Vermont lawmakers are at loggerheads over a measure that would establish a cap on the level of THC in solid cannabis concentrates sold at the state’s regulated cannabis retailers.
Local publication VTDigger has the background, reporting that members of the Vermont state Senate “bristled Friday at a last-minute change to a key cannabis bill during a House vote Thursday—and speculated as to why the Vermont Department of Health abruptly reversed its recommendation to lawmakers on the measure last week.”
Members of the House “on Thursday imposed a 60% cap on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in solid cannabis concentrates to be sold at retail establishments when they open in October,” according to VTDigger.
“They held the damn thing for over a week and a half and then come up with this,” said Democratic state Senator Dick Sears, as quoted by VTDigger. “There isn’t much time to call for a conference committee.”
Sears said he was “frustrated” with Democratic state House Representative John Gannon, who proposed the amendment imposing a 60% cap.
Sears and other lawmakers contend that caps are counterproductive and will only prompt customers to seek products elsewhere––be it on the illicit market or in neighboring states with adult-use cannabis sales.
Calling the measure passed by the House a “stupid decision,” Sears said that Vermont continues “to invite people to go out of state.”
“It gives the illicit market a monopoly on supplying the demand for these products,” Vermont Cannabis Control Board chair James Pepper told a state House committee during a hearing, as quoted by VTDigger.
“There is a very broad consensus among regulators that caps are a bad idea,” Pepper told the publication. “A black market will fill this gap. They’ll do so using very dangerous products.”
Amid the back-and-forth among lawmakers has been a series of inconsistent guidance on the issue from Vermont’s Department of Health.
VTDigger reported that the department’s senior policy and legal adviser, David Englander, told members of a state House committee late last month that the department agreed with the Cannabis Control Board in opposing the cap.
“The primary reason is that there is a likely significant market for high THC concentrates, and it is more dangerous for people to buy unregulated versions of these products as opposed to buying products that are regulated and tested in accordance with Board rules. Regulating instead of banning THC substances is in line with one of the purposes of creating a regulated market as envisioned by the General Assembly,” Englander said in a letter to the committee.
“In addition, a complete ban on concentrates above 60% requires manufacturers to keep products below that limit at all times during the manufacturing process. Doing so will require the addition of additives to dilute the product down to a 60% concentrate or below. You may recall that there were recent illnesses and deaths that appeared to be associated with the ingestion of such additives.”
But the very next day, Englander pulled a 180, telling lawmakers that, upon “further consideration, with the lens of prevention and safety as the cornerstone for the coming adult use market in Vermont, the Department does not concur with the lifting of the THC limit and maintains that a foundational component of the original legislation remain in place.”
“The risk to users of high levels of THC are significant and we should not risk contributing to the known risks to consumers physical and mental health,” Englander said. “My communication of yesterday to you was based on incomplete information. All errors are mine, and please accept my apologies to you and the committee.”
Vermont legalized recreational pot use in 2018, but sales did not begin in the state until 2020.
Europeans Are Ready for Cannabis Legalization
According to a public opinion poll released earlier this month by cannabis-focused advisory firm Hanway Associates, the answer is yes.
The poll, conducted in partnership with Curaleaf, Cansativa and Ince, revealed that 55% of those surveyed support regulated adult-use sales.
While some European countries have well-established medical cannabis markets within their borders, legal cannabis frameworks remain fragmented from country to country.
Malta became the first European country to legalize adult-use cannabis in December 2021 when its parliament approved legislation that allows adults 18 and older to cultivate up to four plants and possess up to 7 grams of cannabis.
Luxembourg is also considering legislation that would allow adults 18 and older to grow up to four plants at home for personal use, and Germany’s new coalition has signaled support for adult-use cannabis legalization.
The uptick in cannabis policy reform efforts across Europe inspired Hanway Associates’ poll to gauge how Europeans feel about adult-use legalization, Charlotte Bowyer, the firm’s head of advisory, told Cannabis Business Times.
“We wanted to see what Europeans actually thought about legalization, which is why we commissioned a poll and got some metrics across the key eight European markets to have a look at what Europeans are actually thinking about it,” Bowyer said.
The poll is based on a nationally representative sample of 9,043 adults aged 18 and older across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the UK, with the survey being conducted between Feb. 24 and March 14.
“Each country does its own polls, but each one is going to have slightly different phrasing and ask at different times of the year,” Bowyer said. “We want something to serve as a benchmark. We ask the same questions in each market and [we will] just repeat those on an annal basis. If we’ve got a good benchmark, we can actually see it evolving.”
