After a delay due to their proficiency testing program roll out, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) will now require all medical infused products and concentrates be tested for potency and homogeneity, starting November 1st, 2017.
After November 1st, all production batches of concentrates from medical product manufacturers will need to have a potency test before being sold, transferred or processed. The same goes for medical infused products, such as edibles and topicals. The homogeneity test refers to making sure THC or other active ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the product.
According to Alex Valvassori, author of a regulatory compliance-focused blog post on Complia’s website, these new testing requirements could lead to a surge in pricing, passed on to patients. He also recommends dispensaries take a close look at labels coming in from suppliers. They need to make sure potency data is listed clearly on the label to stay compliant.
Production batches created before November 1st are not required to meet the new testing regulations, but any and all batches after that date will be required to perform those tests.
Ahead of the state’s implementation of their full adult use legalization in early 2018, California is working on improving their public outreach. Last week, the California Department of Public Health launched “Let’s Talk Cannabis”, a website dedicated to consumer education.
About two weeks ago, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, California’s state regulatory body for the cannabis industry, launched a rebranding effort of their own, with a new logo, website and even an Instagram account. Their “Cannabis Portal” is a website dedicated to helping those in the industry get updated information on licensing, new regulations and other news and events.
The Bureau’s upgraded website will better help business owners stay up-to-date on upcoming regulations and licensing applications, according to a press release. Judging by their Facebook (@bccinfo.dca), Twitter (@bccinfo_dca) and Instagram pages, the regulatory body seeks to have a more public presence online than other states’ regulatory bodies.
The state’s three regulatory bodies are featured on the portal. The Bureau of Cannabis Control is just one regulatory arm of the government, basically responsible for licensing dispensaries, distributors and laboratories. The Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, a division of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), will presumably regulate manufacturers of infused products. CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing is under the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which will oversee regulating growers of medical and adult use cannabis. That regulatory body is also in charge of the state’s seed-to-sale traceability software system.
The Department of Public Health’s “Let’s Talk Cannabis” website is more of a consumer-focused educational tool. It features frequently asked questions, some links to other resources, information on legalization and information for the youth, parents and pregnant and breastfeeding women. That consumer-facing website offers tips for parents on storing cannabis and keeping it out of reach of children, in addition to advice for responsibly consuming cannabis.
It will be interesting to see how they plan on using those social media pages in the future. At first glance, they could be excellent tools for regulators to communicate with licensees, to help explain common regulatory compliance errors or to provide tips and tricks for staying compliant. The consumer-facing portal could also be a great means for communicating product recalls or public health and safety alerts, things that Colorado and Oregon currently struggle with.
Laboratories throughout the world and in a variety of industries get accredited to demonstrate their competency. In the cannabis industry, some states are beginning to require it and many labs get accredited even if their state doesn’t require it. So what does accreditation mean and why is it so important?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a standard-setting organization that works to promote industrial and commercial standards. The standards set by ISO are designed to help prove a product’s safety and quality to a certain minimum level.
The ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard sets specific requirements to demonstrate the competence of a lab for carrying out tests. It essentially shows customers or regulators that a lab has the skills and scientific know-how to perform testing, certifying the lab is capable. Accreditation means certifying a lab to that standard and is synonymous with both quality and competence of an organization.
The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), founded in 1978, is a non-profit, internationally recognized accreditation body in the United States that offers laboratory and laboratory-related accreditation services and training. They have worked in the cannabis industry to accredit a number of cannabis laboratories to the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard. In this series of articles, we sit down with experts from A2LA to learn more about cannabis lab accreditation, why it’s so important and some of the challenges labs face when seeking accreditation.
In the first part of this series, we sit down with Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA, to learn the basics. Michelle earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Towson State University and then attended Hood College, earning a master’s certificate in Regulatory Compliance in Biomedical Science. She has worked at A2LA for eight years, assisting in the accreditation of food testing, environmental testing and cannabis testing laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025, as well as performing quality system assessments. She also facilitates a number of accreditation programs including Field Sampling Measurement Organizations, STAC (Air Emissions) and Cannabis Testing. Bradac is also a member of the ASTM Cannabis Working Group and the ACIL Cannabis Working Group.
