A majority of New Yorkers want marijuana to be legalized for adult use, according to a new poll—and they further favor allowing for home delivery, cultivation for personal use and letting retail and cultivation facilities operate in their neighborhoods.
The poll from Consensus Strategies asked New York residents about a variety of cannabis-related issues, including those related to social equity and licensing. At a top level, it showed that people in the state are ready for a policy change that largely aligns with proposals moving through the legislature this session.
It found, for example, that 61 percent of New York adults support recreational marijuana legalization. But it also offered unique insights into the specifics of what residents hope to see out of a legal cannabis market.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they would be OK with having retail marijuana businesses in their communities, while 53 percent support allowing cultivation facilities near their homes. Another 53 percent said they favor permitting cannabis businesses to deliver products to consumers.
A slim majority (51 percent) said that people from areas most impacted by the drug war should have licensing priority, and about half (50 percent) said people with prior convictions for selling cannabis should be able to operate a legal marijuana business.
A majority of respondents said that local jurisdictions should have opt-out authority enabling them to ban cannabis shops from operating in their areas.
In terms of home cultivation, 52 percent said that adults should be able to grow a limited number of plants for personal use. That’s notable in the context of legislative negotiations over measures to legalize cannabis, as the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) plan omits a home cultivation option whereas a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) and Senate Finance Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D) would allow home grow.
About three-in-four respondents said that selling marijuana to those 18-21 should be a misdemeanor offense, compared to 22 percent who said it should be considered a felony.
As originally drafted, the governor’s plan would have made selling cannabis to those under 21 a class D felony—but he later submitted an amended version that lowered that penalty to a misdemeanor following pushback. Advocates said the provision was counterproductive to the goal of ending marijuana criminalization and would disproportionately impact black New Yorkers.
The survey also asked about proposals to earmark a portion of marijuana tax dollars to support community reinvestment for those disproportionately harmed under criminalization. Fifty-nine percent said they agreed that some revenue should be allocated for that purpose.
Not everyone who said they support legalizing marijuana would visit a legal retailer, the survey found. About half of respondents (49 percent) said they were either “likely” or “very likely” go to a cannabis store at least once, and the other half said they weren’t likely to participate in the market.
When narrowing on on just New York City respondents, the poll found that while 53 percent back legalization, 52 percent said they would not want a marijuana retailer to open in their neighborhood, and 58 percent said they wouldn’t want a cultivation facility, either. Sixty-one percent in the city said that individual jurisdictions should have an opt-out option.
Support for legalization is strongest upstate, where 67 percent back the reform.
“Legalization is only the beginning of the battle,” Patrick Fox, CEO of Consensus Strategies, said in a press release. “The fight to find viable sites will be intense. We often hear from cannabis entrepreneurs who think that the level of support for legalization will translate into support for siting a retail or cultivation facility. It often does not.”
The survey involved interviews with 515 New Yorkers from March 5-7.
Overall, what the poll findings demonstrate is that there’s broad support for ending cannabis criminalization and thoughtfully constructing a regulated market that does not put restrictions on consumers and gives them a range of options when it comes to obtaining marijuana products.
That could largely be accomplished under a bill that could get a vote in the state legislature in the coming days.
While a top senator said on Tuesday that negotiations with Cuomo over legalization legislation have “reached a little bit of an impasse” over a provision related to impaired driving, lawmakers and the administration have touted progress in their recent talks.
Impaired driving policy seems to be a sticking point, but Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) still said she’s “optimistic it will be resolved sooner than later.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said on Monday that action is imminent and that lawmakers are aiming to advance legalization before passing the budget, which is due by April 1. When Cuomo unveiled his reform proposal, he insisted that it needed to be approved as part of the budget, but he seems to have backed down on that strategy.
Heastie said that he thinks “the executive is moving closer to where” the sponsors of a separate piece of legislation to end prohibition are. That bill from Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) and Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D) is favored by advocates who feel it more comprehensively addresses issues of social equity.
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Cuomo said on Monday that the sides are “very close” to reaching a deal. “We’ve tried to do that for the past three years, we have to get it done this year.”
Unlike past years, however, the legislature has made clear it intends to approve the policy change outside of the budget. That position was included in a Senate budget resolution, which also kept the governor’s proposal to increase funding for the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to support the establishment of an office to regulate an adult-use cannabis market.
