Rule Changes Could Effect Marijuana Users

Drastic changes could be in store for the 158 people in Sierra County who have medical conditions that qualify them for a state-issued medical cannabis card. These changes, say some of the 23 state-licensed operators of the dispensaries, will put all but a handful of them out of business, and force extra costs on the people the program is supposed to serve, despite the fact recent surveys by the state Department of Health (DOH) found lack of producers is the biggest problem with the program. These patients suffer from one or more of the 13 debilitating conditions like cancer, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, etc., that can qualify them to use the plant legally. The DOH notified the licensed producers last Monday, including MJ Expresso, a Sierra County-based dispensary, of proposed new regulations that include drastic fee increases for both patients and producers. Administrators with the DOH’s Medical Cannabis Program are recommending a 50 percent cut in the number of plants licensed patients can grow at home, from four to two plants. The agency is also proposing patients pay $50 for the annual patient registry identification card renewals, maintain ongoing relationships with their primary doctors and to pay for these recurring medical tests (see guest column, page A2). In addition, patients who grow two mature plants will have to pay a $30 application fee. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, adopted in 2007, requires producers, or dispensaries, to be non-profit. MJ Expresso was set up shortly after passage to have any profits benefit the Sierra County Seniors Program. After a survey of patients conducted last winter by the DOH found “chronic shortages” in the product, the agency notified the state’s 23 producers they would be allowed to grow more plants, but they would face “reasonable fee increases.” This week DOH officials notified producers it is proposing increasing their license fees from $30,000 to $90,000 — $20,000 for every 50 mature female plant up to 150 plants, as well as $10,000 for every 100 seedlings, up to 300 seedlings. The DOH also plans to limit THC/CBD to 60 percent for edibles and concentrated products, which are available to patients who are unable to smoke cannabis. The new regulations also increase plant-testing requirements, add new regulations on courier services and changes the responsibilities for the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board. “Of the 23 producers statewide, only seven or eight, maybe, will not have to close their doors,…