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Rhode Island Governor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana

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Bowing to pressure from nearby states that are moving to legalize marijuana, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), who has long remained reluctant about the issue, says she will formally propose in her budget this week that the Ocean State end cannabis prohibition.

“Things have changed, mainly because all of our neighbors are moving forward,” she told the Providence Journal in an article published on Sunday. “We’re not an island, in fact. Like it or not, we’re going to be incurring public safety and public health expenses because it’s legal in Massachusetts… And I think it is time for us to put together our own regulatory and taxing framework.”

Newly inaugurated Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has said that legalizing marijuana in his state will be among his “priorities” for the new legislative session.

Unlike most other states that have moved to enact legalization, however, Raimondo wants Rhode Island to prohibit home cultivation of cannabis. She also wants to ban high potency forms of marijuana products, such as dabs. Servings of edibles could contain no more than 5 milligrams of THC under her plan.

Sen. Josh Miller (D), who has sponsored legalization bills that allow home cultivation for the past several legislative sessions, said that he’s reserving judgement on governor’s proposal pending its specific language, but that he is optimistic about enacting reform this year even if it means needing to amend the law later.

“I want to see details, obviously,” he told Marijuana Moment. “I’m inclined to get it done, finally, and work on fixing the broken parts.”

Rep. Scott Slater (D), a longtime champion of legalization legislation in the House, agreed that changes could be made by the time a bill gets to Raimondo’s desk for her signature.

“I need time to read it over [and I’m] glad we have a placeholder in the budget,” he said. “It is early in the process.”

Raimondo said that she spoke with several other governors about marijuana policy at a conference last month.

“It’s going to be the strongest regulatory framework in the country,” she argued.

“We have seen the pitfalls of home cultivation in other states when it comes to how it threatens public health and public safety,”  Norman Birenbaum, the state’s top medical cannabis regulator and a key Raimondo advisor on the broader legalization plan, told the Journal. “How it promotes the illicit market. How it undercuts the regulated market, how it puts unsafe and untested and unregulated product out there for people. And how it also serves as cover for states that supposedly have adult use to be export states and export to the rest of the country. And we don’t think that we should have that mechanism here.”

Medical cannabis patients would still be allowed to grow their own medicine, he said.

Currently, Washington State is the only one of the ten legalized states that does not allow recreational marijuana consumers to grow their own product.

Birenbaum, who WPRI12 reported will give a “detailed briefing” on the specifics of his boss’s plan on Monday, suggested that the state’s three existing medical cannabis dispensaries would continue serving patients but would also likely add adult-use sales. About 20-40 additional retail outlets would be licensed as well, subject to municipal approval. Sales are expected to begin early next year.

Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), called Raimondo’s endorsement of legalization “a major breakthrough.”

“We commend Governor Raimondo and her administration for adopting a pragmatic approach to this public policy issue,” he told Marijuana Moment. “However, we still need to see the details of this proposal. Access for the state’s medical marijuana patients must be protected. Furthermore, it is important that the recreational marijuana market is not controlled by a small number of businesses. We look forward to working with the Raimondo administration and legislative leaders to ensure that Rhode Island adopts a fair and responsible legalization law.”

With regard to the governor’s position that home cultivation of cannabis should be banned, Schweich said that while MPP “may not agree with everything in the governor’s proposal…we don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

“We want to see adults have the right to cultivate some number of marijuana plants at home, just as they have the right to brew their own beer, but the governor’s plan does not include that,” he said. “However, laws can always be amended, and if home grow is not in the initial legislation, we will push the General Assembly to adopt that at some point in the future. Disagreement on one provision of the law does not mean we should pass up an opportunity to make substantial progress.”

In recent weeks, Raimondo and Rhode Island legislative leaders have begun to talk openly about the fact that legalization in neighboring states is increasing pressure to act.

“Given my druthers, if I could make all of these decisions in a vacuum, I’ve been favoring a wait-and-see approach,” the governor said late last year. “However, Connecticut is going to do it. The new governor-elect has been crystal clear, this is a priority. It’s happening. Massachusetts is already doing it. We’re a tiny state in between these two other states.”

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) has raised similar concerns.

