic to humans and animals. Humans absorb mycotoxins through inhalation, skin contact and ingestion. Unfortunately, mycotoxins are very stable and withstand both freezing and cooking temperatures. One way to reduce mycotoxin levels in a product is to have a low TYMC.

Aspergillus flavus on culture.
Photo: Iqbal Osman, Flickr

Yeast and mold have been found to be prevalent in cannabis in both current and previous case studies. In a 2017 UC Davis study, 20 marijuana samples obtained from Northern California dispensaries were found to contain several yeast and mold species, including Cryptococcus, Mucor, Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger, and Aspergillus flavus.3 The same results were reported in 1983, when marijuana samples collected from 14 cannabis smokers were analyzed. All of the above mold species in the 2017 study were present in 13 out of 14 marijuana samples.4

Aspergillus species niger, flavus, and fumigatus are known for aflatoxin production, a type of dangerous mycotoxin that can be lethal.5 Once a patient smokes and/or ingests cannabis with mold, the toxins and/or spores can thrive inside the lungs and body.6, 7 There are documented fatalities and complications in immunocompromised patients smoking cannabis with mold, including patients with HIV and other autoimmune diseases, as well as the elderly.8, 9, 10, 11

For this reason, regulations exist to limit the allowable TYMC counts for purposes of protecting consumer safety. At the time of writing this article, the acceptable limit for TYMC in cannabis plant material in Colorado, Nevada and Canada is ≤10,000 CFU/g. Washington state requires a mycotoxin test.12 California is looking into testing for specific Aspergillus species as a part of their requirement. As the cannabis industry continues to grow and advance, it is likely that additional states will adopt some form of TYMC testing into their regulatory testing requirements.

References:

  1. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Complete%20Retail%20Marijuana%20Rules%20as%20of%20April%2014%202017.pdf
  2. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/f-27/
  3. https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/publish/news/newsroom/11791
  4. Kagen SL, Kurup VP, Sohnle PG, Fink JN. 1983. Marijuana smoking and fungal sensitization. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. 71(4): 389-393.
  5. Centre for Disease control and prevention. 2004 Outbreak of Aflatoxin Poisoning – Eastern and central provinces, Kenya, Jan – July 2004. Morbidity and mortality weekly report.. Sep 3, 2004: 53(34): 790-793
  6. Cescon DW, Page AV, Richardson S, Moore MJ, Boerner S, Gold WL. 2008. Invasive pulmonary Aspergillosis associated with marijuana use in a man with colorectal cancer. Diagnosis in Oncology. 26(13): 2214-2215.
  7. Szyper-Kravits M, Lang R, Manor Y, Lahav M. 2001 Early invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in a leukemia patient linked to aspergillus contaminated marijuana smoking. Leukemia Lymphoma 42(6): 1433 – 1437.
  8. Verweii PE, Kerremans JJ, Voss A, F.G. Meis M. 2000. Fungal contamination of Tobacco and Marijuana. JAMA 2000 284(22): 2875.
  9. Ruchlemer R, Amit-Kohn M, Raveh D, Hanus L. 2015. Inhaled medicinal cannabis and the immunocompromised patient. Support Care Cancer. 23(3):819-822.
  10. McPartland JM, Pruitt PL. 1997. Medical Marijuana and its use by the immunocompromised. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 3 (3): 39-45.
  11. Hamadeh R, Ardehali A, Locksley RM, York MK. 1983. Fatal aspergillosis associated with smoking contaminated marijuana, in a marrow transplant recipient. Chest. 94(2): 432-433.
  12. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=314-55-102

Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 4

By Aaron G. Biros
No Comments

In the first part of this series, we spoke with Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA, to learn the basics of cannabis laboratory accreditation. In the second part, we sat down with Roger Brauninger, A2LA Biosafety Program manager, to learn why states are looking to lab accreditation in their regulations for the cannabis industry. In the third part, we heard from Michael DeGregorio, chief executive officer of Konocti Analytics, Inc., discussing method development in the cannabis testing industry and his experience with getting accredited.

In the fourth and final part of this series, we sit down with Susan Audino, Ph.D., an A2LA lead assessor and instructor, laboratory consultant and board member for the Center for Research on Environmental Medicine in Maryland. Dr. Audino will share some insights into method validation and the most technical aspects of laboratory accreditation.

Susan Audino, Ph.D.

Susan Audino obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry with an analytical chemistry major, physical and biochemistry minor areas. She currently owns and operates a consulting firm to service chemical and biological laboratories. Susan has been studying the chemistry and applications of cannabinoids and provides scientific and technical guidance to cannabis dispensaries, testing laboratories and medical personnel. Dr. Audino’s interest most directly involves cannabis consumer safety and protection, and promotes active research towards the development of official test methods specifically for the cannabis industry, and to advocate appropriate clinical research. In addition to serving on Expert Review Panels, she is also chairing the first Cannabis Advisory Panel and working group with AOAC International, is a member of the Executive Committee of the ASTM Cannabis Section and has consulted to numerous cannabis laboratories and state regulatory bodies.

