Monday, May 10, 2021

Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition

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Delaware: Cannabis Activists Take on Corporate Marijuana, Patients Stage Boycott

Dover, DE – As the country moves forward with sweeping changes in cannabis policy reform, locals in Delaware are tangling with corporate, multi-state medical marijuana permit holders to pass a bill for full legalization.  Adult-use activists and registered medical patients were stunned to hear opposing testimony from Delaware’s medical marijuana operators. Patients already deal with limited access and costly products. Now, many see the established industry voicing opposition as simply obstructing the progress of adult-use legislation. In response, some patients are now staging a boycott of the regulated dispensaries. During the first committee hearing for HB150, Delaware’s adult-use bill, four of the state’s six currently licensed, multi-million dollar medical cannabis facilities offered negative testimony.  These included publicly traded Columbia Care, “Fresh Delaware” aka CCRI, CannTech Research Inc., and the owner of EZY Venture aka “The Farm.” They all went on record condemning HB150, and pushing a false narrative about oversupply. The core demand from the permit cartel was some protection for their private business interests with guaranteed adult-use licenses. Zoë Patchell, the Executive Director of Delaware CAN responded: “This market belongs to the long-time consumers, patients, and activists. We create the demand, we’ve been the ones driving the reform efforts, and we pay the prices at dispensaries. Cannabis is more than a market – cannabis is a community. These companies cannot reasonably fathom that we are going to purchase cannabis from any entity that has proven to put profits over patients. And now they seem willing to put consumers’ lives and freedom at risk just to hold out for an unfair advantage in the industry.”. Criticism from the medical marijuana operators claimed that HB150 offers too many new cultivation and retail licenses, underlined by deep yet unfounded fears that the new competition would put their companies out of business.  Patchell noted, “We are not going to sit back while multi-state corporate entities, that already monopolize East Coast medical markets, work to undermine our social equity and micro-license provisions.” Local reform groups, including Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network (Delaware CAN) and Delaware NORML, who have been fighting to end marijuana arrests and to create an inclusive cannabis market, call these claims blatant lies and deliberate misinformation.  Laura Sharer, Executive Director of Delaware NORML and herself a registered patient, said, “It’s despicable that these companies, which already profit from patients and our advocacy, would fight against our all-volunteer efforts to fully legalize cannabis. Especially while so many patients continue to suffer, and arrests for simple cannabis possession actually continue in the state.” Current medical permits would be unaffected by HB150, and those entities would easily apply with everyone else for adult-use operations.  Advocates and activists point out that these corporations would be well-positioned to win approval for recreational cannabis. Medical permit holders’ experience operating on liquid investment capital, securing local zoning permits, and lobbying in Dover would already make them tough competitors against new social equity and micro-licenses participants.  Patchell and Sharer noted that there are people currently in prison, in Delaware, for the exact same conduct as the current medical permit holders – growing and selling large quantities of marijuana.  They believe that if anyone should get a head start in the market it should be those who have had their time, assets, and freedom seized from them as a result of cannabis prohibition.  HB150 limits the number of total retail cannabis licenses that will be issued during the initial implementation process to 125, (60 cultivators, 30 manufacturing facilities, 30 retailers, and 5 laboratories), of which 77 will be issued under the social equity or micro-license categories. Two years after enactment of HB150 the licensing caps would be removed.  Some of the comments from cannabis industry representatives made during testimony on HB150 were particularly shocking to activists and patients, enough to prompt the boycott.  A representative from CannTech Research Inc., Aaron Epstein, Esq., made the preposterous claim that the total canopy size offered under HB150 would be able to “supply all of the legal and illegal marijuana on the entire East Coast” and warned of the dangers of not artificially controlling the market by limiting cultivation licenses to avoid cannabis surpluses. Others made blunt mention of their profit-driven motives. David White, Esq. a representative from multi-state operator Fresh Delaware hyperbolically claimed that HB150 would “visit violence upon the economic well-being” of their business. The same company is often represented in DE by a politician from New Jersey, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji , who also owns or represents cannabis companies in NJ, Pa., NY, and beyond. Business does not seem to be hurting, at least for the lawyers.  