In the next part of this series, we will hear about specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories.
CannabisIndustryJournal: What is Laboratory Accreditation?
Michelle Bradac: Laboratory accreditation is a formal means of determining and recognizing the technical competence of laboratories to perform specific types of testing, via the use of an independent third party accreditation body. It provides laboratory users a mechanism to identify and select reliable testing organizations. Use of ISO/IEC 17025 as a basis for laboratory accreditation is internationally recognized as THE conformity assessment standard to which laboratories are accredited; it is used in the USA by both Public (State, local, federal (FDA, USDA, CDC, DoD and EPA) and private laboratories for testing of foods & feeds, drugs, cosmetics, tobacco, natural products and cannabis (among other materials and products).
CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the cannabis testing laboratory?
Michelle: It provides a framework for continuous improvement and self-correction where the cannabis testing laboratory data management system is independently reviewed and blinded sample Proficiency Testing is encouraged.
CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the medical cannabis prescribing physician?
Michelle: The physician gains assurance that the dosage and concentrations of material being prescribed is what the label says it is and that the product is safe for use. This is especially important in working with patients that are immunocompromised.
CIJ: How does the testing of medical cannabis by an accredited laboratory benefit the patient?
Michelle: The patient gains increased confidence that the medication is going to be both safe and effective.
CIJ: What specific challenges does A2LA face in accrediting cannabis testing laboratories?
Michelle: Much of the typical infrastructure is lacking or only now being developed. This ranges from proficiency testing programs, Reference Material Producers, method development and sampling procedures. There is also difficulty in ensuring that laboratories are appropriately validating methods in states where cannabis product is not yet available.
CIJ: Why is A2LA the optimal choice for ensuring the quality and reliability of the results produced by medical marijuana testing laboratories?
Michelle: A2LA has by far the most experience as an accreditor of laboratories that perform testing of natural plant products. We have been performing assessments of and granting accreditation to these types of laboratories for over twenty years. This results in our staff and our assessor corps who are then able to provide valuable insight and technical sophistication that other accreditation bodies do not have. Specific to the cannabis industry, A2LA is also represented in all the major standards development organizations, tradeshows and industry groups; which strengthens our understanding of the industry and ability to assist our customers towards meeting their goal of obtaining accreditation.
According to a PennLive article, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health approved the first two cannabis laboratories for their medical cannabis program. ACT Laboratories of Pennsylvania LLC and Keystone State Testing LLC are the companies that were approved to perform analytical testing for safety and quality in cannabis products.
Both laboratories expect to be operational before the end of 2017, according to the PennLive article. Those labs are required to test for CBD and THC content, pesticides, moisture content, residual solvents and microbiological contaminants.
The temporary lab testing regulations are somewhat comprehensive, detailing lab reporting, licensing, sampling protocols and ownership stipulations, among other rules. ACT and Keystone, the labs that were approved by the Department of Health, have their approval for two years and can renew their license after.
While the state still expects the program to be fully implemented by 2018, Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said last week they are hoping to launch the program sometime next year, according to a press release. December 2017 will mark a full year since the state opened applications for licensing businesses.
January 2018 has long been the goal for the full implementation of the program. “We have made significant progress in getting this program off the ground since Governor Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act into law last year,” says Dr. Levine. “These proposed regulations for patients and caregivers to participate are one of the final pieces we need to have in place to launch the program sometime next year.”
Currently, there are no lab testing regulations for Florida’s medical cannabis market. Chris Martinez, co-founder and chief operating officer of EVIO Labs Florida, a veteran-owned business, is looking to change that.