CannabisIndustryJournal: What are the some of the most significant technical issues facing an accreditation body when assessing a cannabis-testing laboratory?

Susan: From the AB perspective, there needs to be a high level of expertise to evaluate the merits and scientific soundness of laboratory-developed analytical test methods. Because there are presently no standard or consensus test methods available, laboratories are required to develop their own methods, which need to be valid. Validating methods require a rigorous series of tests and statistical analyses to ensure the correctness and reliability of the laboratory’s product, which is– the test report.

CIJ: When is method validation required and how does this differ from system suitability?

Susan: Method validation is required whenever the laboratory modifies a currently accepted consensus or standard test method, or when the laboratory develops its own method. Method validation is characterized by a series of analytical performance criteria including determinations of accuracy, precision, linearity, specification, limit of detection, and limit of quantitation. The determination of system suitability requires a series of deliberate variations of parameters to ensure the complete system, that is all instrument(s) as well as the analytical method, is maintained throughout the entire analytical process. Traditionally, method validation has been referred to as “ruggedness” and system suitability as “robustness.”

CIJ: What are the most important aspects of method validation that must be taken into account? 

Susan: In keeping with the FDA guidelines and other accepted criteria, I tend to recommend the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH), particularly Q 2A, which is a widely recognized program that discusses the pertinent characteristics of method validation. This include: method specification, linearity, range, accuracy, and precision (e.g., repeatability, intermediate precision, reproducibility). As mentioned earlier, system suitability is also a critical element and although related to method validation, does require its own protocol.

CIJ: What three areas do you see the laboratory having the hardest time with in preparing for accreditation? 

Susan: My responses to this question assume the laboratory employs appropriate instruments to perform the necessary analyses, and that the laboratory employs personnel with experience and knowledge appropriate to develop test methods and interpret test results.

  • By and large, method validation that is not appropriate to the scope of their intended work. Driving this is an overall lack of information about method validation. Oftentimes there is an assumption that multiple recoveries of CRMs constitute “validation”. While it may be one element, this only demonstrates the instrument’s suitability. My recommendation is to utilize any one of a number of good single laboratory validation protocols. Options include, but are not limited to AOAC International, American Chemical Society, ASTM, and ICH protocols.
  • Second is the lack of statistically sound sampling protocols for those laboratories that are mandated by their governing states to go to the field to sample the product from required batches. Sampling protocols needs to address the heterogeneity of the plant, defining the batch, and determining/collecting a sample of sufficient quantity that will be both large enough and representative of the population, and to provide the laboratory an adequate amount from which to sub-sample.
  • Third, sample preparation. This is somewhat intertwined with my previous point. Once an appropriate sample has been collected, preparation must be relevant to the appropriate technology and assay. It is unlikely that a laboratory can perform a single preparation that is amenable to comprehensive testing.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill? Part 4: Banking & Tax Reform

By Brian Blumenfeld, J.D., M.A.
No Comments

To round out our federal reform review, we look at the bills introduced into the 115th Congress that attempt to resolve the banking and taxation problems faced by state-legal cannabis businesses. As this is perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of the cannabis industry, any movement by the feds on these issues will be welcomed. As it turns out, there are four proposals currently pending for fixing the broken cannabis financial services system, with each proposal comprising a pair of House-Senate companion bills. We look at each pair in turn.

Group 1

S. 1156 – SAFE Act; or, Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act

HR. 2215 – SAFE Act; or, Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act

Policy: These SAFE Acts would prohibit federal prosecutors and federal regulators from preventing or disciplining in any way a depository institution simply because that depository institution serviced a cannabis-related business.

Impact: The impact of these bills would be widespread for both the cannabis industry and for financial service institutions looking to capitalize on the cannabis industry. For banks, the bills would remove all of the barrier-risks that are now keeping them out of the cannabis business. Currently, the feds have handed down policy guidance to banks stating that as long as they submit what are called “Suspicious Activity Reports, or “SARs” for cannabis-related accounts, and conduct their due diligence to ensure such accounts are complying with state law, then those banks will not be pursued by federal law enforcement. The problem with this guidance is that it is only policy, it is not law, and so it can change on as little as an administrative whim. The protection from cannabis business risk, most banks have determined, is therefore temporary at best and illusory at worst. Passage of the SAFE Act would instantly change all of that and initiate a banking bonanza. Banks will be racing to profit off of what is amounting to a newly minted billion dollar industry. Cannabis businesses will benefit greatly from all of this. Not only will they be able to stop operating strictly in cash and have access to all the traditional financial services that other businesses heavily rely on, but they will also be the beneficiaries of a highly competitive, and therefore affordable and efficient, cannabis banking market.

Procedural Status:

S. 1156

  • Introduced: May 17, 2017 by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

    Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
    Image: Medill DC, Flickr
  • Cosponsors: 3 Republicans, 7 Democrats, 1 Independent
  • Referred to Senate Committee on:
    • Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

HR. 2215

  • Introduced: April 27, 2017 by Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)
  • Cosponsors: 7 Republicans, 44 Democrats
  • Referred to House Committees on:
    • Judiciary
      • Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations
    • Financial Services

Group 2

S777 – Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017

HR 1810 – Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017

Policy: These bills would carve out an exception to IRC 280E allowing cannabis businesses to deduct ordinary business expenses from their federally taxable revenues.

