Members of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year. While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.
In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.
We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.
Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.
Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.
While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.
No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.
In 46 states, marijuana smokers still have to worry about being arrested and jailed for their use of marijuana. The latest Uniform Crime Report released a few days ago found more than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges during 2014 — a marijuana arrest every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 88 percent were for simple possession for personal use – just average Americans who enjoy smoking a joint when they relax at the end of the day, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.
And when our personal freedom is at stake, ending arrests has to be the priority for all of us.
New Challenges with Legal Marijuana
But as we move forward to fully legalize marijuana in more and more states, a number of consumer protection issues come to the fore in those states to assure the marijuana and marijuana products we are offering to consumer are safe, free from potentially harmful molds, pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants, and are accurately labeled.
As with any plant, marijuana is prone to pests and disease, and pesticides and herbicides are routinely used to prevent bugs and mildew from destroying plants, which could cost the grower millions of dollars.
Because marijuana has for decades been considered illegal contraband, there is almost no research available dealing with the potential harm to the marijuana consumer from these potential additives. The closest body of relevant science involves the potential risks from food treated with additives, and from tobacco treated with additives.
And because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the agency charged with protecting Americans and our environment from potentially dangerous pesticides, has essentially rebuffed state authorities when they have approached the agency for advice and assistance in getting this right. The states are largely having to develop their own list of which additives are safe to use on marijuana, and which are not.
And not surprisingly, there have been some growing pains. As with other legal industries, some in the marijuana industry have used their increasing influence to delay and water-down potential regulations intended to protect consumers, and advocated for less stringent protections.
But that is just part of the usual give-and-take between those who represent the industry, and those of us who represent consumers. Over time these and other similar issues can be resolved in a manner that protects the health of the consumer, while still allowing a robust marijuana cultivation industry.
Problems in Oregon
A recent investigative piece in the Oregonian found that many of the marijuana products being sold to medical patients in Oregon, (they have only recently begun selling for recreational use) with the required lab certificate indicating they had been tested and were safe, in fact were adulterated, sometimes in far greater amounts than is allowed for those same additives on food or tobacco products. This was especially a problem with extracts and concentrates.
“A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market,” the Oregonian concluded, calling for far more detailed and stringent state regulations to regulate the testing facilities themselves, to assure reliable results. Those new, more comprehensive regulations are expected to be promulgated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state agency designated to regulate the new legal recreational marijuana industry, in 2016, as they officially roll-out the new recreational stores.
Similar Experiences in Colorado
In Colorado, recognizing the problem of different labs coming up with conflicting test results from the same marijuana, the legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, legislation creating statewide marijuana lab standards for marijuana potency, homogeneity and contaminants. And the state Department of Agriculture recently proposed a draft list of about 75 pesticides deemed to be safe for use on marijuana, based on their previous approval for use on food intended for human consumption, down from the current list of 200 acceptable pesticides. The state is finally acting, prodded by the city of Denver that had begun adopting its own standards, and requiring a few growers and retailers to recall some contaminated products.
The Cannabist and the Denver Post report that the pesticide regulations were delayed by a year, and ended-up being less restrictive than originally proposed, because of pressure from the marijuana industry in CO, fearful some of the pesticides currently in common use would be prohibited, putting their crops at risk. The marijuana industry “was the biggest obstacle we had,” in devising pesticide regulations, according to former Colorado Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar.
Two growers based in Denver – Mahatma Concentrates and Treatments Unlimited – are now under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for excessive pesticide residue on their products, and in at least one case, the products have been recalled.
Washington Tries to be Proactive
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (recently renamed to include our favorite herb), the agency that has licensing, regulatory and enforcement authority over recreational cannabis growers, processors and retailers, seeking to be proactive, initially attempted to seek guidance from the EPA in 2014, but were advised the federal agency does not consider marijuana to be an herb, spice or vegetable, but rather a controlled substance, and would provide no guidance.
Eventually the state regulatory agency issued a comprehensive listing of 309 pesticides that are permitted to be used in the production, processing, and handling of marijuana. According to a statement issued by the Seattle and King County Public Health Department, “These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.” Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide that information to customers and regulators upon request.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.
A new scientific review of burn injuries in Colorado confirms what many of us have been saying for some time – that the popularity of dabbing (i.e., the use of hash oil) brings with it some real dangers and some potential political dangers.
I have previously written about my own preference for flowers, rather than concentrates or edibles, but that is largely the result of my age. I began smoking marijuana 50 years ago, when I was a freshman at Georgetown Law School, and back then one was lucky if you could establish a reliable source for good marijuana, and these more esoteric versions of marijuana were largely unheard of. Occasionally the dealer would have a little hash (allegedly imported from Lebanon or some other distant country, although one never really knew), but it was usually terribly expensive and treated more as something to be saved for a special occasion, like champagne. Most of the time it was difficult enough just to find good pot.
