This week’s cannabis news was filled with high hopes for some and torched dreams for others. On the one hand, the Food and Drug Administration made history by approving Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived medication used in the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. On the other hand, Massachusetts’ Attorney General, Maura Healey, issued a ruling that permits cities and towns in the Commonwealth to extend the temporary moratorium on retail and other marijuana businesses through June 2019—almost a full year past the date approved by Massachusetts voters when recreational sales were to commence. This marked a reversal by Healey, who previously indicated that local freezes could not extend beyond December 31, 2018, due to constitutional concerns.
The Epidiolex announcement cuts at the very argument used by many anti-cannabis activists that all too often focus on the lack of research into cannabis as a reason to uphold its prohibition. In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said:
This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies … We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products and work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high quality products.
The fact that the potentially sea-changing Epidiolex breakthrough occurred in the same week that Massachusetts delayed its recreational marijuana sales rollout is, in many ways, emblematic of the industry as a whole.
Opponents of Healey’s decision have pointed to the fact that the municipalities seeking an extended moratorium claim that they have not had, and will not have, sufficient time to implement licensing, sales, and facilities controls for recreational marijuana sales; yet, the Cannabis Control Commission, which was formed in September 2017, was able to adopt final regulations within a seven-month period, with the final regulations approved on March 6, 2018. That is some four months prior to the July 1st date approved by the voters for legal recreational sales. The CCC admitted this week that there will not be legal recreational sales on July 1st, due to a lack of independent testing laboratory licenses having been issued. (As of this post, the first provisional license for a cultivation facility in Milford has been issued, but recreational sales cannot move forward without independent testing facilities.)
The CCC expects to consider license applications at subsequent meetings, and has voted to review completed independent testing laboratory applications out of order, to enable development of a supply chain for eventual recreational sales. It has opined that the July 1st kick-off date was merely a target, and that there is no law mandating that recreational sales commence on July 1st. It remains to be seen whether proponents and capital investors agree with this assessment, and whether those with a vested interest will look to the courts to resolve the issue.
Despite Healey’s ruling, it is important to note that the moratorium on retail recreational sales is city- and town-dependent, and not a state-wide requirement, so those who seek to open a facility should check with their city or town regarding its position on the issue. With July fast approaching, there are sure to be a number of developments in the legalized marijuana arena, so stayed tuned for further updates.
Image courtesy of GW Pharma