“I think we have to study it and then decide what we want to do as a state, but I am mindful that Massachusetts has legalized it. I believe Connecticut is going to legalize it,” he said. “I think we’re probably going to end up with more social costs without the revenues and that would probably be the worst situation of all.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who endorsed legalizing marijuana last month, has also characterized his own shift as being precipitated by the looming fall of prohibition in nearby states, such as New Jersey.

In Rhode Island, Raimondo is expected to formally release details of her legalization plan in her proposed budget, which will be submitted to the legislature on Thursday, though she may also discuss the issue in her State of the State speech on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if lawmakers will agree with all of the finer points of the governor’s proposal.

In a statement on Sunday reacting to Raimondo’s plan, Mattiello said he has “mixed feelings” about legalization and that lawmakers “will collectively assess the governor’s proposal and come up with a consensus pathway forward.”

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he will “continue to keep an open mind on legalization of recreational marijuana as the state looks into the regulatory and workforce challenges that come along with it” but that he also has “significant concerns, particularly with regard to workforce issues, enforcement around edibles, and impact on children.”

Top Rhode Island Lawmakers Are Coming To Terms With Marijuana Legalization

This story was updated to include comment from Miller, Slater, Ruggerio, Mattiello and Schweich.

Photo elements courtesy of Kenneth C. Zirkel and Carlos Gracia.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Congressional Committee Asks JUUL For Documents On Marijuana Partnerships

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Is the e-cigarette company JUUL planning on expanding its stake in the marijuana industry?

That’s one question the chair of a congressional subcommittee asked the company in a letter concerning JUUL’s role in the “youth e-cigarette epidemic” earlier this month.

Lawmakers have frequently criticized JUUL for making products—specifically flavored e-cigarette cartridges—that allegedly appeal to young people at a time when rates of cigarette use are steadily declining. But while JUUL was developed by the cannabis vaporizer company PAX, it hasn’t announced plans to further partner with marijuana companies.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, apparently sees the possibility on the horizon, though.

In a letter sent to JUUL on June 7, the congressman said his panel was investigating youth e-cigarette usage and, specifically, how the company’s marketing tactics might be exacerbating the issue. He requested documents on everything from clinical trials on how JUUL devices divert people away from traditional cigarettes to communications on the company’s rationale for the nicotine concentration of JUUL pods.

Tucked within the extensive request is a question about potential marijuana partnerships. Krishnamoorthi asked for:

“All documents, including memoranda and communications, referring or relating to proposals, plans, and/or intended partnerships or collaborations between JUUL and any cannabis-related companies, including but not limited to Cronos Group.”

It’s not clear where the Cronos-specific mention comes from, but the company has perviously caught the interest of the tobacco industry. The maker of Marlboro cigarettes, Altria Group, invested almost $2 billion in the Canada-based cannabis company in December. Two weeks later, Altria invested $13 billion in JUUL.

Marijuana Moment reached out to JUUL, Cronos and Krishnamoorthi’s office for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

If a partnership does emerge, it would likely be met with some controversy, as opponents and proponents of marijuana reform alike have long expressed concern that the tobacco industry would take over the cannabis market and commercialize it in a way that mirrors how it peddled cigarettes.

Of course, given that tobacco use is declining and tobacco companies generally have the infrastructure that would make a pivot to cannabis relatively simple, such a partnership would not be especially surprising.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made the case several times that tobacco farmers in his state could leverage the federal legalization of industrial hemp and its derivatives by growing the crop to offset profit losses from declining tobacco sales.

Read Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s full letter to JUUL below:

2019-06-07.Krishnamoorthi t… by on Scribd

Americans Want CBD Available Over-The-Counter, Poll Finds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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New York Lawmakers Might Actually Vote On Marijuana Legalization This Week

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With just days left before the end of the legislative session, efforts to legalize marijuana in New York have been revived, with a possible vote this coming week.

Though momentum to pass a legalization measure seemed to largely die off after lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey announced they wouldn’t move forward with plans to end cannabis prohibition through the legislature, advocates are increasingly optimistic that a deal in the Empire State is imminent.

Democratic members in both the Senate and Assembly held conferences last week to discuss details of the legislation. Spectrum News reported that the meetings went well, with members indicating that there’s support for the measure.