Impact: If enacted these bills will dramatically ease the tax burden for cannabis businesses. Currently, even when they are in perfect compliance with state law, cannabis businesses are not permitted to deduct ordinary business expenses. This means that net taxable revenues are, and are going to continue to be, substantially higher than net taxable revenues for businesses in any other industry. If enacted, profit margins—and therefore product quality, operational efficiency and innovation—are going to uptick across all states that have legalized.

Procedural Status:

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Image: JD Lasica, Flickr

S. 777

  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Cosponsors: 1 Republican, 4 Democrats
  • Referred to Senate Committee on:
    • Finance

HR. 1810

  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)
  • Cosponsors: 10 Republicans, 24 Democrats
  • Referred to House Committee on:
    • Ways and Means

Group 3

S. 780 – Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act of 2017

HR. 1824  Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act of 2017

Policy: These bills combine to accomplish what each of the foregoing pairs accomplish separately. IRC 280E would no longer apply to state-legal cannabis businesses, and banking would become available for them as well. Additionally, advertising prohibitions in the CSA and the Communications act of 1934 would be removed, with the one exception that advertisements inducing travel from a state where cannabis is not legal to a legal cannabis state would be prohibited. Under Title II of the acts, barriers to federal bankruptcy proceedings would be removed. These bills would also reform the CSA as it relates to criminal liability for individuals, criminal record expungement and medical research for institutions, all of which are noteworthy but neither of which directly impact the legal cannabis industry.

Impact: For the impact of IRC reform, see “Impact” section under S.777/HR.180. For the impact of banking reform, see “Impact” section under S.1156/HR/2215.

By leaving advertising guidelines completely up to the states, we would probably witness the easing of advertising restrictions by the states. Currently, states have tight advertising rules because, after protecting consumers, they do not want their state’s legal cannabis industry to draw attention from the feds in any way. That concern would become moot and we could see more advertising in and across legalized states. This would drive competition across larger markets, in terms of both product and service quality and branding/marketing strategy.

Access to federal bankruptcy proceedings would clarify the landscape for all potential financial scenarios in the lifecycle of cannabis businesses, which in turn will ease uncertainty concerns of potential investors. The bankruptcy provision, combined with the banking provisions will undoubtedly open access to capital for cannabis businesses looking to grow operations and market presence.

Procedural Status:

S. 780

  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Cosponsors: None
  • Referred to Senate Committee on:
    • Finance

HR. 1824

Representative Earl Blumenaur (D-OR)
Photo: Bridget Baker, 92bridges.com
  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Representative Earl Blumenaur (D-OR)
  • Cosponsors: 0 Republicans, 8 Democrats
  • Referred to House Committees on:
    • Judiciary
      • Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations
      • Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law
      • Immigration and Border Security
    • Energy & Commerce
      • Health
    • Ways and Means
    • Financial Services
    • Natural Resources
      • Indian, Insular, and Alaskan Affairs
    • Education and the Workforce
    • Veterans’ Affairs
      • Health
    • Oversight and Government Reform

Group 4

S. 776 – Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act

HR. 1823 – Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act

Policy: Subchapters A and B of these bills would impose two additional federal tax requirements on cannabis businesses. The first would be an excise tax on all producers, beginning at a rate of 10%, and growing each year that a producer is in business to a cap of 25% at five years. The second tax would be an occupational tax of $1,000 per year, to be paid by the principals of any cannabis producer or warehouse proprietor. Significantly, these bills would also authorize the federal government to regulate operations in the industry.

Impact: The tax impact of these bills would be a straightforward additional tax that cannabis businesses would have to pay, on top of state and local taxes. The burden of additional taxes will inevitably impact profit margins, initial decisions on whether or not to enter the market and strategies for expansion and innovation. The impacts of federal authorization and regulatory requirements was discussed in the second article of the series, specifically under the “Impact” section of HR1841

Procedural Status:

S. 776

  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Cosponsors: None
  • Referred to Senate Committee on:
    • Finance

HR. 1823

  • Introduced: March 30, 2017 by Representative Earl Blumenaur (D-OR)
  • Cosponsors: 0 Republicans, 8 Democrats
  • Referred to House Committee on:
    • Ways and Means
roger_headshot

Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 2

By Aaron G. Biros
1 Comment
roger_headshot

In the first part of this series, Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), told us about the basics of laboratory accreditation, what it means and why it is such a cornerstone of product safety. In this next piece, we sit down with Roger Brauninger, A2LA Biosafety Program manager, to learn why states are looking to lab accreditation in their regulations for the cannabis industry.