But it is clear that the culture has evolved over the decades, and many of those wanting to enjoy the marijuana experience today prefer something other than flowers. In the states that have legalized marijuana, many seem to prefer edibles or concentrates. Whether that trend will continue is uncertain, but so long as a significant segment of the consuming public wants to obtain edibles or concentrates, we should focus on ways to permit that without endangering the public.
Regarding edibles, as our initial experience in Colorado has demonstrated, the key components to using edibles safely are:
Proper labeling, to avoid accidental ingestion
Proper dosage per unit, to avoid inadvertent overdosing (which is never fatal, but can be terribly unpleasant).
Better educational outreach to novice users, so they understand the lag time between ingesting the marijuana before the full psychoactive effects are felt.
So the initial concern over a few mishaps involving edibles in Colorado seems to have abated. Informed consumers should experience no problems enjoying the marijuana experience from infused edibles.
With concentrates, the most serious issue is the risk of explosions by those who attempt to extract the THC using butane. Novice consumers need to be made aware of the increased strength of marijuana in this form, and concentrates, like edibles, must be kept safely away from children.
Hash oil is a potent marijuana concentrate that can be as strong as 90 percent THC, and is easily manufactured (the process is readily available on the Internet) using butane as a solvent. But the process is also highly volatile and can result in dangerous explosions that all too often cause serious, and sometimes deadly, burn injuries. The similarities with the rash of meth explosions a few years ago is difficult to avoid.
New Study Released from Colorado
A new study just published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, analyzed the incidents of burn injuries from butane hash oil extraction in Colorado from January 1, 2008 through August 31, 2014, comparing the two years prior to the legalization of medical use in the state; the period of medical use only in Colorado; and the first eight months of 2014, the first year of full legalization.
According to this study, there were no such incidents during the two years prior to the adoption of medical use; 19 cases during the medical use only phase lasting from October 2009 through December 2013; and 12 cases during the first eight months of 2014. So the total number of these explosions was small.
Those involved in these butane extraction explosions were largely white (72 percent), male (90 percent); and young (median age of 26). And the medium length of their hospital stay was 10 days.
The study’s authors concluded: “Hydrocarbon burns associated with hash oil production have increased since the liberalization of marijuana policy in Colorado. A combination of public health messaging, standardization of manufacturing processes, and worker safety regulations are needed to decrease the risks associated with BHO (butane hash oil) production.”
Potential Political Backlash
Another risk associated with these burn incidents is the possibility that the non-smoking public may be influenced to oppose further legalization proposals, because of the dangers presented by these explosions. Although the actual numbers of explosions are relatively low, each of them are scary, and most become major news stories, at least on the local and state level, thereby frightening large numbers of citizens, many of whom base their support for legalization on the premise that prohibition causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself.
These incidents of butane burn injuries may well cause some of our supporters to re-evaluate their prior support. And there is no reason for us to incur this political baggage; we have an alternative production method that is safe.
This is a risk that could be avoided by using a CO2 extraction method, instead of butane, to produce concentrates, and as a culture we need to get the word out that it’s time to bring an end to the use of butane extraction altogether. It’s dangerous to produce concentrates with butane, at least by amateurs, and it may well present a health risk to the consumer.
The CO2 extraction method is safe and non-volatile, avoiding any danger of an explosion. And consumers are further protected because bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed, and there is no butane residue in concentrates made this way.
It’s a win-win solution, but we need to better inform those who produce and use concentrates. If consumers begin to demand CO2-extracted concentrates, and reject products made with butane, the industry will quickly fall into line.
It’s time we insisted on the responsible production and use of concentrates. Otherwise we may find ourselves facing significant limitations, or even total bans, imposed on the production and availability of these products. Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.
This blog was initially published on Marijuana.com.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office yesterday confirmed that a statewide ballot proposal seeking to permit the personal use and commercial production and retail sale of cannabis will appear on the November ballot. Proponents of the measure, Responsible Ohio, gathered sufficient signatures to place the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment.
Ohio now has the opportunity to join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. as states that have passed laws allowing for the personal possession and consumption of cannabis by adults.
If enacted, the measure would initially establish 10 state-licensed commercial growing sites. (State regulators will have the opportunity to grant additional licenses if these initial production sites do not adequately meet demand.) Commercially produced cannabis will be sold at over 1,000 proposed retail dispensaries.
A minimum of five regional marijuana testing facilities will be established to regularly check the chemical compounds found in the product for adequate labeling for consumers and regulators.
Additionally, residents over the age of 21 will be allowed to purchase a $50 license to grow their own marijuana plants with a limit of 4 plants per household and/or 8 ounces of useable product at a time. The amendment also establishes a non-profit medical marijuana dispensary system to provide access to those patients with a recommendation from a physician. Medical marijuana will not be taxed and will be provided on a needs-based fee system. Commercial marijuana production will be taxed at 5% when purchased for personal use and 15% at the wholesale and manufacturing level.
You can read the full text of the amendment here.
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