Cannabis became legal for adult use in Guam more than three years ago. This August, after a long and winding road, made even more so by the pandemic, regulators are set to accept retail applications.
Ahead of the launch of sales, Attorney General Leevin T. Camacho hosted a virtual Cannabis Regulation Roundtable last week, during which he provided an overview of what has unfolded over the years in the U.S. territory, and invited insights from regulators across the U.S. The event was focused on specific topics, including enforcement, licensing, testing, and banking, and how best to address them in an ongoing way.
The adult use rules that went into effect at the end of May, Camacho said, were crafted with plenty of input from the AGs of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — jurisdictions that had “gone down this road before,” he said, and could pass along lessons learned.
Bruce Turcott, the legal editor of the Cannabis Law Deskbook of the Attorney General Alliance, focused on enforcement. Turcott, formerly the assistant AG of Washington state, gave an overview of Washington’s experience as one of the first two states to launch legal adult use sales. And, what it was like to do so at a time where it wasn’t clear yet whether the U.S. Department of Justice would intervene. Ultimately, he said, the state’s approach to regulation unfolded with the DOJ “in mind.”
At the time, the DOJ made it clear it would not interfere with state-legal cannabis, so long as its priorities around, for example, preventing youth use and diversion, were met. That DOJ guidance was rescinded under former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. However, even today, Turcott said, the state follows these priorities as “good public policy.”
Katherine Hoffman, policy and rules manager of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, focused on licensing models, noting that “no two states’ regulatory or licensing structures are the same.” However, she continued, the broad strokes are often similar, in that there is cultivation, processing, and retail, for example. But when it comes to the finer points, such as how states handle delivery, or testing, or local control, or incorporating medical operators into an expansion to adult use, states diverge.
Another big question for regulators in licensing is whether to allow for vertical integration, she said. Some argue that allowing one company to control the plant from seed to sale can create monopolies, limit consumer choice, and create barriers to entry due to costs, she said, while other companies argue it reduces competition for them, for example, and allows for greater quality control in-house.
Norm Birenbaum, a former cannabis regulator in Rhode Island and New York, and the founding president of the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), presented on testing and consumer safety. As with licensing models, he said, “there’s a patchwork of cannabis testing requirements and standards across all legalized states and territories” and states have to navigate without the “benefit of federal resources and federal infrastructure.”
This is where CANNRA comes in, he said, so that, “in the absence of federal leadership on this issue,” regulators can hear from each other on what is and isn’t working.
There are considerations unique to cannabis, he said, and the standards applied to other crops, like grapes for wine, cannot be simply carried over. One of the most commonly used pesticides for grapes, for example, he said, is fine if consumed by drink, but not so if combusted. Also, he flagged that even growers who aren’t using pesticides might test “hot” because of groundwater exposure to chemicals.
Birenbaum also talked about how regulations could be more tightly crafted to prevent companies from seeking desired lab results around THC levels, or seeking workarounds just so they don’t have to destroy contaminated products. Firm rules around sampling, for example, he said, will prevent a company allowed to supply their own sample from choosing one that is not representative.
This is an evolving issue in states with legal cannabis sales. Right now in California, draft regulations are open for public comment that would better standardize lab testing. The Department of Cannabis Control said in an email to stakeholders on Friday that the lack of uniformity in lab approaches has led to “concerns about cannabis potency inflation and ‘laboratory shopping’ by cannabis businesses looking to secure THC levels that may be higher than what is actually contained in the cannabis flower or product.”
The conversation eventually turned toward banking issues, which is one area of cannabis policy that affects the entire industry, no matter the jurisdiction. And, banking resolutions will only become more pressing in Guam once sales get off the ground in the coming months. Lieutenant Governor Joshua Tenorio spoke briefly about banking near the end of the day-long event.
“All of us are trying to pressure the U.S. Congress to act and to make some adjustments to federal law that can respond to the practical reality” that two-thirds of the country is living with a legal cannabis industry, he said.