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Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court Approves Cannabis Legalization Bill

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Costa Rica is one step closer to legalizing its domestic cannabis industry. On December 1, the country’s constitutional court, known as “Sala IV,” found nothing in the legislation that was originally passed on October 21 that would prevent it from becoming law. The bill was initially approved by the Legislative Assembly with a vote of 33 votes for and 13 against.

This is a big step. Costa Rica’s law project 21.388, entitled the “Law on Cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic use and Hemp for industrial use” was first approved in late October by the legislative assembly. Rather than advancing directly to a second vote at this time, however, a group of 10 deputies sent the pending statute to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court for a legal review, mainly to stall its passage.

Just the day before the bill was initially passed, on October 20, Panama, the country’s neighbour to the south, finally legalized medical cannabis too. It is very likely that this move prompted Costa Rica’s brief sidestep.

What Happens Next in Costa Rica

Legislator Zoila Volio has already asked President Carlos Alvarado to convene the initiative to the Legislative Assembly. The Minister of the Presidency, Geannina Dinarte has already said publicly that the bill would be summoned to an “extraordinary session” for a vote now that the court ruling has been passed down.

Reform has been pending here for two years.

As of August of this year, only one company has been granted the right to study the viability of cannabis.

A Costa Rica Cannabis Tourist Trade in the Offing?

The average tourist who has spent any time in Costa Rica knows that cannabis is essentially decriminalized and easily obtainable. While the production of cannabis products remains illegal, personal possession has been effectively decriminalized. That said, the actual Narcotic Drug law of Costa Rica calls for a prison sentence of eight to 15 years for possession along with cultivation and manufacturing.

This central American country of just under five million people and bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the South, has long been a destination for those who sought a life off the beaten path as well as increasingly American retirees who are drawn both by the weather and the overall quality of life.

The country abolished its army in 1948. As of 1949, all budgeted funds that would have been allocated to the country’s defense were rerouted to providing health care services and education. Costa Rica, as a result, is known for its stable democracy and progressive social policies.

A regulated medical cannabis industry here would not only provide jobs and income for the locals, but it would also turn the country into one of the most interesting medical cannabis vacation countries in the world.

Costa Rica is bounded by both the Caribbean and Pacific. Lush rainforests cover much of the country. It is already the most popular destination in Central America, visited by people who are drawn both by the biodiversity of the environment and those on the hunt for an exotic ecotourism experience.

Add cannabis to the mix, and the results are likely to be very positive.

Indeed, the opportunities for the ecological development of the sector may get a boost from cultivation in this part of the world.

Sustainable Cannabis

The discussion about what constitutes “sustainable” practices in this industry are an ongoing debate. There are many ways to approach this idea—from efficient grow and processing operations to labor relations.

However, when competing in a global medical market, countries must produce cannabis to a much higher, pharmaceutical standard (GMP) than most other agricultural crops are cultivated under. Such crops must be produced indoors. As a result, at least from a real estate perspective, the development of the industry in places like Central and South America might develop in highly destructive ways. See Brazil for starters.

In Costa Rica, with its liberal approach to rainforest preservation, however, this model might be given a chance to thrive, and further in a non-first world environment.

No matter the difficulties of tomorrow as the industry develops, one thing is very clear with the forward motion of Costa Rica’s legalization of cannabis. Another “green domino” has fallen.

The post Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court Approves Cannabis Legalization Bill appeared first on High Times.

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Inside the Mind of a Medical Cannabis Pharmacist in Utah

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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.

Courtesy of Mindy Madeo

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.”

The post Inside the Mind of a Medical Cannabis Pharmacist in Utah appeared first on High Times.

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Massachusetts House Approves Bill To Amend Cannabis Laws

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The Massachusetts House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted on Wednesday to approve a bill amending the state’s weed laws, including significant social equity investments and the addition of cannabis consumption cafes to the state’s roster of regulated pot businesses. Lawmakers in the House voted 153-2 to approve the bill, which is nearly identical to a measure passed by the Massachusetts Senate in April.

House Speaker Ron Mariano issued a statement quoted by the Boston Globe, saying the bill aims “to create a fair and successful cannabis industry, fostering equitable opportunities to those disproportionately impacted by the systemic racism of historic drug policy.”