That’s just one of several positive signs that a proposal many observers thought was dead for the year has new life.

On Saturday and Sunday, staff for legislative leaders from both chambers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) met to negotiate provisions of a revised legalization plan.

On Wednesday, an earlier Senate version of the bill was assigned “same as” status in the Assembly version. That means the current proposals in each chamber lined up with identical language and is considered to be an indicator that the legislation could pass.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said on Friday that his party has yet to determine whether they’ll bring the bill to the floor, but he added that “I think there is support in the conference.”

He also characterized the window of time until the end of the session on Wednesday as “an eternity.”

Cuomo, who said late last month that passing legalization remains a top 10 priority, has said that lawmakers who fail to approve items on his agenda, including ending cannabis prohibition, “should all be primaried, because that is a failure of a basic progressive agenda.”

On the flip side, the chairman of New York’s Democratic Party said earlier this month that if the Senate approves the legalization bill, they run to risk of alienating voters in certain areas such as Long Island and upstate New York. But that argument neglects to account for recent polling that shows voters in those regions strongly support legalization.

Notably, the measure’s most vocal opponents with the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana have been sending email blasts in recent days urging their supports to call senators and voice opposition to the bill, giving the impression that the group is anticipating a vote.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), sponsor of the legalization legislation, seemed to confirm that suspicion on Friday, stating that after “conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory.”

But despite that confidence, the fate of legalization in New York remains murky. An analysis earlier this month found that legalization was two votes short of a needed majority in the Senate.

Meanwhile, a number of key elected officials are calling on the governor and lawmakers to not only push legalization over the finish line but to include certain key provisions in the final legislation.

State Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent a letter urging that the bill expunge prior cannabis records.

“Before we create a booming business for legal marijuana, we must provide relief to those individuals that have paid much more to society than what was due,” she wrote.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), a 2020 presidential candidate, also pushed for expungements and said in a Twitter thread that legalization should “empower local business and not big corporations.”

And the Manhattan and Albany County district attorneys co-authored an op-ed calling leaders to “correct staggering inequities and promote public safety by passing” legalization.

 

The Buffalo News reported on Sunday afternoon that there were still a number of outstanding issues left to be settled between lawmakers, including whether or not home cultivation of cannabis would be allowed, how tax revenue would be allocated and whether localities would have to proactively opt in to allowing marijuana businesses or if there would instead be an opt out provision for those wanting to ban cannabis commerce.

The session ends on Wednesday, and so far no vote has been scheduled in either chamber.

Meanwhile, lawmakers early on Monday morning filed what appears to be backup legislation to expand the decriminalization of marijuana and to provide a process to expunge or vacate prior cannabis convictions. And others support putting legalization on the ballot through a referendum that voters can decide on.

The situation is very fluid, and over the next few days advocates will be stepping up the push for action in Albany. On Sunday, they held a rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office.

Bill Allowing Interstate Marijuana Commerce Heads To Oregon Governor’s Desk

This post has been updated to include the latest developments as well as comment from a number of elected officials.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

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The governor of Texas signed a bill into law on Friday that significantly expands the state’s medical cannabis program.

The legislation, which was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers last month, adds multiple medical conditions to the list of disorders that qualify patients of low-THC marijuana. Currently only patients with intractable epilepsy qualify under the CBD-focused program.

New qualifying conditions include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, autism, spasticity and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill with little fanfare.

Reform advocates said the legislation is a big step in the right direction, even though it doesn’t go as far as they’d hoped. A 0.5 THC cap on marijuana products remained in the bill, for example, and a section that would have established a research program to study the therapeutic potential of cannabis was removed.

“Cannabis is effective medicine for many patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “HB 3703 represents a positive step toward a functional medical cannabis program, but sadly, it still leaves behind millions of Texas families that could benefit from legal access.”

Also this legislative session, the House of Representatives approved bills to more comprehensively expand the medical cannabis program and to decriminalize marijuana possession, but they died in the Senate.

Abbott signed a hemp legalization bill earlier this week.

Bill Allowing Interstate Marijuana Commerce Heads To Oregon Governor’s Desk

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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