New California Compliance Study
Every California cannabis retailer tested for age compliance in a new study passed, asking for identification before allowing “pseudo-underage patrons” from entering the stores.
“At 100 percent of the recreational marijuana outlets visited, the pseudo-underage patrons were required to show age identification to enter,” the authors wrote. “It appears that California recreational marijuana outlets avoid selling to underage customers.”
New MED Chief
Dominique Mendiola was appointed senior director of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division on May 14, marking the first time the position has been held by a Mexican-American woman. It is also the first time since 2014 that the MED director is not a member of law enforcement.
In an email to Marijuana Venture, Mendiola said she was inspired by the opportunity and ready to embrace her new role.
“I’m inspired by this opportunity and am ready to embrace this next chapter at the MED,” Mendiola said. “Colorado’s cannabis framework has long set the gold standard for marijuana regulation, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue that legacy as senior director.”
Mendiola began working with the division in 2014, serving most recently as deputy director of policy, licensing and communications, a role in which she managed rule-making, licensing and communications for the division. She also served as the state’s director of marijuana coordination under Governor John Hickenlooper starting in July 2018 for the remainder of his final term.
As senior director, Mendiola told Marijuana Venture her focus would be prioritizing stakeholder outreach and engagement on issues such as social equity, public health and sustainability, as well as streamlining division operations and “ensuring the MED continues to grow and evolve in a way that can keep pace with and ultimately support innovation.”
“In the five months I’ve served as the Department of Revenue’s executive director, I’ve been impressed with Dominique’s extensive knowledge, unparalleled preparation and remarkable ability to gain the respect of a diverse group of both internal and external stakeholders,” Department of Revenue executive director Mark Ferrandino said in a press release. “I’m confident that Dominique’s leadership will bring both innovation and fresh eyes to the division and maintain Colorado as the global gold standard for regulating the marijuana industry.”
Mendiola replaces Jim Burack, who served as the MED director since February 2016. The position was upgraded to Senior Director and now reports directly to Ferrandino.
— Brian Beckley
In the study, commissioned by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Chicago, 50 retailers were randomly selected and either a 22-year-old male or 23-year-old female that a panel had determined could appear to look underage were sent to the stores. According to the study, the method is similar to those used to study alcohol establishments.
The study also surveyed law enforcement representatives and found most of the surveyed agencies do not consider enforcement of the recreational marijuana market a priority and depend mainly on the retail store security to enforce the marijuana use age of 21. However, almost half of the agencies reported conducting at least some compliance checks.
The data mirrors that found in other states. State-led compliance checks in Washington, for example, showed cannabis retailers had the highest compliance rates of the four product categories regulated by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. In fiscal year 2019, cannabis retailers passed the tests at a rate of 96.2%, while tobacco (91.2%), vapor products (87.1%) and alcohol (84.2%) all fell considerably shorter. Cannabis retailers also had the highest compliance rate in 2018 and 2017, at 94.6% and 93.2%, respectively.
According to a press release from NORML, the results in California are also similar to those found in a 2016 study in Colorado and a 2017 study in Oregon.
“Regulation works,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said. “Illicit marijuana providers don’t ask for or check for ID, but licensed businesses most certainly do.”
The study’s authors agree.
“Given the current high compliance rate, it seems unlikely that most underage youth who are using marijuana in the state of California are buying the marijuana from licensed outlets,” it reads, noting that more research is needed regarding the large number of unlicensed stores still operating in the state.
— Brian Beckley
New Federal Cannabis Licensee
For the first time in 50 years, someone other than the University of Mississippi will be federally licensed to grow cannabis for research purposes. Potential licensees began receiving notifications from the DEA on May 14 and many immediately began reviewing memorandums of agreement to begin their work.
Among those receiving notification and an MOA was Sue Sisley, MD, of the Scottdale Research Institute, whose lawsuits against the DEA led to the announcement. Sisley has been doing cannabis research for more than a decade and has fought a five-year battle to get a research cultivation license.
“We consider this a victory for scientific freedom,” Sisley told Marijuana Venture. “Scientists need access to options.”
The notifications came about a year after lawyers at Vicente Sederberg in New York, working on behalf of Sisley, settled a pair of lawsuits that revealed a secret opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The June 2018 document, titled “Licensing Marijuana Cultivation in Compliance with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,” was holding up the process of reviewing applications. The Department of Justice had sought the applications in 2016 and then “sat on” them, but no one was sure why, according to Shane Pennington, an attorney who worked on the case.
The DEA had seemed supportive of research like Sisley’s but was handcuffed by its parent agency, the Department of Justice. Once the Office of Legal Counsel opinion was revealed, the DEA began the rulemaking process, resulting in the December publication of the agency’s final rule on cannabis cultivation for research purposes.
Pennington said he was proud of the work his firm had done on the case, adding “it’s not every day you get a top-secret opinion.”
“We were able to reveal something the American people needed to know and deserved to know,” he said.
Sisley’s current research deals with cannabis’ ability to help manage pain in late-stage cancer patients, and her next trials will look at cannabis use for pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid dependence in veterans. She has been conducting DEA clinical trials for 12 years and has had an annually renewed DEA Schedule I research license for more than a decade.
But Sisley said the cannabis supplied through the National Institute on Drug Abuse from the University of Mississippi was “sub-optimal” and contained not just flower, but other plant material — sometimes moldy — that was “literally sabotaging” her data and making it almost impossible for the cannabis to beat the placebo in trials.
“The quality of cannabis from NIDA was so disappointing,” she said.
She was able to import cannabis from Canada for her trials, but says it is also lacking and that she and other scientists need access to the diverse cultivars and phenotypes being developed and used in the real world if they are to replicate the “transformative effects.”
“I think we’re all euphoric at the opportunity to use real-world cannabis in our own clinical trials and be able to help enable high-quality, natural flower get through the entire FDA drug development process. That’s always been our mission, and we could never achieve that with this really sub-optimal material from the University of Mississippi,” she said.
Sisley said that while this is a big step forward, there is still much to do, from working out the details in the MOA to meeting the DEA’s requirements to actually growing and testing the cannabis. She is already receiving inquiries and requests from other scientists needing cannabis for research of their own.
“We’re committed to trying to utilize our own cannabis flower for this next trial,” she said, adding that she hopes the new research cultivation licenses will “fuel a renaissance of psychedelic research.”
— Brian Beckley