When Martinez co-founded EVIO Labs Florida, he saw the need for a dedicated cannabis lab to ensure safety and quality of medicine for patients in the state. Partnering with EVIO Labs to accomplish this goal, Martinez secured a 5,500 sq. ft. facility in Broward County to test for potency, pesticides, microbial contaminants, terpenes, residual solvents and heavy metals. Their lab, a first of its kind in the industry, qualifies as a true pharmaceutical-grade clean room. This week, Martinez also secured their 2nd laboratory location in the City of Gainsville, where they will test for potency, microbials, terpenes and residual solvents. And he isn’t doing it on the cheap. “Our Broward lab is powered by Shimadzu with over $1.2M in the latest testing equipment utilizing LCMS technology with the world’s fastest polarity switching time of 5 m/sec and scan speeds of 30,000 u/sec with UF Qarray sensitivity 90 times that of previously available technologies,” says Martinez.
Martinez, an entrepreneur at heart, started the lab with a team of experts to become the first completely cannabis-focused laboratory in Florida. Jorge Segredo, their head chemist and quality assurance director, has over 18 years of experience in the development of nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products under ISO and FDA accreditation. Segredo has helped launch three independent FDA-accredited laboratories and has extensive knowledge of HPLC, GCMS, LCMS, ICPMS technologies and development/validation of testing methods and procedures. Cynthia Brewer, their director of operations, was an active participant in the 2017 state legislative session and has been an advocate for medical cannabis, working with legislators on a suitable framework to increase patient access to cannabis.
EVIO is one of the nation’s leaders in cannabis testing, research science and advisory services. It is an evolving network of laboratories with nine EVIO cannabis laboratories operating in five different states: Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, Florida and California. “After speaking with industry chemists around the country for months, the EVIO name was constantly brought up in conversation,” says Martinez. “When we spoke with the EVIO Team it was an easy decision for us to partner.” He says Lori Glauser, chief operating officer of EVIO, and William Waldrop, chief executive officer of EVIO, are truly visionaries in the cannabis industry.
According to Martinez, their licensing agreement with EVIO Labs (OTC:SGBYD) marked a first for the publicly traded company with exclusivity in the Florida market. The agreement includes proprietary testing methodologies, operating procedures, training and support.
In addition to testing cannabis for safety and quality, they are launching a technology platform called MJ Buddy, essentially a software tool that takes efficacy feedback from patients and uses testing and genetic data they gather from EVIO Labs across the country. “This will provide real data to the cannabis industry as to the medical benefits for thousands of patients in relation to the genotype and cannabinoid profiles of their medicine,” says Martinez.
Of the states that have legalized some form of cannabis, a large number of them have some lab testing regulations on the book, with some more comprehensive than others. Martinez says he hopes the Florida Department of Health, Office of Medical Marijuana Use follows some of the more thorough state programs, such as Oregon. His team has compiled a set of documents for regulators with recommendations for regulating the lab testing industry.
Without any regulations on paper, it is up to businesses to produce safe and quality medicine, without any oversight. EVIO Labs Florida follows FDA Good Laboratory Practices, has an ISO 17025:2005 accreditation pending, and is working on TNI 2016 accreditation.
When discussing what he wants to see happen with Florida’s regulatory framework, Martinez says the rules need to be specific to Florida. For example, due to the climate being so humid, microbial contaminant testing for things like yeast and mold will be particularly imperative. Because processing methods like butane and alcohol extraction are legal, he emphasizes the need for comprehensive residual solvents testing. “The most important regulation would be to have the laboratories select the samples at the MMTC facility and have the state randomly verify laboratory results to ensure accurate unbiased testing,” says Martinez.
In addition to that, he hopes their pesticide thresholds will be realistic and based on actual science. “We believe the public should receive carcinogenic data for products that are inhaled,” says Martinez. “Chemicals may be introduced into the processing of cannabis to vape liquid that may cause harm. This is important information for public health and communication of the risk related to exposure to such materials.” Martinez says EVIO Labs Florida was founded on the belief that through technology and science we can increase safety and patient outcomes.
Emerald Scientific recently announced their proficiency-testing program, The Emerald Test, has been approved by Colorado as a third party provider for proficiency testing in licensed cannabis laboratories. The Emerald Test, held twice annually, is an inter-laboratory comparison and proficiency test (ILC-PT), allowing data to be collected pertaining to the performance of laboratories on a national scale. Proficiency testing is designed to measure how accurately laboratories perform and is a critical tool for quality assurance.