The bill makes several changes to existing cannabis laws in Massachusetts, where voters approved a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for use by adults in 2016. Since then, recreational pot retailers in the state have sold more than $3 billion in weed products, according to a report from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission that was released the same day the bill was approved in the House.

Adam Fine, a partner with the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg, says that the “legislation marks the House of Representatives’ first significant movement on cannabis since adult-use legalization.”

“Components of the bill address some of the concerns that have been identified over the past five years, particularly around social equity, host community agreements and movement towards allowing social consumption sites,” Fine wrote in an email to High Times. “The proposal creates the Social Equity Trust fund for social equity operators and provides a mechanism for money to be raised to help applicants enter the cannabis space.”

New Investments in Social Equity

Under the bill, 20% of the pot taxes collected in the state will be dedicated to investments in cannabis social equity businesses. The share of revenue is higher than the 15% detailed in an earlier version of the bill and double the 10% included in the Senate bill.

The increased funding would be substantial. From July 2021 through April of this year, Massachusetts has collected $124.5 million in recreational cannabis excise taxes. Under the House version of the bill, that amount of revenue would equate to more than $25 million in funding for social equity cannabis businesses in the state.

Under the state’s current social equity program, only 23 of the state’s 253 licensed cannabis businesses are owned by entrepreneurs qualified for the economic empowerment and social equity programs administered by the Cannabis Control Commission. Shanel Lindsay, the co-founder of the advocacy group Equitable Opportunities Now, praised lawmakers in the House for the change and urged senators to retain the higher percentage in a compromise version of the bill.

“Without this funding, our equity goals are just hollow promises,” Lindsay said.

Both versions of the bill require local governments to consider social equity factors when issuing local permits. The House bill also simplifies the expungement process for past weed convictions and arrests by making more offenses eligible for relief. The legislation also directs judges to approve all eligible petitions for expungement, removing much of their discretion to deny requests without explanation.

“We mean it when we say our residents have the right to keep these records from following them around for life,” said state Representative Michael Day.

Massachusetts Bill Reforms Host Community Agreements

Another provision of the legislation would reform the contracts cannabis businesses sign with local governments to obtain local licensing approval known as host community agreements. Cannabis operators and applicants for licenses have argued that community impact fees included in such agreements by local governments exceed the cannabis industry’s negative effects on the community.

Both the Senate and House versions of the bill limit impact fees by requiring local governments to detail any negative impact and set commensurate fees. State regulators would have the authority to reject plans that require excessive payments.

“Without enforcement, we’ve seen some communities push the bounds further than allowed by law, this legislation will make local permitting straightforward and allow more social equity applicants to move through the local process,” said Fine.

The House version ends impact fees once a weed business has been open five years and gives the Cannabis Control Commission 45 days to review local agreements, while the Senate bill allows up to 120 days.

“The municipality literally has the upper hand in these negotiations, and many have used it to a fault,” said state Representative Daniel Donahue. He added that the legislation would help create a “legal, fair, and honest” cannabis industry in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association of local governments opposed the change, saying the changes to impact fees were a way for cannabis operators to keep more profit for themselves at the expense of local communities.

“The key issues for cities and towns include making certain that the final version of legislation doesn’t interfere with existing host community agreements, and making sure that communities can collect adequate community impact fees going forward,” said Geoff Beckwith, the associate director of the group.

Beckwith added that reducing or eliminating the impact fees “could be a disincentive for additional communities to accept cannabis establishments.”

Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association president David O’Brien praised the changes to the state’s cannabis laws included in the legislation.

“By providing start-up capital, empowering the [cannabis commission] with proper oversight of greedy municipalities, and allowing cannabis operators to deduct normal business expenses,” O’Brien said, “entrepreneurs now will be able to pursue their dreams of starting a small business with fewer barriers in their way.”

Before the legislation can become law, a conference committee will have to rectify the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Both bodies would then have to vote in favor of a final bill before sending it to Governor Charlie Baker for approval.

The post Massachusetts House Approves Bill To Amend Cannabis Laws appeared first on High Times.

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Brazilian Presidential Candidates Duck and Cover on Recreational Cannabis Reform

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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.

The post Brazilian Presidential Candidates Duck and Cover on Recreational Cannabis Reform appeared first on High Times.

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