Seven governors from across the country discussed marijuana issues at an annual policy conference on Friday. Like last year’s event, the elected officials touched on a wide range of cannabis issues, from social equity to federal reform to competing with other legalized states. One even joked about growing marijuana in the governor’s mansion…
Here’s a roundup of what the governors said at Politico’s State Solutions forum:
Illinois Gov. J. B. Prtizker (D)
The governor spoke extensively about his state’s efforts to promote social equity in its adult-use cannabis market. Pritzker, who signed a bill making Illinois the eleventh state to legalize for recreational purposes last year, said equity is the “the prime component” of the policy change.
Mass pardons and expungements are part of the administration’s focus, he said. One day before the state’s legal marijuana market launched last month, Pritzker announced that his office had pardoned more than 11,000 people. But he said that ultimately an estimated “300,000 people in our state will either be pardoned and have their records expunged or their arrest record will be taken away” under the new system.
Job and housing opportunities are impacted by criminal records for cannabis offenses, he continued, and a disproportionate amount of convictions have fallen on minority communities.
Part of the tax revenue from marijuana sales will go toward those communities, a move aimed at “reversing the damage” of prohibition, the governor said.
Unlike other states that have pursued legalization through a ballot initiative process, Illinois was the first to establish a tax-and-regulate cannabis market through an act of the legislature. Lawmakers took “very intentional” steps over two years in crafting the bill to ensure that its system had equity provisions in place, he said.
“What we wanted to do was make sure that people—not just people of color but people traditionally who haven’t been able to get into business from neighborhoods all over the statewide—have a shot at this,” he said. “So we created a program that does that.”
“The way we started this industry was we wanted to make sure it was highly regulated and that we were managing that regulation properly,” he said, adding that part of that process involved allowing existing medical cannabis shops to have a leg up in the adult-use market. The problem, he said, is that the previous governor’s administration approved licenses for medical marijuana businesses that were all owned by white males. “There’s nothing horribly wrong about it, but there’s no diversity,” he said.
To increase diversity, Illinois is prioritizing new entrants to the industry who are from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“We are very focused on having the social equity component be successful,” Prtizker said. “And that’s why so many other states that are on the verge of legalizing cannabis are looking at what we did and calling us and asking, ‘what did you do—how do we get that done in our state?'”
Pritzker also talked about how regulated markets can combat the illicit trade and also mitigate public health risks associated with buying cannabis products—including vape cartridges associated with lung injuries—that aren’t tested for quality standards.
“There’s going to be a black market of some sort. The question is are you managing this properly?” he said. “In Illinois, we had deaths from synthetic marijuana. Then there were deaths from the use of illegally manufactured THC cartridges for vaping devices.”
“What you get now when you go to a dispensary—a legal dispensary in the state of Illinois—is a product that you know is safe.”
“It’s safely manufactured,” he said. “It’s been tested.”
“We’re being very careful about that and I think that’s the advantage people find and the reason you don’t want to go find some dealer that’s going to sell you something that you don’t know what’s in it, you don’t know where it came from. That’s why I think people are showing up at the dispensaries and we had a great first month,” he said, referencing Illinois’s roughly $40 million in cannabis sales in January.
“We’re on our way, and I think we’re doing it in the right way and being very careful and we’re making adjustments…because this is new thing for Illinois and frankly still relatively new in the nation,” Pritzker said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D)
Polis was asked to share his thoughts on what would be the best option for Colorado marijuana businesses: opening the market nationally or insulting state markets.
“The more we move towards a competitive industry the better. I think Colorado businesses are ready to compete,” he said. “If you open up nationally, you have the issue, in many of our neighboring states, it remains illegal. You can’t transport it across Kansas if it’s illegal in Kansas even if it’s legal to take it across the border.”
“Colorado says, bring it on. We’re excited to move in this direction nationally, and Colorado led the way as one of the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis and we are ready to compete on a national and international stage,” he said.
The governor also touted Colorado’s “really thriving cannabis industry,” which includes industrial hemp.
That said, Polis said he’s cognizant of the fact that more states are pursuing legalization and he wants to ensure that Colorado has the most effective system in place.
“We have a more mature industry than other states. We want to keep that advantage because they’re going to catch up,” he said.
“We want to be ready for the next stage.”
Part of the involves opening the marijuana market to outside investors, letting cannabis companies go public and finding solutions to the lack of financial services available to the industry. He addressed those former issues through legislation he signed last year, and Polis said the banking problem could be resolved through House-passed legislation that would protect financial institutions from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-legal marijuana companies.
“We’re doing everything we can under our state authority to make sure that cannabis legal companies have access to financial services,” he said.
