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Top Rhode Island Senator Says Lawmakers Are Discussing A Marijuana Legalization Compromise This Summer

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The top leader of the Rhode Island Senate says negotiations on a compromise bill to legalize marijuana will continue this summer, and he anticipates action following Labor Day in September.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) told WPRI-TV on Friday that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

“The governor has one [legalization bill], the House has one, and we always knew it was something that we were not going to do during this session,” he said, referring to the legislative period before lawmakers finished the annual budget and left for the summer. “But hopefully we can sit down during the summer and work something out.”

The Senate was able to get its legalization bill passed on the floor before the budget, but House leadership has insisted that more time is needed to reconcile the competing measures.

House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) said last week that while he feels reform is “inevitable” in Rhode Island and bound to happen “soon,” he plans to continue negotiations to merge competing reform proposals over the summer with the goal of passing a bill in the fall.

Ruggerio, the Senate leader, said that “if and when we come back in the fall—which I know we probably will because we have to [confirm judicial nomination]—I don’t know what the House is going to do.”

“But hopefully if we work something out,” he said, “they might be amenable to coming back and addressing that particular issue.”

Watch Ruggerio’s marijuana comments, starting around 1:00 into the video below:

But he tempered expectations about the timing of reform advancing, saying it would happen “well after Labor Day” in September.

“We’ve had discussions. There’s no fixed date or anything like that,” he said. “Obviously we want to see what kind of money comes in from the federal government—which has nothing to do with this particular issue—but that’s why we would come back and see what money we would have to appropriate, and I think that would be a good time to address the cannabis issue.”

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during this most recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D), who appeared alongside Ruggerio in the new WPRI interview on Friday, said “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said last week that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”


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“I need to make sure that we do this right for the taxpayers of Rhode Island and for the medical community, the business community,” the speaker continued. “This needs to be done properly, and I’m not going to be rushed into it because other states are moving fast. I want to learn from other states, look at the mistakes they’ve made, look at what’s worked in other states, collaborate with them and work to put out a good product.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said in a separate interview with WPRI.

“If we can reach a consensus with the Senate and the governor’s office on marijuana, we’d certainly come back in the fall to address that issue,” he said.

“I don’t see it happening before Labor Day,” he added, noting that the lack of air conditioning in the State House would likely prevent the legislative session from resuming in the middle of the summer and so it’s more likely it would happen in “late September or early October.”

All of these latest comments come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was also recently filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor last week signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Top Maryland Lawmaker Pledges To Put Marijuana Legalization On 2022 Ballot

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York Marijuana Regulatory Board Is Officially Completed With Governor’s Final Appointments

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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Wednesday announced her final two appointees to regulate the state’s adult-use marijuana market—a key step toward implementing the legalization law signed by her predecessor.

Hochul named two additional Cannabis Control Board members weeks after the Senate confirmed previous appointees earlier this month. The newly named regulators—Reuben McDaniel III of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and Jessica García of the UFCW labor union—do not require confirmation by lawmakers.

“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long—I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running,” the governor said in a press release. “I am confident Mr. McDaniel and Ms. Garcia will serve the board with professionalism and experience as we lead our state forward in this new industry.”

Hochul (D), who replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last month after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has been supportive of the legislature’s passage of the adult-use legalization bill this year. And while her predecessor faced criticism as negotiations with legislators on potential appointments stalled, Hochul has now taken the helm and is working with leaders on how to move the process forward.

Under New York’s legalization law, the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority was established and will be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs. It will be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board.

Three members have now been appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly have also appointed one member each.

As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.

The first recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on Indian territory, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees earlier this month.

In July, a New York senator filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.

Under the law as enacted, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation late last week that would push that deadline back one year.

Legalization activists aren’t buying the argument, however.

Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.

The state comptroller recently projected that New York stands to eventually generate $245 million in annual marijuana revenue, which they say will help offset losses from declining tobacco sales.

For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.

Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

USDA Wants To Help Hemp Farmers Weed Out Weeds (But Not The Marijuana Kind)

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USDA Wants To Help Hemp Farmers Weed Out Weeds (But Not The Marijuana Kind)

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds out of hemp.

To clarify, they want to develop strategies to stop invasive weeds from disrupting hemp cultivation. Not the marijuana kind of weed, but actual weeds.

USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has granted Cornell University $325,000 to support the weed management study for hemp, which was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

It will be a three-year, “multi-institution, multistate” initiative designed to “provide growers with evidence-based, location-specific recommendations to suppress weeds and maximize yields,” according to a press release.

Lynn Sosnoskie, assistant professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, will lead the research project.

“The prohibitions on hemp production meant prohibitions on hemp research,” she said. “I get a lot of questions about weed control in hemp, and we don’t have a lot of answers other than generalities. What we’re hoping to do is fill in those details.”

Researchers will investigate potential factors related weed infestations such as planting different varieties, growing the crop at different times and weather impacts. As it stands, farmers have largely relied on trial and error for weed management, Dan Dolgin, co-owner of New York’s first licensed hemp production business, said.

“We’ve kind of been our own R&D,” Dolgin said. “Our big challenge as an organic grower is how to prevent weeds. That’s where we need more experience with growing hemp.”

Virginia Tech, Southern Illinois University, North Dakota State University and Clemson University will also be involved in the hemp study.

USDA also announced last month that it is moving forward with a large-scale survey to gain insight into the hemp market.

After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of about 20,000 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently said that the forms are being finalized to be filled out via mail or online.

USDA is asking questions about plans for outdoor hemp production, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.

Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.

There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.

While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.

The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”

USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that it is sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are.

California State Fair Will Host Marijuana Competition For The First Time At 2022 Event, Officials Announce

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Oklahoma Activists Finalize Language For Two 2022 Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

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Oklahoma marijuana activists have finalized the language of initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program that they hope to place on the 2022 ballot.

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA) released draft versions of the proposals earlier this summer, and the group has been soliciting feedback on how best to refine the measures. The group announced on Tuesday that after taking that input into account, they’ve arrived at final text.

Under the recreational legalization measure, adults 21 and older would be able to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana that they purchase from retailers, as well as whatever cannabis they yield from growing up to 12 plants for personal use.

Marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, and the initiative outlines a number of programs that would receive partial revenue from those taxes. The money would first cover implementation costs and then would be divided to support water-related infrastructure, people with disabilities, substance misuse treatment, law enforcement training, cannabis research and more.

The measure also lays out pathways for resentencing and expungements for those with marijuana convictions.

Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis legalization at the ballot in 2018. Unlike many state medical marijuana programs, it does not require patients have any specific qualifying conditions; doctors can recommend cannabis for any condition they see fit.

Activists with ORCA want to revamp the program, however. The separate initiative would establish the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission (OSCC) to oversee all areas of the medical marijuana system. It would also set a seven percent excise tax on medical cannabis sales, with revenue supporting marijuana research, rural impact and urban waste remediation, agriculture development, mental health response programs, substance misuse treatment and more.

But while the measures would appear separately on the ballot if they qualify, activists view them as complementary.

A key example of that is how the adult-use measure calls for a gradual decrease of medical marijuana tax, which would reach zero percent within one year of its enactment. Also, within 60 days of enactment, the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be permitted to sell to the recreational market.

Oklahoma activists had previously attempted to qualify a legalization measure for the 2020 ballot. They filed a petition to legalize cannabis for adult use in December 2019, but signature gathering fell short due in part to procedural delays and the coronavirus pandemic.

Both of the newly finalized initiatives would be constitutional amendments, meaning activists will need to collect at least 177,958 valid signatures from registered voters on each to qualify them for the ballot.

Oklahoma is one of a growing number of states where activists are working to place drug policy reform before voters next year.

Florida marijuana activists are making another push to place adult-use legalization before voters in 2022, recently filing a new petition with the state after previous versions of the reform were rejected by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.

South Dakota cannabis advocates are now ramping up for a signature gathering effort to put legalization on the 2022 ballot as the state Supreme Court continues to consider a case on the fate of the legal cannabis measure that voters approved last year.

New Hampshire lawmakers are pursuing a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Lawmakers in Maryland are also crafting legislation to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the 2022 ballot after the House speaker called for the move.

Nebraska marijuana activists announced recently that they have turned in a pair of complementary initiatives to legalize medical cannabis that they hope to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Ohio activists recently cleared a final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.

Missouri voters may see a multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s ballot next year, with a new group filing an adult-use legalization proposal that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.

Arkansas advocates are collecting signatures to place adult-use marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Activists in Idaho are working to advance separate measures to legalize possession of recreational marijuana and to create a system of legal medical cannabis sales. State officials recently cleared activists to begin collecting signatures for a revised initiative to legalize possession of marijuana that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. Meanwhile, a separate campaign to legalize medical cannabis in the state is also underway, with advocates actively collecting signatures to qualify that measure for next year’s ballot.

After a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana in North Dakota was rejected by the Senate in March, some senators hatched a plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. While their resolution advanced through a key committee, the full Senate blocked it. However, activists with the group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus are collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for the 2022 ballot.

Wyoming’s attorney general recently issued ballot summaries for proposed initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession, freeing up activists to collect signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

And it’s not just marijuana measures that reform activists are seeking to qualify for state ballots next year. A California campaign was recently cleared to begin collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize psilocybin. And advocates in Washington State have announced plans to put a proposal to decriminalize all drug before voters.

Read the text of the Oklahoma adult-use and medical marijuana initiatives below: 

Click to access oklahoma-marijuana-initiatives.pdf

U.S. House Approves Marijuana Banking Reform As Part Of Defense Spending Bill

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