Another policy that was reportedly at issue in the legalization talks concerns the number of plants that adults could cultivate for personal use. Cuomo’s plan omitted a home grow option entirely, but advocates say it provides an important access point for people who don’t want to buy cannabis from stores.
Public defender and activist Eli Northrup said on Monday that he’s heard from sources that Cuomo is pushing to have the legislation make it so police could continue to justify stops and searches based on the odor of cannabis alone, regardless of its legalization. Advocates strongly oppose that policy.
On Tuesday morning, however, Scott Hechinger, a senior attorney with the Brooklyn Defender Services, said signals indicate that the pushback to that proposal was being felt by negotiations working on the cannabis legislation.
Details of the final legislation might be pending, but polling shows that New Yorkers are ready for cannabis reform. A Siena College survey released on Monday found that 59 percent of residents support adult-use legalization, compared to 33 percent who are opposed.
“We’ve been working on a marijuana bill. I’ve had a number of conversations with members,” the governor said last week. “We’ve been making good progress.”
Krueger also said that lawmakers were “working hard on a three-way agreed upon bill that could pass the legislature before we get to the budget.” She added: “I feel like we are 95 percent there. We have taken some big steps towards getting this done.”
Peoples-Stokes said last week that talks “are really good and really fruitful and I’m really encouraged.” In fact, “I’ve never felt this encouraged before.” That’s despite her saying just days earlier that talks with the governor’s office over the legalization legislation had become heated to the point of screaming.
A state budget spokesperson said that the “administration is working with all parties to pass a comprehensive regulatory structure for adult-use cannabis that prioritizes social equity, social justice, economic development, and the public health and safety of all New Yorkers.”
There’s been speculation that the growing number of sexual harassment allegations against the governor—in addition to controversy over the state’s handling of nursing home COVID-19 death data—would leave him with less political clout to negotiate on behalf of his proposal over that of the lawmakers. Peoples-Stokes said previously that she wanted the legislature to take up the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) first and then consult the governor’s office about his plan.
Cuomo proposed amendments to his legislation last month that he hoped would address certain concerns from lawmakers and advocates. The changes primarily concern that issues such as social equity funding and criminal penalties for underage marijuana possession.
Another factor working against Cuomo is that Democrats now have supermajority control over the legislature, which could empower them to override a potential veto if they were to pass the MRTA against the governor’s wishes.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is threw his support behind the legislature on Tuesday, applauding the MRTA sponsors for moving to advance the reform. He said he’s “hopeful a deal can be reached soon that will provide a boost to our recovering economy and end over-criminalization.”
The majority leader, who is in the process of drafting a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, did not acknowledge the governor by name, though he said he was “glad that all sides are working hard to push this over the finish line.”
New York lawmakers last month held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize cannabis, specifically focusing on budget implications.
Legislators heard testimony during the joint session from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent. Despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of Cuomo’s reform proposal. The two reform advocates said they would prefer to advance the MRTA over his legislation.
Last month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)—who would become governor is Cuomo were to resign or be impeached—told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the current governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”
Cuomo said that the changes in his bill reflect “the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. He added that he believes, “because I’ve seen this movie before, “if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”
This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.
Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.
Stewart-Cousins said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance in 2021, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.
Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Illinois Will ‘Blow Past’ $1 Billion In Legal Marijuana Sales In 2021, Chamber Of Commerce President Says
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” the Chamber leader said.
By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square
Illinois’s cannabis industry is growing up fast, with adult-use recreational cannabis sales expected to hit $1 billion by year-end.
In March alone, Illinoisans spent $110 million on recreational marijuana.
Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said one factor contributing to Illinois’ explosive growth is that most neighboring states haven’t legalized marijuana yet.
“What we saw early on in states like Washington and Colorado is they did have demand come in from surrounding states, which frankly benefits our industry and benefits the taxes collected,” Maisch said.
Cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol’s tax revenues for the state, and Maisch said he thinks $1 billion estimates are conservative.
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” Maisch said.
There are only a couple of things that could stop Illinois’ explosive cannabis market growth, Maisch said. He said that policymakers could ruin things by pushing taxes too high as evidenced by the tobacco market.