Fresh Delaware went so far as to claim that adding even a handful of additional cultivators in Delaware would, according to White, “render [their] carefully considered long-term vision a non-recoupable loss” and he said that if the bill passed, they would be forced to send out a “reduction in force notice” that same week to lay off unionized workers. Jennifer Stark, the owner of The Farm, aka EZY Venture LLC / aka AgroLab, the former sole recipient of Delaware’s Medical Marijuana Registered Safety Compliance Facility in 2016, also criticized the number of licenses offered in the initial implementation phase. She went on to claim that unless their company was automatically awarded an adult-use license, costs of medical marijuana in the state would triple and patients would suffer, without explaining how that would occur. Stark suggested that all the existing medical marijuana providers, like The Farm, should be awarded adult-use licenses first and then regulators could follow through with social equity and micro licenses. Sharice Ward, a representative from the massive multi-state operator Columbia Care, also touted the “oversupply” narrative. Ward claimed, without explanation, that DE patients would be subjected to higher costs and administrative burdens. Meanwhile Columbia Care’s national financial report showed $197.9 million dollars in profit posted to their stockholders in 2020. Of course, the small cartel of current permit holders completely control the price of Delaware’s medical cannabis today.  Activists and patients were surprised to hear such flatly misinformed opposition to HB150 from the permit holders. These operators stayed silent throughout the years when patients and advocates alike have called for reforms. The same groups have sat comfortably on their approved permits throughout nearly a decade of publicized efforts to fully legalize the plant, including through two other versions of the adult-use legislation, an eight-month-long legislative Adult-use Cannabis Task Force, and two Governor-organized town halls on the measure. Delaware faces a unique set of challenges to legalize cannabis. The Constitution requires that an adult-use legalization bill must pass through the legislature and garner a 3/5th supermajority to pass. After years of lobbying lawmakers, and building a strong citizen-lobby campaign, there was a very close vote in 2018 on a previous bill. That vote earned a simple majority but came up just four votes shy of the supermajority required. The all-volunteer advocacy groups went back to work, now in 2021, there’s finally a path forward to stop arrests and start up retail cannabis.  Laura Sharer of Delaware NORML said, “We’re angry that these big companies are trying to reduce the number of licenses available to limit much-needed competition. As a patient I don’t see our dispensaries having an adequate supply or diversity in products. They also charge an exorbitant rate for their medicine. If they are so flush with supply why are prices so high?” Sharer countered the permit holders’ notion of an already saturated medical marijuana market in Delaware. Expensive eighths and quarters the largest quantities offered to patients in regulated dispensaries per visit, although legally they should be allowed to purchase up to 3 ounces at a time. “These companies are making millions selling high-priced, subpar cannabis, with very few options available for patients. The patients need competition in the market, and they need more options,” said Sharer. Advocates from other legal states that are experiencing similar problems with some of the same companies, have joined Delaware in their fight against these big corporate entities. Chris Goldstein wrote about medical marijuana policy for the Philadelphia Inquirer and blogs at NORML.org as a Regional Organizer. He said that many multi-state operators have been fixing top-tier prices across the region. “Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware have the most expensive medical cannabis in the country at $360 to $440 per ounce of flower, “ said Goldstein, “While in Maine, where patients can access a wider range of small businesses and craft cannabis, the price is down to $140 per ounce.” Goldstein noted, “Now that adult-use is materializing, some states are exploring greater transparency in wholesale production costs, and even price caps on medical marijuana products, similar to other healthcare price gouging safeguards.” Letters to the Editor have also begun to appear from disgruntled patients in the local press.  Lillyanne Ternahan, a registered patient writes in the Cape Gazette: “These companies’ greed and desire for market control is what is harming medical patients. The lack of affordable cannabis in sufficient quantities to meet the demand is causing patients to suffer. These dispensaries have failed to produce results and have been allotted more than adequate time to produce results. They do not deserve nor hold the credentials to be first to receive new licenses to empower their greedy corporate interests.” Laura Sharer of DE NORML says she thought the permit holders would support HB150. Now, she and other patients will continue a boycott of the dispensaries until the industry ceases to actively lobbying against the bill.  Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network is an all-volunteer, citizen-led, grassroots advocacy group. Since 2013 our members have been lobbying the Delaware General Assembly to remove all criminal penalties for cannabis, initiate criminal justice reforms for those adversely affected by cannabis prohibition, and replace the current illicit cannabis market with a safe, legal, and well-regulated industry. Press Contact: Zoë Patchell, Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, Executive Director (302) 236-6984 zoe@delawarecannabis.org

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