Colorado requires labs to participate in a proficiency-testing program in order to be certified to conduct required testing on cannabis and cannabis products for safety and quality. According to the press release, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, under the Department of Revenue, conducted an evaluation process to determine which applicants could meet the performance standards for regulatory compliance concerning proficiency testing. The contract was awarded to Emerald Scientific following this evaluation process.
According to Ken Groggel, director of the Proficiency Testing Program at Emerald Scientific, a number of states have recognized the need for independent proficiency testing as a required piece of regulatory compliance. “The Emerald Test Inter-Laboratory Comparison/PT is state approved in Washington & Colorado for cannabis testing laboratory licensure,” says Groggel. “States with cannabis or hemp production, as well as labs in other countries are now actively participating in the Emerald Test as a tool for quality improvement, efficiency upgrades and product safety.” He says the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division has contracted with Emerald Scientific to provide third party PT programs for microbial contaminants, residual solvents and pesticides.
Beginning in 2014, The Emerald Test has been offered twice a year and, in 2017, over 50 labs participated from 14 states and 2 countries. “Laboratories that have enrolled more than once have seen significant improvement in their results, an indicator of improved performance for industry customers,” says Groggel.
Proficiency testing is important for ensuring quality, safety and product content accuracy. “This should be the priority whether you are a grower, manufacturer, testing laboratory, regulatory entity, medical patient or adult use consumer,” says Groggel. It also helps labs meet regulatory requirements and achieve ISO 17025 accreditation. “Independent proficiency testing helps determine if the lab is able to deliver the services marketed to its customers,” says Groggel. “Regulatory agencies can use this information when licensing, monitoring & enforcing good science for public safety.”
As new states legalize cannabis and develop consumer protection regulations, proficiency testing programs can help labs demonstrate their commitment to responsible and accurate testing. “When PT results show the cannabis testing lab is capable it is up to the government to ensure accountability for performance on behalf of all its citizens,” says Groggel. Labs can enroll starting on September 25th in the Fall 2017 Emerald Test ILC/PT.
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.
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.
Last week, Cannabis Trainers, a compliance education and training services provider, announced their launch into the California market with their ServSafe® and Sell- SMaRT™ training programs. Ahead of the launch of California’s adult-use cannabis market in 2018, the programs will train employees in the areas of food safety and retail sales.
Maureen McNamara, founder of Cannabis Trainers, says that training and certification of employees is crucial to regulatory compliance in the cannabis space. “In few other industries could a frontline employee crumble an entire business with a single mistake,” says McNamara. “We aim to honor California’s cannabis pioneers by fusing their decades of hard work with cutting-edge approaches to safety and compliance.” She has over 25 years of professional training experience and has trained and certified over 15,000 employees across a handful of industries. In 2014, she launched Cannabis Trainers in Colorado and the following year in Illinois.
According to the press release, their ServSafe® program is essentially a food safety certification course based on food safety research and the FDA food code, but tailored to the cannabis industry for retailers and manufacturers of infused products. In 2015, their Sell-SMaRT™ program was the first to gain approval from the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Responsible Vendor Program, becoming the first state-certified cannabis vendor-training program. That course is an education program for budtenders and managers covering consumer safety issues, checking IDs and other key retail regulatory compliance issues.
According to McNamara, their Sell-SMaRT™ program is designed and customized to each state’s rules for cannabis sales. “We’ll be customizing our content to ensure it’s relevant to California regulations,” says McNamara. “We comb through the rules and pull out information pertinent to the responsible sale of cannabis in each state.” They’ll be doing the same for the ServSafe® program as well. “Although it’s a nationally recognized program based on the FDA food code, states may choose to create additional restrictions for cannabis infused products.”