Brauninger has worked at A2LA since 1999. As the manager of their biosafety program, his focus is on developing and maintaining accreditation programs in the life sciences. Brauninger has conducted a number of management system assessments to ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 and also evaluates other assessors in this role.

roger_headshot
Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager

He is A2LA’s point person for interacting with organizations working with food and drug safety, human and animal anti-doping, biological and chemical threat agents and since 2014 for issues related to cannabis testing. He is a member of the ASTM D37 Cannabis committee, a group focused on creating standards for cannabis products. He was also a member of the stakeholder panel on strategic food analytical methods (SPSFAM) cannabis potency working group when they were awarded the Official Methods Board (OMB) award for achievement in technical and scientific excellence at the AOAC’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, GA. Brauninger holds an M.S. degree in Cellular, Microbial and Molecular Biology from George Mason University and is a member of the Society for Toxicology, AOAC International and the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP).

In this part of the series, we sit down with Brauninger to learn specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories. Stay tuned for part three.

CannabisIndustryJournal: Do all states with legalized medical cannabis require the testing to be performed by an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory?

Roger Brauninger: No not at present, while most of the states where cannabis is legal do require accreditation; there are some states that have no requirements dealing with ensuring the competence of the testing laboratories, some that require the labs to be accredited to state environmental and drinking water standards, some that require laboratories adhere to Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) requirements and some have no requirements in place currently. Now, there are roughly 13 states that require or recommend accreditation of the testing laboratory to ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: If and when cannabis use is accepted federally, how is ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of testing laboratories beneficial?

Roger: The accreditation process provides a uniform platform to allow for comparability of test results between states. This would also allow for these laboratories to benefit by being able to expand their customer base, if state borders were not an artificially imposed barrier to trade. This could also help to raise the quality of the testing services by allowing for greater participation in realistic accredited proficiency testing programs, which can create greater comparability of methods and results.

CIJ: What are the benefits to the states by choosing to require ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation as a basis for competence of testing laboratories?

Roger: States face the unique challenge, due to the federal illegality of cannabis, that they must craft their own regulatory cannabis program requirements. The ISO/IEC 17025 requirements provides a means upon which to recognize laboratory competence. This saves the states from having to come up with their own laboratory quality management requirements detailing the necessary activities a laboratory must address with respect to documentation, chain of custody, method validation, etc. Because these items are already considered in the standard. ISO/IEC 17025 helps to creates a baseline consistency amongst laboratories between states. And It also helps to   provides for the legal defensibility of the test results. If and when cannabis is legalized on a federal level, a uniform 50 state recognition is possible using ISO/IEC 17025 as the basis of recognition. In short accreditation can help to ensure that test results have greater comparability and reliability; It also provides greater trust and confidence in the labels and the stated ingredients.

CIJ: Many of the laboratories are “starting up”, how is A2LA equipped to deal with the influx of novice laboratories in this field of testing?

Roger: A2LA offers many different relevant training classes, including those on the ISO/IEC 17025 standard itself, (as well as ones that also contain cannabis-specific content), internal auditing, documenting your quality system, etc. for the laboratories. A2LA also is knowledgeable regarding various states’ cannabis regulatory requirements and can help guide the labs through some of the many obstacles they face in order to perform testing in their state.

CIJ: Does A2LA provide any technical assistance to laboratories that are starting up in this industry?

Roger: A2LA has numerous technical assessors who are experts in the analytical technology associated with cannabis testing. Assessors can be hired in a consulting role and act independently of the assessment process (and independent of A2LA). As a consultant, they can also assist in setting up a quality management system in compliance with ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: What benefits can be gained from a laboratory seeking accreditation or from a state that requires cannabis testing laboratories to be accredited?

Roger: Accreditation can provide legal defensibility and increased confidence in the test results being able to stand up in court.   It also may help to lower the cost of doing business because it helps to ensure that the test methods are in control by the laboratory and has been shown to be able to reduce the need for repeat testing. Laboratory accreditation has also led to reduced insurance rates in some cases.

The Future of California’s Regulations: Q&A with Josh Drayton

By Aaron G. Biros
1 Comment

Josh Drayton, deputy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, has an extensive career in local and state-level politics, with his origins in Humboldt County as a political organizer. As a coffee shop owner about ten years ago in Humboldt, he let city council candidates use his space for community engagement, which eventually steered him towards a career in politics. As a heavily involved resident of Northern California and an advocate in local and state matters, he came to understand cannabis as a strong economic driver for the region and beyond.

Drayton saw firsthand how local economies benefit from cannabis as a source of income, economic activity, and providing occupational opportunities for many families in Humboldt County. After running a handful of local campaigns in the Humboldt region, Drayton served as deputy director for a state senate campaign in Riverside.

Josh Drayton, deputy director of the CCIA

Towards the end of his tenure with the Democratic Party in California, the state legislature began working on medical cannabis regulations. “As we saw those regulations moving through, cities and counties began to ban cannabis throughout the state, which was a very unintended consequence,” says Drayton. “The goal was to put regulations forward that would create a framework for the industry to survive and function under, but they were not very fond of cannabis at the time. It was clear that we had a lot of work to do.” Politicians shying away from cannabis issues and a lack of real representation in the legislature for those stakeholders drove him to leave the state’s senate for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA).

In January of 2016, he jumped on board with the CCIA as their deputy director. Ahead of the California Cannabis Business Conference, September 21-22 in Anaheim, we sit down with Drayton to hear his take on the future of California’s cannabis regulations.

