Pot bal­lot drives put med­i­cal, recre­ational users at odds

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Patrick Whittle

A hand­ful of recre­ational mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion drives has the med­i­cal pot in­dus­try brac­ing for some­thing it never ex­pected to deal with: com­pe­ti­tion.

Le­gal­iza­tion is on the bal­lot in five states this Novem­ber, and all five cur­rently al­low some form of med­i­cal mar­i­juana al­ready.

Grow­ers, med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and users of med­i­cal mar­i­juana say they worry that peo­ple who want med­i­cal mar­i­juana will buy it on the open mar­ket in­stead of go­ing through the has­sle of get­ting a doc­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

“This is be­ing struc­tured for big cor­po­ra­tions to come in and in a very short pe­riod of time wipe out the care­givers,” said Lori Libbey, a board direc­tor of a Maine group cam­paign­ing against le­gal­iza­tion and a nurse who ad­min­is­ters cannabis. “I won­der who is go­ing to be able to pro­vide for pe­di­atric pa­tients.”

But in Maine and the other states con­sid­er­ing le­gal­iza­tion, oth­ers in the mar­i­juana busi­ness are very much look­ing for­ward to the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal­iza­tion. And some pro­po­nents be­lieve med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­fes­sion­als just don’t want to lose their monopoly.

Recre­ational le­gal­iza­tion mea­sures are also on bal­lots in Ari­zona, California, Mas­sachusetts and Ne­vada. Con­cerns from med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­fes­sion­als have also cropped up in those states, and they have echoed sim­i­lar strug­gles in states that have al­ready le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana, such as Ore­gon and Colorado.

Com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­i­juana mar­ket has be­come part of the land­scape in Colorado, which saw nearly $1 bil­lion in sales of med­i­cal and recre­ational mar­i­juana last year. The state went le­gal in 2012.

Paul Ar­men­tano, spokesman for the lead­ing mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion group NORML, said some med­i­cal users and ad­vo­cacy groups worry about po­ten­tial cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of mar­i­juana as the mar­ket ex­pands. Ten­sion be­tween med­i­cal and recre­ational mar­i­juana sup­port­ers, he said, has al­ready be­come an is­sue in California.

NORML is sen­si­tive to the con­cerns of med­i­cal mar­i­juana users, Ar­men­tano said, but also un­der­stands some of the con­ster­na­tion is about angst over free-mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion.

“There is a con­cern among in­di­vid­u­als who largely have the mar­i­juana mar­ket solely to them­selves that the ad­vent of broader le­gal­iza­tion will in­tro­duce com­pe­ti­tion into the ex­ist­ing mar­ket and that com­pe­ti­tion will pose a threat to their ex­ist­ing busi­ness model,” he said.

Some ad­vo­cates of med­i­cal mar­i­juana feel state reg­u­la­tions are the key to mak­ing sure med­i­cal mar­i­juana sur­vives in the age of le­gal pot.

In Mas­sachusetts, the lan­guage has alarmed some crit­ics who fear pas­sage of the bal­lot ques­tion could com­pro­mise or per­haps even over­run the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, which has al­ready been slowed by reg­u­la­tory de­lays since Mas­sachusetts vot­ers au­tho­rized it in 2012.

Ni­c­hole Snow, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Mas­sachusetts Pa­tient Ad­vo­cacy Al­liance, said her group, which sup­ports med­i­cal mar­i­juana re­cip­i­ents, is neu­tral on the bal­lot ques­tion and un­cer­tain of its po­ten­tial im­pact.

“I hope there is still pa­tient fo­cus (if) this ini­tia­tive passes,” Snow said.

Amer­i­cans for Safe Ac­cess, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates for le­gal ac­cess to med­i­cal cannabis, said recre­ational mar­i­juana pro­grams should be kept sep­a­rate from med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

The group sees po­ten­tial “com­pet­ing in­ter­ests” be­tween the two if they are comin­gled, said Beth Collins, a leader of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The group also sees po­ten­tial harm from the pos­si­bil­ity cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of mar­i­juana, Collins said. “On the neg­a­tive side, big busi­ness may try to im­pose reg­u­la­tions to keep other play­ers out, which could lead to fewer prod­ucts,” she said. “The best med­i­cal cannabis pro­grams al­low for both large and small busi­nesses along with ac­cess via pa­tient or care­giver cul­ti­va­tion.”

Some ar­dent pro­po­nents of med­i­cal mar­i­juana are on board with broad le­gal­iza­tion. Carey Clark, a mem­ber of the board of di­rec­tors for the Amer­i­can Cannabis Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion, said recre­ational le­gal­iza­tion will al­low peo­ple who use mar­i­juana as medicine to have eas­ier ac­cess to it.

“When it’s le­gal we’re go­ing to see an in­crease in qual­ity and a de­crease in cost, and that is re­ally good for peo­ple who need ac­cess to this medicine,” Clark said. “Things will be la­beled and they’ll know what they’re get­ting.” As­so­ci­ated Press writer Bob Sals­berg in Bos­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

ROBERT F. BUKATY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Nov. 21, 2014, file photo, a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine smokes med­i­cal mar­i­juana in Belfast, Maine. A hand­ful of recre­ational mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion drives has the med­i­cal pot in­dus­try brac­ing for some­thing it never ex­pected to deal with: com­pe­ti­tion.

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