The results, released April 7, not only found that more than half of Europeans support legal cannabis sales to adults 18 and older, but also revealed that 30% of respondents are interested in trying legal cannabis, highlighting a large—and mostly untapped—potential market.
“I think what was quite interesting when we looked at this is that across the board, you’re actually seeing Europeans in favor of cannabis legalization,” Bowyer said. “You’re definitely seeing support larger than opposition across every market.”
Italians are the most enthusiastic about legalization, according to the report, with 60% of respondents in support of legal, government-regulated sales of cannabis products to adults 18 and older.
The poll found 59% support in Portugal, 58% in Switzerland, 56% in Spain, 55% in the UK, 52% in France, 50% in Germany and 47% in the Netherlands.
Inside the Mind of a Medical Cannabis Pharmacist in Utah
In Utah, dispensaries are referred to as pharmacies, and the method of which patients must apply for and obtain cannabis medicine differs. While the state of Utah is home to over three million people, only 15 pharmacies and eight cultivators are allowed to legally operate there.
Pharmacists are essential to the structure of Utah’s medical cannabis program, as they are legally the only way that medical cannabis patients can obtain cannabis products. Beehive Farmacy’s Pharmacist in Charge, Mindy Madeo, has been a pharmacist for over 20 years, but found a new calling to enter the cannabis industry after the state of Utah legalized medical cannabis. Madeo attended the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s cannabis program, which she will soon be graduating with a Masters of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics. It’s currently the only pharmacy school in the U.S. to offer such a degree, and furthermore, Madeo is one of the only people in Utah to have earned such a distinction.
Madeo took time to chat with High Times about what sets Utah apart from other states’ medical cannabis programs, the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and what the future holds for patients.
The Essential Pharmacist
When Madeo began her entrance into the cannabis industry, she helped one of the pharmacies, called Wholesome, open up shop. While that pharmacy was a bit more business-focused, Madeo then moved on to Beehive Farmacy where she currently works as Pharmacist in Charge. Beehive Farmacy has two locations out of the total 15 that are allowed statewide, one in Salt Lake City and another in Brigham City. “It’s been really amazing,” Madeo said of her role. “The work I do every day is really like my dream. I’ve been doing it for two years and I still say I would do it even if I wasn’t getting paid.”
Madeo explained how Utah’s medical cannabis program works for patients. Similarly to other states, patients must go to a doctor and obtain a recommendation for a cannabis card—but new patients can’t just go to a pharmacy to pick up their medicine right away. “It is required by law that every single patient that’s new to the cannabis program, has to sit down and have a consultation with the pharmacist. And that’s the unique thing. That’s the thing that no other state does,” Madeo explained. “And it’s expensive to run as a business to do that, but the results are just phenomenal.”
These consultations only take an average of 30 minutes, during which pharmacists like Madeo will ask their patient which medications they currently take. “I’ve noticed as I was doing this that it’s not just the pain pills,” she shared. “It’s stimulants, like the Adderall and Ritalin in the morning that people can come off of. It’s the sleeping pills at night. It’s the antidepressants. It’s the stomach meds. I’ve even had I’ve even had quite a few patients come off of blood pressure medications.” After identifying their patient’s needs, pharmacists recommend various cannabinoid combination products, or different cultivars or terpene profiles, to use as a treatment.
Madeo also notes the importance of teaching new patients how to control their dosage, what to do if they consumed a bit too much, and for regular consumers, how to reset tolerance or reassess their current medication. “So I think giving patients control of their pain, control of their health, where they’re able to increase or decrease or try different products is very empowering for people. And I wish more medicine would be like that.”
The LDS Church
Aside from regular curious customers, Madeo has also witnessed the shift in perspective by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its members. “In Utah, it’s amazing because the LDS church, at first was not on board. There was a lot of controversy,” she said of the church’s initial stance on cannabis. “And then they changed some policy saying like ‘You can’t have cannabis.’ And then they changed it again and saying ‘It’s fine if it’s with a doctor.’ So currently, it’s 100% fine as long as the doctor recommends it. And I am seeing so many old people, so many people that come in [and] you can tell [that] they’re Mormon, they’re wearing CTR rings. Their minds are changing. And to me, that in itself is just an amazing thing to watch.”
Expanding Legislation in Utah
Utah initially passed its medical cannabis legislation when former Gov. Gary Hubert signed House Bill 195 into law in March 2018, which allows patients the “right to try” cannabis as a treatment if they are terminally ill. Later in November 2018, Utah voters approved Proposition 2, which created the foundation for the state’s current medical cannabis program. The state’s program launched in March 2020, and now there are an estimated 41,000 medical cannabis patients in the state, as of January 2022.