CannabisIndustryJournal: Give us a quick update on the regulatory framework in California and the changes we should expect.

Josh Drayton: One of the biggest challenges that California has faced has been the reconciliation of medical regulations with adult use regulations. Although California had medical cannabis legalized in 1996, we did not get those regulations put forward until 2015. That was called the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. That was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor into law. It was created in the legislature. When Prop 64 passed, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in November of 2016, it was passed through by a voter initiative. Any time that a piece of legislation goes to the voters, it trumps any legislation or regulations written by the state legislature. The real work has been to reconcile these two pieces of legislation into one regulatory structure. With that being said, we saw the initial trailer bill, attempting to reconcile these regulatory structures. That trailer bill is meant to address the new framework. Currently, we are waiting for the second viewing of the updated trailer bill SB 94 with all current amendments. Then we are anticipating those in the next couple weeks and we will see the regulations that will affect all these changes by November.

CIJ: How strong will local and municipal control be in the future?

Josh: It is incredibly strong and it is meant to be. I will say that California is like its own country. In Northern California, what they are willing to accept is very different in comparison to Southern California. Every city and county still has the ability to fully ban adult use and they can create and draft their own ordinances and regulations as long as it doesn’t go above state requirements. They can craft an ordinance to fit the needs of their city or county. Lets say you are in a rural area, delivery services might be important for patient access. Some areas might not allow brick and mortar dispensaries, and all that control lies in the cities and counties.

CIJ: Will there be a dosing limit for patients buying infused products? What about for adult use?

Josh: For adult use, there is going to be a limitation. Every edible has a maximum potency of 10mg of THC. For example, a chocolate bar can have a maximum of 100mg [of THC] but must be perforated in to 10mg pieces.

We have been advocating for, and what has been a priority for CCIA, is a lift of any sort of limits on medical infused products. Many patients have a higher threshold or tolerance and they may need 100mg and we don’t want them eating an entire chocolate bar to get that. We are anxiously awaiting the new trailer bill to see if we have been able to lift that concentration limit.

CIJ: Some have said the first draft of lab testing rules is extreme and overreaching. Can you speculate how those have been modified?

Josh: The lab testing is a huge educational issue for the industry and regulators. No state right now has been able to fully analyze the effects of different pesticide levels for a product that is smoked. We are basing all of our standards currently on food consumption. A lot of testing labs are concerned they are unable to test at the state’s threshold for some of these contaminants and pesticides; the detection limits seem very low. The testing portion will take years to work out, I am sure we will remove and add different pesticides and contaminants to the list. But again, the data and research isn’t fully there. There is a big push across the board that we will be able to do more research and testing so that the future of regulations can reflect reality, and ensure that consumer safety is priority.

CIJ: What do you think of the lack of residency requirement? When Oregon lifted it, outside investors flocked to the market. How might that impact local, California ownership and smaller businesses?

Josh: Well I do think that is a concern across the board. That is something that cities and counties have been adding to their requirements for the matrix of items needed to get a license. I think there is a very gray area when looking at investors opposed to operators. At what threshold does an investor become an owner? And if that person is from outside the state, how will that reflect on the evolution of the industry? It is a concern. Keeping limitations on the size of outdoor cultivation might help limit folks from outside the state coming into that arena. After living in Humboldt County for years, and living next to Mom and Pop growers for a long time, I don’t want to see them displaced by businesses coming from another area. We have been doing this a long time and I believe we have the best operators in the world.

CIJ: How is the CCIA helping businesses gear up for changing regulations?

Josh: Well one of our biggest areas of focus is education. Educating our own industry is one of the biggest parts in making sure the industry will be successful in this regulated market. Our legislative committee will take a position of support or opposition, which goes to our board, and those recommendations go to the state. The manufacturing committee has worked very closely with Lori Ajax [director of the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation] and her office, to educate on a variety of areas, guiding the way for state departments on how to properly regulate the industry. We have a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Retail/Delivery, Testing, Distribution and Agricultural committees; across the board our committees create white papers that we submit to the regulatory departments of the state. We take regulatory officials on tours of facilities to get a hands-on view of what they are regulating. They have been speaking with scientists and growers, who often have a better understanding of current industry standards. We see these tours as very helpful. We have brought groups of regulators from LA County, Long Beach, Napa, Alameda and many others on tours of Bay Area commercial manufacturing facilities, dispensaries and nurseries. They have a lot of questions and we want to make sure we are a resource for them. Putting folks in touch with the right people and, in moving forward with this process, in an educated manner. Cannabis is a foreign language to many people and I get that.

CIJ: If you have one recommendation for regulators, what would that be?

Josh: My recommendation to regulators: do not over-tax this industry. Do not make taxation the priority for regulation. Over-taxation will strengthen the illicit market and that is not the goal. We need to make sure the taxes are reasonable to encourage businesses to operate in this market, not in the illegal one. If cities decide to ban, they need to know they can be hubs for illicit activity. Cities with bans might draw the illicit market because illegal operators won’t have to pay taxes or license fees. It is a long play, but responsible taxation is the best path to draw people out of this illicit market. We want to help protect public safety and health, safe medicine, safe products and keep cannabis out of the hands of children.

