Medical marijuana proponents question high costs
“We have to think of our patients first. Patient before dollars,” said Ernie Wusstig, a local farmer. Wusstig testified at the first public hearing regarding the draft medical marijuana rules held yesterday morning at the Guam Legislature’s public hearing room in Hagåtña.
“It’s about them, it’s not about us making money,” Wusstig said. “It was even mentioned that it was $500 an ounce. If I was sick and I need $500 to go buy my first medication, I’d probably die. I’d die of stroke before taking marijuana.”
Wusstig suggested that patients be allowed to cultivate marijuana themselves, without having to go to a dispensary.
The draft rules propose a $150 fee for qualified patients to get a registry identification card, except those that qualify for a 50 percent discount. A designated caregivers’ registry identification card is suggested at $200, while the suggested price for dispensaries, agents and cultivation sites registry identification cards are $500 each.
The proposed cost for dispensary registration certificates and a cultivation site registration certificate is $35,000 for new registrations and $35,000 to renew, according to the draft regulations. If a dispensary or cultivation site changes location, that is another proposed $35,000 to do so.
Inarajan resident Walter Stiernagle said he agrees with the $35,000 fee, but questioned the cost to build an indoor growing facility. “I was just hoping if you could bend the rules somehow for us farmers. We can’t afford to build a half million dollar warehouse and all that stuff,” Stiernagle said. “I’m just trying to break even.”
The draft regulations also propose that cultivation sites be in an enclosed area, which must be an outdoor space surrounded by solid, 10-foot walls made of metal, concrete or stone that prevents viewing marijuana plants and a solid 1-inch-thick metal gate.
Stiernagle said he’d like to register to be either a licensed grower or caregiver.
Prospective grower and dispensary agent, Andrea Pellacani, of Guam Grassroots, testified that the draft rules and regulations did not indicate if a grower could also be licensed as a dispensary. “There’s no option for vertical licensing. There’s language in there that states that if I provide more than one application, I cannot do it in the same village,” Pellacani said. “You have everything lumped together. There’s not a separate distinction for dispensaries or cultivators or processors or labs.”
Pellacani said based on her reading of the draft regulations now, she would have to have separate facilities in separate villages which would double her costs and interfere with her business model.
Tom Nadeau, chief environmental health officer for the Department of Public Health and Social Services, said the prices suggested in the draft are open to change. Nadeau said proposed costs in the draft were based on the ability of the government to run the program.
“In our preliminary assessment there needs to have dedicated personnel to run the program. It is our plan, as proposed, to run the program through a web-based program,” he said “We’re trying to make this efficient and fast as possible. ... Everything is done primarily through the web, through the Internet, if you will. And that, of course, will require the necessary infrastructure and that will cost and some of the money to make that happen will come from this.”
Yet to be finalized
Nadeau said the cost to run the entire program has yet to be finalized and it depends on how much the web-based infrastructure will cost and how many medical marijuana patients are on Guam.
August Fest, another resident who testified yesterday, said the cost as suggested in the draft was “government extortion.”
Fest suggested that there be less regulation. He pointed out that on top of the $35,000 fee, cultivation sites and dispensaries are required to have a vault built into the facility, a 10-foot wall and security cameras.
“You shouldn’t have it any more restrictive than any pharmacy. We’re talking about one product here,” Fest said.
There will be another public hearing today for residents who wish to submit oral testimony or written testimony. The hearing will be at the public hearing room at the Guam Legislature building from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.