Cannabis isn’t the only medical treatment that legislators are contemplating when it comes to access. In the 2022 legislative session, Utah legislators passed House Bill 167, also called the Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force, which will review studies about psychedelic substances being used as a treatment for medical patients. Substances such as psilocybin therapy, or even the use of MDMA, are being used to treat certain medical conditions.
Ultimately, Madeo sees a bright future for the medical patients of Utah, and those who aren’t currently patients but are becoming curious about how cannabis can help. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome. “In Utah, and probably in the whole country is, right now we sit and we differentiate between medical use and recreation[al] use, right? That word ‘recreation’ is a terrible word. We should be calling it ‘adult-use.’ But we still use “rec.” To me, that’s such a judgment call, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference between the two.”
Madeo commented on the judgmental attitude of laws in Utah, from limitations on advertisements or restriction on anything that is Rastafarian inspired, such as colors or designs. “To me, they’re trying to whitewash the plant that we’ve been using forever,” she said.
But this judgement also extends to consumers as well. “We’re somehow like targeting this culture that we think we’re judging them and we’re saying, ‘You have dreadlocks, you are using concentrate … you’re using too high of a dose, so you’re a rec patient.’ That person could have anxiety, they could have cancer. Give me five minutes with someone who you say is rec and I’ll find a medical reason why they’re using it.”
Brazilian Presidential Candidates Duck and Cover on Recreational Cannabis Reform
Brazil is moving forward on medical cannabis reform. At the beginning of the month, the National Health Surveillance Agency approved two new medical products. This will bring the number of approved medical cannabis products to 18. The majority of those available are still only CBD—ten out of the total are extracts made from cannabidiol. All of them must be bought in pharmacies and drug stores.
That is the state of cannabis reform du jour in Brazil, a place where even this victory has been hard fought. Indeed, the current (right wing) leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly quashed attempts at any forward steps, despite whole cities defying him.
Enter the 2022 Brazilian Presidential elections.
Tragically, there are a lot of fence-sitters. Then again, given the current political climate, even one step forward represents progress—even of the tortoise variety.
The Political Can to be Kicked Down the Road
CNN questioned all of the pre-candidates about their stance on reform. Here are some of the broader takeaways from the seven men in the ring.
Two candidates, plus the sitting president, Bolsonaro, did not answer. However, nobody needs him to. Bolsonaro’s track record on legalization is very clear. He even publicly mocked the last legislative effort to regulate the industry.
The other four all spoke in favor of medical use—but none support recreational reform.
Will Canada Remain the Only Recreational Reform Country in The American Hemisphere?
The U.S. has sadly had a great deal of influence in both Central and South America when it comes to the topic of drug policy. This is clearly showing up in Brazil right now. This includes any and all threats to access the American banking system (which were used to slow down dispensation in places like Uruguay).
Given the struggle that is going on at the federal level in the U.S. at this point, sticking to the medical side of the equation is a safe political bet.
Brazil is not the only country facing its Prohibition past and trying to figure out the next steps forward.
The positive news, of course, is that this is a serious question at the national level—and so is full reform.
The Great Medical vs. Recreational Divide
The scenario playing out in Brazil is by now a familiar one, especially to the global industry but the issues involved in this debate have not really hit the United States so far outside of California. Namely, how far should a federal government go when beginning to legalize a recreational market?
In the U.S., the issue of states’ rights has clouded the topic in a way unseen in Europe or other countries.
There are several models so far. The first is Holland, which has allowed an illicit market to survive based on the grey exceptions in the law. Spain is similar. In both countries right now, there are attempts to formalize both markets and figure out how the two should work together (or if there should be any overlap).
Then there is Canada, which allowed patient groups and collectives to be the starting point for a commercial medical and then recreational market. Funky financing and certification issues notwithstanding, this has been the model that has also forwarded, in its own strange way, reform elsewhere. Namely being the first country outside of the Netherlands to provide Germany with product for its medical market that started in 2017.
Finally, there is Germany which is now on track to pass some kind of recreational reform by the end of 2022. The transition here is likely to be bumpy too, but for different reasons. Namely, it is highly likely that the first movers in this market will be required to have EU-GMP certification.
This will mean that the first products in the recreational market will have to have a much higher bar to cross to hit the market, even if the transition to a less stringent standard is inevitable.
Regardless, there will be plenty of fireworks and drama if the cultivation and distribution bids were anything to go by—starting with challenging the inherent unfairness of the status quo. That said, it is hard to expect anything different since the Health Minister is the go-to guy on crafting the new recreational reform legislation per the actions of the Bundestag.
Legalization is not easy anywhere.
Just ask Joe Biden.
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