Cannabis-Infused Beer Goes Mainstream

By Aaron G. Biros
No Comments

Lagunitas Brewing today unveiled a new beer infused with cannabis, making it the first large national brewery to experiment with cannabis. Lagunitas, now owned by Heineken, announced the launch of their “Supercritical Ale,” an IPA brewed with terpenes extracted from cannabis.

The brewery chose to partner with AbsoluteXtracts and CannaCraft, based in California, for their cannabis extract and will use hops from Yakima, Washington. “We’ve long known about the close connection between cannabis and hops,” reads their website. “Now Lagunitas is excited to partner with a like-minded neighbor in Sonoma County, AbsoluteXtracts, to close the gap further with tandem innovations on the topic.” Hops and cannabis belong in the same taxonomic family, Cannabinaceae, and they also have a number of physical similarities, which helps explain the “close connection” they are referring to. The website says the beer will only be available in California—for now. According to Fortune Magazine, the terpenes come from two strains, Blue Dream and Girl Scout Cookies (known as GSC in some states).

The name “Supercritical” comes from the state that carbon dioxide is best used as a solvent for extracting compounds from plants. Terpenes are responsible for the aromatic properties of plants, giving hops the piney and citrusy flavors that come in IPAs, and giving cannabis the same flavors and smells as well. Limonene, for example, is a cyclic terpene molecule that gives us a citrusy smell and flavor.

Coalition brewing Co.’s Two Flowers IPA

They’re not the first brewery to experiment with cannabis-infused beer; smaller craft breweries have been doing it for some time now. Coalition Brewing Co., based in Portland, Oregon, sells a cannabis-infused beer called Two Flowers IPA, with 3mg of cannabidiol (CBD) in a 12oz glass. Dad and Dudes Breweria, based in Aurora, Colorado, also put out a CBD-infused beer last year, called General Washington’s Secret Stash. According to Westword, Dad and Dudes was the first brewery to receive federal approval for a CBD-infused beer, but since the DEA declared cannabis oil illegal last winter, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rescinded their approval.

The common denominator between these three beers is that none of them contain THC, the popular psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Perhaps Lagunitas is taking a safer approach with regard to federal legality by only using terpenes, not CBD, and only offering it in state. Coalition’s Two Flowers IPA is also only available in Oregon, but does, however, contain CBD. Check out the video on Lagunitas’ Supercritical Ale below.

Biros' Blog

CWCBExpo: Cut Ties with Roger Stone

By Aaron G. Biros
12 Comments

Update: According to a press release, the CWCBExpo removed Roger Stone as the scheduled keynote speaker for the Los Angeles and Boston shows. We applaud their decision. 


Earlier today, the Minority Cannabis Business Association published a Facebook post: “As a result of CWC choosing this guy as their keynote speaker, MCBA has decided to withdraw from attendance and speaking roles at this conference. CWC, you know better so there’s no excuse not to do better.” We at Cannabis Industry Journal would like to voice our support for the MCBA and join them in their withdrawal. We will no longer be a media partner of any CWCBExpo events, unless they remove Roger Stone from the keynote slot.

Roger Stone’s Shady Past

The Facebook post from MCBA

Stone is quite the polarizing figure with a mile-long political career rife with controversy and extraordinary clientele. He co-founded a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort in 1980. In the 1970’s, Stone helped Richard Nixon get elected, the man responsible for the War on Drugs, and proceeded to serve in his administration. In the 1980’s, he never strayed far from controversy. He helped bribe lawyers to help get Reagan elected, and even did lobbying work on behalf of two dictators.

Fast-forward to the 2016 presidential election and Stone’s racism starts to come to light. Although he left the Trump campaign in August of 2015, he remained a loyal supporter. In February of 2016, CNN banned Stone from their network for disgusting tweets about correspondents. He called one CNN commentator a “stupid negro” and another an “entitled diva bitch.” MSNBC subsequently banned him from their network two months later. While he said he “regrets” saying those, he never issued a formal apology. A majority of his tweets are too offensive to republish, but if you need more proof, click here.

Roger Stone
(Photo credit: Barbara Nitke, Netflix)

He accused Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-American whose son was a war hero in Iraq, of being a “Muslim Brotherhood agent helping Hillary.” That is far from the only conspiracy theory he has circulated. He also said Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton at the time, was in the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s written a number of books with rampant, false allegations, like Jeb! and the Bush Crime Family, The Clintons’ War on Women and The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ. His role in the Trump campaign is a part of the Russian election hacking congressional investigation. He’s credited with introducing Alex Jones, the falsehood-spreading, InfoWars conspiracy theorist, to Donald Trump. On the night of the election, he tweeted a racist photo that is not fit for republication.

Why is this relevant?