She says they look at their programs like a translation for cannabis businesses; helping employees and managers make sense of the complex and confusing rules for cannabis compliance. “Most rules are written in legalese and can be a challenge to understand, says McNamara. “We simplify it and make it approachable and easy to digest.” Looking past California, McNamara says Cannabis Trainers is looking to expand to a few other states. She says their course curricula are based on state laws, but they try their best to incorporate regulatory compliance issues on the local level. “Our course information is based on state law,” says McNamara. “And, we realize local counties and municipalities may create stricter regulations and we do our best to include those variances in our courses.” Cannabis Trainers has incorporated variations in local rules in Colorado successfully.
“In addition to California, we’ll be customizing our courses for Nevada to launch this year as well,” says McNamara. “In 2018, we aim to provide professional development and certification courses to even more states.” McNamara says they have entered talks with teams in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland and are also actively looking to expand into Canada’s market. Their first California class will be the 3.5-hour September 20, 2017 ServSafe® course for cannabis producers at East Anaheim Community Center.
The Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC) is an interesting nonprofit that recently launched an educational campaign, called Consume Responsibly Massachusetts. For many cannabis advocates who watched their states legalize the drug, consumer education is a very important part of moving forward. As states across the East Coast implement regulatory frameworks for the cannabis industry, there is a sense of urgency to make sure the rules are right the first time, and that cannabis businesses become responsible stewards of their new market.
In the wake of pesticide recalls in the west and related public health concerns, the issues surrounding consumer safety and how states protect that are now front and center. “The purpose of Consume Responsibly Massachusetts is to keep adult-consumers informed of their rights in the state,” says Jefferson. “It’s also an ongoing effort to bring consumers into the world of cannabis politics and science.”
The MRCC’s mission is to help protect the safety of recreational cannabis consumers by bridging the information gap between businesses, legislators and communities. “We work at the state and local level advocating for sensible recreational marijuana policy and regulations,” reads a press release. According to Kamani Jefferson, president of the MRCC, bridging that gap requires a lot of community engagement. “I was a field organizer on the Campaign to Tax and Regulate Marijuana here in Massachusetts so this is extremely important to me,” says Jefferson. “MRCC participated in this year’s Cambridge 5K Freedom Run.” He says getting out in the community like this is one of many ways to help provide educational opportunities, help promote local cannabis businesses and get rid of the “lazy stoner stigma.”
For the MRCC, the issue of craft cannabis is a significant part of the organization’s philosophy, in addition to product safety and others. “Craft Cannabis will benefit the consumer in an entirely new way,” says Jefferson. “Members of the community will have a chance to provide products and directly affect the economy.” Because local owners tend to be more involved in their towns, Jefferson says residents will get to make more of an impact than nonlocal owners. And he’s right- small, local businesses contribute substantially more to local economies and communities than large companies. Between 1993 and 2013, small businesses created roughly 63% of all new jobs in the United States. With the new cannabis market comes a promising opportunity for local economies.
“The Massachusetts cannabis industry is developing and growing fast,” says Jefferson. “Aside from the medical marijuana production sites, the new recreational marijuana law grants production participation in the regulated recreational marijuana industry to farmers, in the form of craft marijuana cultivator cooperative systems.” While he thinks this is a good opportunity for small businesses and communities alike to gain a foothold in the market, Jefferson is hesitant to endorse Massachusetts’ regulatory policies. “A lack of regulatory oversight from the CCC [Cannabis Control Commission] places the cannabis industry in a vulnerable position,” says Jefferson. “If we want clear, consistent standards for clean and safe products prioritized, then we need consistent testing data.” Jefferson is arguing for more regulatory oversight for safety issues, such as contaminant testing. This is one of a handful of issues they are pressing for sensible cannabis policy in Massachusetts.
Here are some of the issues they support:
Local Cannabis: Equitable licensing for small and medium sized local businesses from members of the community.
Quality Control: Access to a variety of clean and safe cannabis products in retail dispensaries, tested for harmful contaminants, mold, pesticides and fungicides.
Responsible + Safe Consumption: Access to educational materials about proper dosage, methods of ingestion, quality analysis, understanding product labels and general cannabis information.
