Feb. 25 2019 08:22 AM

New ‘trade association’ pushes for more regulations


MONDAY, Feb. 25 — A newly formed trade association is urging state officials to tighten up medical marijuana regulations after another batch of tainted, medical bud was recalled from a dispensary in Ypsilanti.


The Great Lakes Cannabis Chamber of Commerce — formed late last year by a group of Lansing lobbyists — said recent statewide efforts to unkink the medical marijuana supply chain has led to “untrained or unlicensed growers manipulating the medicine with harmful and dangerous additives,” according to a recent press release.


“People need access to medicine, and that medicine should not be tainted,” said spokesman Matt Miner. “The supply needs to be there. We’d just like the make sure the it’s not harmful for patients, and what caregivers are providing doesn’t compare to licensed facilities out there.”


This year, Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs issued six voluntary recalls for several particular strains of medical marijuana that failed state-mandated testing procedures. Traces of chemical and bacterial residue, high moisture content and other similar violations have been reported throughout the state.


Homegrown was the only licensed dispensary in Lansing to be targeted for a recall. More than 100 customers bought a range of contaminated bud there late last year; they’ve since been made eligible for a full refund. Other dispensaries in Kalamazoo, Vassar, Ypsilanti and Detroit have since issued similar recalls.


Although no patients have reported any negative side effects to state officials, the most recent recall effort seems to have sparked some more vocal concerns within the industry. Strains of Green Crack and Sugar Black Rose sold at The Patient Station in Ypsilanti tested positive for arsenic and cadmium residues in February.


Arsenic poisoning — particularly from its inorganic form — can be deadly. Cadmium exposure can also lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, according to a factsheet from the U.S. Department of Labor. Again, officials at LARA emphasized that no patients have reported any symptoms from the recalled products.


“One of the major goals of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Facility Licensing Act was patient safety,” Mike Callton, the former state representative who co-authored the legislation. “The state cannot continue to allow arsenic and other harmful substances to taint medicine being sold in Michigan.”


Miner is only moonlighting as the Cannabis Chamber’s spokesman. He’s also the CEO at the multi-client lobbying firm Capitol Strategies Group. He also served as chief of staff for then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Bishop, for added context, opposed last year’s ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.


“The problem, for us, is there are a lot of problems with the caregiver supply out there,” Miner said. “In an effort to avoid having these products tainted, we’re looking at what steps can be taken to completely get that out of the picture. Caregivers should continue those relationships with patients, just not in a regulated, dispensary setting.”


Prior restrictions effectively banned licensed shops from stocking their shelves with caregiver-grown marijuana. With the limited number of licensed growers statewide, a statewide supply shortage forced many dispensaries to close. Those rules were overturned earlier this year amid an attempt to bolster patient access across the state.


Cardholders, instead, now only need to sign a waiver acknowledging that their medical bud hasn’t necessarily been tested in full compliance with the law. On April 1, however, those restrictions are scheduled to go back into effect and would again require licensed dispensaries to stock their inventories with fully tested products.


By then, state officials hope the market will have adequately expanded to meet the statewide demand. But LARA has repeatedly folded to industry pressures and extended deadlines on medical marijuana operations. Miner and his colleagues are concerned that untested marijuana might still find its way onto the market.


“We hope they adhere to that deadline, but if there is an issue at the end of March, and there needs to be some type of continuation there, we’d like to be a part of that conversation,” Miner added. “At some point, there has to be a cutoff date. We’re just trying to figure out the best path forward under the structure that’s in place.”


The Cannabis Chamber of Commerce was registered as a nonprofit by Miner, Nathaniel Love and Rob Elhenicky. Love was hired by the lobbying firm of Kelley Hawthorne in 2013. Elhenicky also works there as a lobbyist. He previously helped represent the Michigan Wine Producers Association.


And for a group that claims to represent the marijuana industry’s best interests, other long-standing pot advocates have raised an eyebrow at their call to beef up market regulations. Rick Thompson, a board member at the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has doubts.


“This is not some type of citizen group raising these concerns,” Thompson added. “They’re not health professionals. It’s not people with experience in the industry. This is a group of paid spokespeople raising a concern for their own interests, and I feel they have a clear conflict in terms of the arguments being raised.”


Still, the newly-formed organization is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and LARA to “take these recalls seriously” and enforce additional restrictions on caregiver-supplied marijuana products. A spokesman for LARA said regulators will take the concerns under advisement but declined to offer additional comment.


Thompson, for his part, contends its unrealistic for licensed caregivers to adhere to standards for licensed processors and growers. He likened industrially produced strains to Kobe beef. Caregiver-grown marijuana might not be the best cut of the metaphorical cow, but it’s still “perfectly healthy” to consume, he maintained.


“Secondly, there have been no reported illnesses here,” Thompson said. “We’re talking about 300,000 patients in a 10-year-old program with absolutely no problems. Obviously health and safety is important in medicine, but this arsenic is not something that would normally be found in cultivation. That was also only one instance.”


Miner insisted the Great Lakes Cannabis Chamber of Commerce was formed by an unnamed group of licensed medical marijuana entrepreneurs. It has yet to name a formal director.


“Like most trade associations, we’re forming as the market evolves,” Miner added. “It was a group of multi-client lobbyists who thought, we really don’t need another lobbyist. We need to form a trade organization, and that’s kind of how it came about. There was also a number of licensed people that started to come together on this.”


Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage on statewide marijuana regulation.