Because all of a sudden he is an advocate for cannabis legalization. In 2013, he started working in Florida to help legalize medical cannabis there. According to a CWCBExpo press release, when he keynoted their New York conference this year, he announced that he was starting a sort of bipartisan coalition to persuade President Trump to follow through with his campaign promises to respect states’ rights with regard to legal, medical cannabis. “I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade President Trump to keep his campaign pledge, and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election,” says Stone at the New York show. Dan Humiston, managing partner of CWCBExpo, says, “We are thrilled to have Roger Stone keynote again during CWCBExpo Los Angeles & Boston.”

CIJ reached out to the CWCBExpo for comment and Dan Humiston, managing partner, stands by their decision to keep him booked as the keynote speaker:

“Our objective as a show producer in the cannabis industry is we are trying to do whatever we can to help grant access to this plant for anybody that needs it. And to do that we feel that we have to be as inclusionary as we can possibly be. It is nothing more than that. I think there are some real benefits to the cannabis movement that will be gained by getting as many people under our tent as we can. Its funny how this plant brings people together who aren’t together under any other topic; it creates the strangest of bedfellows. The more dialogue and more opportunities to speak with people we can’t agree on any other topic with, the better. I think he is an asset to this movement. He has raised a lot of money. He is pushing Jeff Sessions really hard and he’s got Donald Trump’s ear.”

CIJ also reached out to Reverend Al Sharpton, who is booked for a keynote presentation at the same conference, and he had this to say: “I was not aware that the minority cannabis business association pulled out from the conference,” says Rev. Sharpton. “I spoke at the conference in New York, and I am working with Senator Corey Booker on the legalization of cannabis. Our communities have been directly affected by the criminalization of the drug.” He said he was unaware of the MCBA’s statements and asked for them to get in touch with him as soon as possible.

There’s no place for racism in the cannabis industry.

Yes, it’s great to have an ally of cannabis legalization who might have Trump’s ear. But no, we don’t want Stone’s help. There is no place for someone like him in the cannabis industry.

The historical implications of racism in the cannabis legalization movement should speak for themselves, but allow me to try and quickly summarize why this is so important. The word marijuana is actually a dated racist epithet that Harry Anslinger used back in the 1930’s to promulgate myths that the drug was used by people of color and fostered violence. “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage,” said Anslinger, testifying before Congress. And so begins the era of “Reefer Madness” when the drug became illegal. Fast-forward half a century and the racism with cannabis continues. According to the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the War on Drugs is the main reason behind the huge incarceration numbers for people of color. “The U.S. ‘war on drugs’ — a decades-long policy of racial and class suppression hidden behind cannabis criminality — has resulted in the arrest, interdiction, and incarceration of a high percentage of Americans of color,” reads their agenda.

There are still a lot of racial problems the legalization movement is working to address. There are dozens of reasons why people of color have been wrongly persecuted due to the illegality of cannabis, but the point is this: The cannabis legalization movement needs to be a diverse, inclusive community that promotes equality and embraces all religions, races and ethnicities.

In choosing Roger Stone to keynote, the CWCBExpo is making a Faustian bargain and we don’t believe this is right. We need to stand by our morals; the ends don’t justify the means. The cannabis industry is no place for racism and we would like to see Roger Stone removed from the keynote position at CWCBExpo.

Wana Brands Dominates Oregon Market, Expands to East Coast in 2018

By Aaron G. Biros
No Comments

Wana Brands launched their products in Oregon’s market in July 2016, about a year ago. Since then, their brand presence has grown considerably and their products are now in 240 of Oregon’s 375 dispensaries, according to a press release issued this morning.

Wana Brands is an infused products company; they make sour gummies, hard candies and caramels. The business originally launched in Colorado back in 2010 and as of 2016, they own 23% of the market share and had the most sales revenue of any edibles company in Colorado, according to BDS Analytics. The next closest competitor owns 12% of the market share.

Nancy Whiteman holding a batch of cannabis gummies

According to Nancy Whiteman, co-founder and co-owner of Wana Brands, becoming a market leader in Oregon is a result of their product’s consistency and taste. At the end of last year they launched in Nevada and this year they will launch in Arizona and Illinois. In 2018, they expect to make a big East Coast push, expanding into Massachusetts and Maryland as well.

Election Day last year legalized recreational cannabis in a number of states, including Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. About a week before Election Day, we interviewed Whiteman about those states coming online and her drive to expand. She said she saw a lot of potential in those markets and she was right. Nevada witnessed a massive surge in demand with the opening of recreational sales in the beginning of July and Massachusetts is expected to be another huge market potential.

In that interview, she explained a bit of their growth model: “The model we are pursuing is a licensing agreement where we partner with existing or new license holders in their state,” says Whiteman. “In many ways they are doing the heavy lifting, but we are providing an enormous lift by licensing our intellectual property to them.”