High Potency Flowers, Edibles, & Concentrates: Access, non-restriction to high potency marijuana products of all forms.
Home Grow: Ability to grow at least 6 plants per person, 12 per household as stated in Question 4.
Social Use: The ability to consume in designated establishments outside of the household.
Expungement: Sentence commutation and record expungement for convictions involving non-violent marijuana charges that are now legal.
Research: University supported biological, behavioral and cognitive marijuana research to further our understanding and capabilities of the cannabis plant.
There is a great deal to be happy about with medical cannabis legalization in Germany. This is the first country that has mandated insurance coverage of the drug – at least at the federal legislative level.
However, as the government evaluates the finalists in the first tender bid for domestically grown and regulated cannabis, a real crisis is brewing for patients on the ground. And further one that the industry not only sees but is trying to respond to.
Spektrum Cannabis GmbH, formerly MedCann GmbH began trying to address this problem when they obtained the first import license for Canadian cannabis last year. They are also one of the apparent five finalists in the pending government bid to grow the plant domestically for medical purposes. According to Dr. Sebastian Schulz, head of communications for Spektrum, “Shortly after the new cannabis law was reformed we experienced a huge increase in demand from the side of patients. We had prepared for that. The German population is very curious about cannabis as a medicine and in general very open to natural remedies.”
People are curious here. But like other places, the law in Germany has evolved slowly. Much like Israel, the government has allowed a trickle of patients to have access to cannabis by jumping through multiple, time consuming hoops. The process of getting cannabis prescribed, much less getting a pharmacy to stock it, was difficult. Patients had to pay out of pocket – a monthly cost of about $1,700. While that is expensive by American standards, to Germans, this is unheard of. The vast majority of the population – 90% – is on public health insurance. That means that most Germans get medications for $12 a month, no matter what they are. Allegedly, German patients were supposed to get about 5oz a month for this price. At least that is what the law says.
People are curious here. But like other places, the law in Germany has evolved slowlyAs in other countries, no matter what Germans think about recreational reform, the clear majority of them at this point support medical use. And at this point, both legislatively and via the courts, the government has said and been required to provide the drug to Germans patients at low cost.
Unintended Effects & Consequences
Since the law went into effect in March of this year however, things have suddenly turned very dire for patients.
The handful of people who had the right to grow at home – established under lawsuits several years ago – were suddenly told they could no longer do so. They had to go to a doctor and regular pharmacy. Even regular patients in the system found that their insurance companies, allegedly now required to pay, are refusing to reimburse claims. Doctors who prescribed the drug were abruptly informed that they would be financially responsible for every patient’s drug cost for the next two years (about $50,000 per patient).
To add a final blow to an already dire situation, German pharmacies that carried the drug, then announced an additional fee. It is about $9 extra per gram, added at the pharmacy, pushing the price of legitimate cannabis north of $20 dollars per gram. This is justified as a “preparation fee.” Cannabis bud is technically marked as an “unprocessed drug.” This means the pharmacies can charge extra for “processing” the same. In reality this might be a little bud trimming. If that. The current distributors in the market already prep and pre-package the drug.
What this bodes for a future dominated by infused products, oils and concentrates is unclear. However the impact now is large, immediate and expensive in a country where patients also must still go to the pharmacy in person for all prescription drugs.
There is no mail order here, by federal law. Online pharmacies are a luxury for Auslanders.
At minimum, this could mean that without some relief, German patients will go right back into the black market and home grow.While nobody has challenged this situation yet en masse, it is already a sore point not only for patients but across the industry. It means that an already expensive drug has gotten even more expensive. It also means that the government regulations are not working as planned.
At least not yet. For the large Canadian companies now coming into the market with multimillion-dollar investments already sunk in hard costs, Germany will be a loss-leader until the system sorts itself out.
According to Schulz, whose company is now in the thick of it, the new law is very vague. “Currently, there are almost no cannabis flowers available in German pharmacies because companies like us are not allowed to sell them,” says Schulz. “Various different regulatory demands come up that seemed to change on a monthly basis. We are ready to deliver even large amounts of cannabis for a market that might well explode soon – but we first need to overcome the regulatory nightmare that leads to the suffering of so many patients here these days.”