“As taxes have gone up and up and up, they’ve pushed people all the way into the black market or they’ve created this grey market in which people are ostensibly paying some of the taxes, but they’re still getting sources of tobacco products that avoid much of the tax,” Maisch said.
The other thing that could head off continued growth is other states opening up recreational-use markets.
“So if you start to see surrounding states go to recreational, that’s definitely going to flatten the curve because we’re not going to be pulling in demand from other states,” Maisch said.
Maisch points out some concerns that accompany the explosion of Illinois’s recreational cannabis market including workforce preparedness.
“All of those individuals who are deciding to go ahead and consume this product are really taking themselves out of a lot of job opportunities that they would otherwise be qualified, so there’s a real upside and a downside,” Maisch said.
While it’s easy to track the revenues this industry brings into state coffers, he points out, it will be harder to track the lack of productivity and qualified individuals to operate heavy machinery and other jobs that require employees to pass a drug test.
DEA Finally Ready To End Federal Marijuana Research Monopoly, Agency Notifies Grower Applicants
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
This is a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.
It was almost five years ago that DEA under President Barack Obama first announced that it was accepting applications for additional manufacturers. No approvals were made during the Trump administration. And the delay in getting acceptances has led to frustration—and in some cases, lawsuits—among applicants.
But on Friday, organizations including the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC), Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC were notified by the agency that their requests were conditionally accepted.
“DEA is nearing the end of its review of certain marijuana grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for research purposes,” DEA said. “Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process.”
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the move, and it’s unclear just how many organizations have received a DEA communication so far.
Matt Zorn, who has represented SRI in a suit against DEA over the processing delays, told Marijuana Moment that the agency explained that it is “moving forward” with the facility’s application and that it appears to be “consistent with public interest” to give the institute the ability to grow marijuana for study purposes.
SRI’s Dr. Sue Sisley is in a process of completing a memorandum of agreement that DEA requested “so that it can be executed and official,” according to a press release.
BRC CEO George Hodgin said in another press release that after being finalized, “this federal license will forever change the trajectory of our business and the medicinal cannabis industry.”
“The DEA’s leadership will set off a nationwide wave of innovative cannabis-derived treatments, unlock valuable intellectual property and create high quality American jobs,” he said. “The BRC team is already familiar with DEA compliance procedures based on our extensive history of controlled substances activity, and our world class staff is ready to hit the ground running on this new business arm that the DEA has authorized.”
DEA said it has presented applicants that appear to meet legal requirements “with an MOA outlining the means by which the applicant and DEA will work together to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana under the new regulations as well as other applicable legal standards and relevant laws.”
“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers,” the agency said. “Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate marijuana—up to its allotted quota—in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation.”
DEA said it “will continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future” and will publicly post information about approvals as they are finalized.
Following a 2019 suit against DEA by SRI, a court mandated that the agency take steps to process the cultivation license applications, and that legal challenge was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
That suit argued that the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi is of poor quality, does not reflect the diversity of products available on the commercial market and is therefore inadequate for clinical studies.
That’s also a point that several policymakers have made, and it’s bolstered by research demonstrating that the federal government’s cannabis is genetically closer to hemp than marijuana that consumers can obtain in state-legal markets.
Last year, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary to move forward with licensing approvals due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
SRI filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications. And that was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released last year as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their initiative. Sixty-eight percent of voters approved a general ballot question on whether to allow medical cannabis, and 74 percent signed off on advocates’ specific measure in a separate question.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a press release. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right.”
“It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter,” he said.
Today the MS Supreme Court ruled against the state’s ballot initiative process, killing the medical marijuana program 74% of Mississippians voted to pass. This is devastating for not only patients, but voters as a whole. Below is our statement: https://t.co/jrDoJM3K16 pic.twitter.com/AR3xuId3xR
— Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (@medmarijuanams) May 14, 2021
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
The Mississippi State Department of Health told WJTV that it will cease work on developing medical cannabis regulations in light of the court ruling.
“However, the agency has certainly learned a lot in the process of putting together a successful medical marijuana program, and we stand ready to help the legislature if it creates a statutory program,” Liz Sharlot, director of the Office of Communications for the department, said.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: