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.
American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative
A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.
With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.
“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”
This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.
MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”
But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.
“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”
AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.
That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.
The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.
Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.
Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat
Nebraska activists on Monday announced they are filing a new medical marijuana ballot initiative after an earlier version got shot down by the state Supreme Court this month.
The previous proposal had already collected enough signatures from voters and qualified for this November’s ballot, but a local sheriff filed a challenge, arguing that it violated the state’s single-subject rule that prohibits measures that deal with multiple issues. The secretary of state’s office rejected that claim, but the case went to court and a majority of justices ultimately ruled that the proposal would be removed from the ballot.
While advocates are disappointed that the state won’t have the opportunity to enact the policy change this year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana didn’t waste any time putting together a new initiative that they feel will pass the single-subject test and appear on the 2022 ballot.
Language of the new proposal simply states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”
Of course, that simplified text might satisfy the ballot policy, but it leaves an open questions about what—if any—regulated market would provide people with access to cannabis. It also doesn’t define eligibility, so that right to marijuana would appear to be unrestricted as long as person purports to use it for therapeutic reasons.
Those questions, if they remain unanswered by the campaign, could prove to be a sticking point for voters who would otherwise support regulated access to medical cannabis but might be uncomfortable with what could be a “free-for-all” situation that opponents have locked activists into with the single-subject challenge.
That said, the advocacy group says it plans to follow up the new simple constitutional amendment with “trailing statutory initiatives to set up a safe and secure medical cannabis system in Nebraska” if lawmakers fail to pass any medical marijuana legislation over the next year. That’s similar to how casino gaming supporters are pursuing their issue with companion constitutional and statutory ballot measures.
Under this year’s blocked initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership.
Now, between the Supreme Court defeat and legislative inaction, they’re charting a new path.
“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in a press release. “This year over 190,000 Nebraskans successfully petitioned our government during a pandemic for that right, and despite receiving qualification from the Secretary of State, our initiative was removed from the ballot by a 5-2 vote from Nebraska’s Supreme Court. We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”
Morfeld added that the “new petition language indisputably presents a single subject and makes medical cannabis a constitutional right.”
“Then following with several statutory initiatives, we will establish a safe and regulated medical cannabis system,” he said. “Nebraskans have a constitutional right to petition their government, and we will not stop until they can exercise their right and have their voices heard on medical cannabis.”
— Senator Adam Morfeld (@Adam_Morfeld) September 28, 2020
While the timing isn’t ideal as far as advocates are concerned, given that presidential election years are typically targeted by cannabis reform supporters because of relatively larger turnout by supporters as compared to midterm cycles, 2022 is the next option they’re left with. That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur legislators to take up the issue in the meantime.
For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Top Illinois And Michigan Officials Give Marijuana Legalization Advice To Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor
The lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan recently gave their counterpart in Pennsylvania some advice on how to approach marijuana legalization in his state.
At a virtual forum on Thursday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) put several questions to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), asking for tips on how to navigate the policy change as legislators in his state consider his push to enact a legal cannabis system.
“What I hope that Pennsylvania can learn from Michigan is that you can do it right. You do not have to piecemeal this together,” Gilchrist said.
— Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (@FettermanLt) September 23, 2020
“When you do it in the right way, it sets you up to create the systems and infrastructure to truly support people as this comes online, to create opportunities for those who have been oppressed and cut out of opportunity because they’ve been incarcerated or criminalized in the system to be able to participate in the potential prosperity that adult-use cannabis can create for communities in a full and robust and inclusive way,” he said.
Fetterman said that, from his perspective, Illinois is “the gold standard of legalizing recreational cannabis” because of how it intentionally approached restorative justice and social equity through reform legislation.
Because Pennsylvania doesn’t have a process through which citizens can put initiatives on the ballot, he said he was especially interested in how Illinois crafted an effective cannabis system legislatively.
“We had looked at other states and what was happening in other states, when we did our homework, we realized that really none of the other states had really kind of approached this legislation or their efforts—I think we were the first to do it by legislation—with an intentional lens of equity,” Stratton, who purchased cannabis gummies at a dispensary on the state’s first day of legal sales, said. “As all of us know, if you’re not intentional about equity, it just doesn’t happen because of the systems and the systemic racism that we’ve talked about. It does not happen that you just end up with equity.”
“We are working towards making sure that those individuals that were from many of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs could have real opportunity. We’re working towards that,” she said. “We are repairing the harm of what generations of bad policy—including, again, the war on drugs—has done to these communities that are disproportionately black and brown.”
Stratton also emphasized that, under her state’s marijuana model, 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes toward restorative justice grants for disadvantaged communities. She also noted that Illinois has been consistently “breaking records with sales,” even during the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there have been some snags in implementing an equitable model of cannabis business licensing in the state, with several lawsuits filed over the results of a recent application scoring round.
Gilchrist jumped in to offer Fetterman another tip as Pennsylvania navigates through legalization legislation.
“There’s another element that I want to discuss that that perhaps is something that you should think about in Pennsylvania, and that is that kind of—I won’t call it consensus building per se—but that kind of real and robust and muscular set of community conversations and involvement in the design of implementation is really important,” he said.
He said it’s important to ensure that there’s “accessibility” to enter the industry and remove barriers that keep people from participating.
“You don’t want people to be designed out of these opportunities,” he said. “And sometimes that can happen, both unintentionally and intentionally.”
Fetterman ended the event by reflecting on the increasing bipartisan support around legalization, and both of his guests agreed that their experiences demonstrated as much.
He and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have been regularly talking about the policy change in recent weeks. At a marijuana reform rally earlier this month, for example, both officials discussed their support for legalization and the need to stand up Pennsylvania’s market as more surrounding states pursue legal cannabis models.
Also this month, Wolf took a shot at the GOP-controlled legislature for failing to get the job done. He also floated the idea of passing a bill that would allow the state itself to sell the cannabis to consumers.
While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the policy change last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.