At minimum, this could mean that without some relief, German patients will go right back into the black market and home grow. Black market costs for cannabis are about $10-15 a gram. In other words, exactly the situation the government was hoping to avoid.
What Is Causing The Situation?
The intended effect of the legislation was twofold, according to industry insiders: To legalize cannabis in such a way to meet a rising public demand and, in the face of a court decision, to limit the home grow movement. The latter of which, despite federal regulations, is thriving here. Germans like to grow things, and cannabis is a rewarding plant to nurture.
High attendance at the Mary Jane Grow Expo in Berlin in June is just one sign that the genie is out of this particular bottle. BfArM – the federal agency in charge of regulating narcotics and medical devices – cannot stuff it back.Patients are going back to the way things were
However home grow does not build a professional, high volume cannabis market, much less a highly regulated medical one make. The government also made clear that it is going to have strict inspections and quality controls, and will technically buy all the cannabis produced, per the terms of the bid application process.
However, it is not entirely clear when the government will start actually doing the buying. And why the buying has not started yet. If insurance companies are refusing to pay, this means the government is not reimbursing them. The same government, which has also agreed to do so, as of March 2017.
What Gives On Good Old German Efficiency?
On the streets, patients are going back to the way things were. Many are used to fighting for the only drug that makes them feel better. The euphoria in May, for example, has been replaced with weary acceptance that things might get a bit worse before they really improve.
That said, there is also a realization that more activism and lobbying are required on just about every front. If an extrapolation of data from say Colorado or California is applied to Germany, there are already at least a million eligible patients here, based on the qualifying conditions. The government is planning for an annual increase in medical patients of about 5-10,000 a year, including in the amount of cannabis they are planning on buying from the licensed producers they choose. The numbers, however, are already not matching.Even existing patients are literally being forced into the black market again.
Added to this wrinkle is the other reality that is also looming, particularly now.
With one exception, all of the firms now apparently in contention as finalists for the German government bid will also be supplying a domestic market in Canada that is going rec next summer. One year, in other words, before the German companies even begin producing.
What Is The Upshot For Patients?
Guenther Weiglein is one of the five patients who sued for home grow rights in 2014. He is now suing again for the right to extend home grow privileges until the government figures out its process. He is not the only one. Earlier this year he was told he had to stop his home grow and integrate into the “mainstream” system. So far, he, along with other patients who are suing, including for insurance coverage, have not been able to get cannabis easily through the system, although they are starting to make progress.
Weiglein’s situation is made even more frustrating by the fluidity of the situation. As of late July, he had finally gotten agreement from his insurance company to cover the drug. But now he cannot find a doctor willing to accept the financial risk of prescribing it to him. And in the meantime he has no access to medication.
Talk to any group of advocates right now, and there is one ongoing story. Even existing patients are literally being forced into the black market again.
And those that can’t afford it? They are out of luck. Some patients say a tragedy like someone dying will create the impetus to move this into public eye. A hunger strike here by a leading cannabis doctor earlier this summer has so far not had much impact on policy. There is a great deal of pessimism here, as promised change earlier this year has turned into a long and drawn out multiyear question mark.
If this sounds like a bubbling and untenable situation, especially before a national election, it is. The prospect of another four years of Angela Merkel does not bode well for fast cannabis reform.
That said, the German government is now in an interesting situation. The law has now clearly changed to say that sick Germans are allowed to use cannabis as a drug of choice for chronic diseases when all else fails. Further, the national government has bound the insurance industry to cover it. So far, every patient who has sued for coverage has won. That has not, however, moved the insurance industry altogether. Nor has it solved the problem with doctors prescribing the drug.
Many now ask what will? It is clear, however, that it will change. The question is when, how fast, and in what situations.
The problem will undoubtedly ease by 2019, when the first German crops are finally ready, although it will be far from completely solved.