Polis’s administration recently released a roadmap to to provide cannabis businesses in the state with access to financial services.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D)
The governor, who recently included marijuana legalization language in her annual budget proposal, clarified that she’s not personally enthusiastic about ending cannabis prohibition in the state and acknowledged that during her first years in office, “I resisted it.” But, she said, Rhode Island is a “tiny state” surround by jurisdictions that have either legalized marijuana or are taking steps to do that, and so regulating the market is necessary.
“If you talk to the state troopers that police our highways or you talk to teachers in schools, they will tell you, ‘governor, it is here.’ Whether you like it or not, it is here,” she said, adding that her office “is about a 10 minute drive” from a dispensary in neighboring Massachusetts, “so to pretend that we don’t have adult-use marijuana in Rhode Island is silly.”
“Let’s have a responsible way to regulate adult-use marijuana.”
Raimondo tempered expectations about tax revenue from legal cannabis sales and said “at the end of the day, it’s not the money.”
“Sometimes it takes more than a year to get a good idea done,” Raimondo said, referring to reluctance that leading lawmakers have expressed about legalization. “If we don’t do it this year, maybe next year. To my mind it’s inevitable and we should just be smart about it.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R)
Burgum was asked about how his state’s voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016 but rejected a broader marijuana legalization initiative in 2018.
“I haven’t supported recreational but I did support medical,” he said, noting that he also launched a program aimed at pardoning people with past marijuana convictions.
“This war on drugs has turned out to be a war on people who have a disease,” he said. “If you’ve got a chronic, progressive and ultimately fatal disease and we try to handle that problem with punishment and imprisonment it’s cost the most and has the leas efficacy for solving it.”
Watch Burgum’s marijuana comments 49:45 into the video below:
North Dakota voters may see another marijuana legalization measure on the ballot again this year, but Burgum is concerned about the conflict with federal law.
“As long as the federal government is opposing it and you can’t bank the dollars that come up, you end up with a huge black market cash economy,” he said. “I’d like to have the feds catch up with that.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)
Hogan’s cannabis conversation focused on how the state’s medical marijuana system wasn’t effectively implemented despite his support for the policy change.
“It happened actually right before I became governor under the previous governor—it was passed by the legislature and the law just wasn’t written very well, so they’ve had difficulty in awarding the licenses,” he said. “There was some concerns about, you know, the way it was implemented. But it’s finally starting to happen and it’s, you know, it’s getting straightened out.”
Watch Hogan’s marijuana comments 45:50 into the video below:
While lawmakers in the legislature have talked about the prospect of legalizing marijuana for adult use, “it doesn’t look as if that’s going to move forward any time soon,” he said. “The legislature has said they’re not going to bring that up.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R)
Herbert discussed his state’s steps toward implementing legal medical cannabis after voters overwhelmingly approved a 2018 ballot measure on the topic, which lawmakers then replaced with an alternate legislative proposal.
“It’s just a matter of evolving to where we need to be to address the market demands, and that’s yet to be determined. So starting small is easier than starting with too many and then having to cut back,” he said, referring to how only a handful of dispensaries are set to open next month. “I think we’re doing it in the right methodical, careful way.”
Asked to address his past opposition to medical cannabis, the governor talked about the need for more scientific research.
“If in fact there’s medical properties for use of cannabis, marijuana, we ought to know what they are,” he said. “There ought to be testing, scientific analysis and do the things that are necessary to get a drug approved like we do with typical FDA approval. What we have now is just anecdotal story, and that’s not to discount the anecdote, but that’s not how we in fact decide whether a substance should be controlled, prescribed by a doctor, administered and at what doses.”
“If it’s going to be a medicine, we ought to treat it like a medicine,” he said.
Watch Herbert’s marijuana comments 1:03:50 into the video below:
Herbert also criticized the federal government for dragging its feet on cannabis issues and fostering a situation where a growing number of states are changing laws while national prohibition remains in effect.
“We’re tired of waiting,” he said. “The federal government simply turns a blind eye to the enforcement of the law.”
“There’s still work to be done and I just think the federal government’s been very slow to come to the forefront on this very emotional issue.”
“Let’s help the banking industry,” Herbert continued. “We can’t even buy this stuff here without violating federal law and making it a problem for the banks.”
Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero (D)
Leon Guerrero, who signed a bill legalizing marijuana in the U.S. territory last year, spoke about how the new law, as well as a medical cannabis one that voters approved in 2014, is still in the process of being implemented.
“We haven’t really gotten much revenue from it because we’re still working the rules and regulations,” she said.
Watch Leon Guerrero’s cannabis comments, about 29:40 into the video below:
Noting the fact that possession and low-level home cultivation is legal, she joked that she hasn’t personally taken advantage of those provisions of the policy.
“I was looking to see if there’s a place at the government house to grow six plants,” she said.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.