Now that her company has found enormous success in established markets like Oregon, Nevada and Colorado, they want to make a big push in those fledgling markets on the East Coast. “In both markets [Massachusetts and Maryland], we will be working with a partner who will be licensing our products,” says Whitman. “I think the East Coast is a huge opportunity.  There are major population centers in New England, New York and Florida and the markets are almost completely undeveloped at this point.” Wana Brands is also currently entering talks with partners in California, Florida and Maine.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill? Cannabis Reform Proposals and the 115th Congress

By Brian Blumenfeld, J.D., M.A.
No Comments

As CIJ readers are probably aware, last month Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017—the annual budget, in other words. Lying within this 1,665-page document is Section 537, which for one year restricts the Department of Justice from using any funds to prevent states from implementing their medical cannabis laws. Medical cannabis businesses and patients can take some solace in this restriction. Last summer, the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting in San Francisco, confirmed that this appropriations rider prevents federal prosecutors from bringing suit against medical cannabis businesses and users operating in compliance with state law. Two problems remain glaring, however: one, the protection only applies to medical cannabis activity, not recreational; and two, it is only guaranteed to last for one fiscal year.

To be sure, for the 115th Congress to address the profusion of issues emerging from the nationwide legalization movement, they must do something more. Various reform proposals have in fact been introduced during the current congressional session, and in order to fully digest where they stand and what they have the potential to accomplish, it will help to make sure that we know how they fit within federal legislative procedure.

Catching Up to Speed with the Legislative Process 

How A Bill Becomes A Law
Photo: Mary-Frances Main

Whenever confronting a question about government and politics, it is never a bad idea to start at the source of authority. In America, that source is of course the Constitution, and in Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, We The People have given to Congress the power to “determine the rules of its proceedings”.  When we remember back to the School House Rock cartoon for How A Bill Becomes A Law, the majority of political maneuvering behind the basic process taught in the cartoon actually happens according to these ‘rules’ or ‘resolutions’. In fact, at the beginning of each new Congress (every two years) each chamber, and each committee and subcommittee within each chamber, votes on the rules that will govern how they are to go about their legislative business. Traditionally, the rules from the previous Congress are carried over by this vote with only minor tweaks. On top of that, both parties in each chamber have their own internal rules and procedures for setting their policy agenda, directing political strategy, and determining which members will be nominated to certain leadership positions and committee posts. Playing the game of politics according to this layer cake of rules is a necessary part of the work of a legislator, and is often as important a factor in how our country is actually governed as is who wins election to office and what substantive provisions are formally enacted into law. So for the purposes of understanding federal cannabis reform, let’s take a quick look into the procedural status of the relevant legislation and who is in a position to influence what happens to it; then, when reviewing the policies they stand to codify, we will also understand the legislative landscape they must navigate.

Rep. Rohrabacher launches the Cannabis Caucus, Photo via Earl Blumenauer/YouTube

A good place to start is February 16, 2017 when Republican Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) along with Democratic Congressmen Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Under House and Senate rules, such a caucus must formally register with the House Committee on Administration as a Congressional Member Organization (CMO), disclosing its officers and members and declaring its purpose. These CMOs are sometimes referred to by different names: caucuses, conferences, coalitions, task forces, etc. The best known of these are the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses and the House and Senate Republican Conferences. By setting party policy, driving legislative strategy, promoting party cohesion and rewarding party loyalty, these largest of CMOs dominate partisan activity on Capitol Hill. Smaller CMOs, on the other hand, advance only specific interests and often cross the partisan divide. The Cannabis Caucus, for instance, was formed to catalyze a federal response to the nationwide legalization movement, and its “Path to Marijuana Reform” is a large part of the spate of bills that have been dropped into the congressional hopper over the past six months.

All in all there are twenty cannabis reform bills currently pending in Congress. In the House, all but two of the fourteen bills there have been referred to either the Energy & Commerce Committee or the Judiciary Committee, and all but one of the six in the Senate have been referred to either the Finance or Judiciary Committees.

A Note on Committees & Procedure

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is on the Ways and Means Committee
Photo: Michael Campbell

Under House and Senate rules, bills are referred to committees by matching the former’s subject matter to the latter’s jurisdiction. In the House, the Speaker may attach time limits for committee action, refer a bill or portions of a bill to multiple committees and determine the sequence in which they are to be considered. The Speaker may also convene an ad hoc committee to consider a bill, and “make such other provision as may be considered appropriate.” As can be gleaned, the Speakership holds substantial procedural powers, and is in fact the only congressional leadership position created by the Constitution. The Senate’s counterpart, the majority leader, has in comparison less discretion in moving along legislative business.

At the next step, both the House and Senate grant each committee the authority to make their own rules on how they are to consider bills. Once referred, committee chairs generally decide to further refer a bill to a subcommittee, hold hearings, subpoena evidence and witnesses, call ‘markup’ sessions to propose and debate amendments, and finally to schedule a vote to report bills back to the chamber floor. If a committee chair wishes to kill a bill, these procedural powers provide wide, though not absolute, authority to do so. Jockeying for a chairmanship is therefore big game in the life of a legislator. Ultimately, members are nominated and elected to their respective committees and chairs according to the rules of their parties’ caucus or conference, and upon a vote of approval on the floor. Seniority is only one factor in these votes, and so because nothing is predetermined, these intraparty contests can explain a great deal about member behavior.

With that background to help triangulate Capitol Hill politics, we should now be better equipped to look into the cannabis bills pending before the 115th Congress, the committees to which they have been referred, and their procedural status. Stay tuned for the next article in this series when we will begin our bill-by-bill review.