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Vermont Lawmakers Approach Legal Marijuana Sales Agreement Amid Conference Negotiations

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Vermont lawmakers are another step closer to finalizing a bill to legalize marijuana sales after finishing a conference committee meeting where they discussed the economics of the proposed system and outstanding issues between the two chambers of the legislature.

While the state legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, there are currently no regulations in place that allow for retail sales. The cannabis commerce bill cleared both the House and Senate this session, albeit in different forms, and so a six-member bicameral panel is tasked with resolving those differences.

The Senate on Monday agreed to 37 of the House proposals on the legislation, while disagreeing with 12 others. On several measures, it offered compromises that the House will be able to weigh in on when it issues its response next week.

The conference met for the first time last week, with negotiators debating issues such as which regulatory body should be responsible for overseeing the state’s existing medical cannabis program, how tax revenues would be distributed, municipal decision-making on marijuana businesses and reporting requirements for regulators charged with overseeing the industry. At one point, it seemed that disagreement over an unrelated seatbelt enforcement provision could upend the entire bill.

In the week since, the Senate agreed to a number of House provisions—though they remain opposed to certain proposals like making it so individual jurisdictions would have to opt in to the market instead of simply allowing those that don’t want cannabis commerce to opt out. There’s also continuing disagreement over other policies such as House proposals to ban cannabis products containing more than 30 percent THC and allowing roadside testing of saliva for impaired driving.

The House-passed seatbelt provision, which would allow police to pull over drivers for not wearing them, also remains a point of contention.

As a compromise to disagreements on tax issues, the Senate proposed setting the excise tax on retail marijuana sales at 14 percent, with two percent earmarked for local municipalities that allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area. Separately, it also asked that health warnings for marijuana products be developed by regulators “in consultation with the Department of Health and adopted by rule.”

Monday’s meeting largely focused on cannabis tax revenue, with negotiators from both chambers discussing updated estimates about how much the state stands to take in under the House and Senate bill, and how soon. The analyses were conducted by the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO).

Watch the Vermont conference committee meeting on marijuana commerce legislation below: 

For the House version, the mid-estimate of marijuana sales is $31.4 million for fiscal year 2023, $66.8 million for 2024 and $87.6 million for 2025. Projected excise tax revenue is $4.4 million for 2023, $9.4 million for 2024 and $12.3 million for 2025. The House bill would also bring in sales tax revenue ranging from $100,000 in 2022 to $3.8 million in 2025. Those dollars would be designated for an education fund.

Sen. Dick Sears (D), the chief sponsor of the bill, S. 54, and the chair of the body’s Judiciary Committee, said during the meeting that he felt the initial JFO estimates for were too low and that they “way underestimated the income” from cannabis sales. However, those figures were revised and updated shortly after the meeting.

Under the Senate version, JFO projects that the state will see $30.1 million in marijuana purchases for the 2023 fiscal year, $66.8 million for 2024 and $87.6 for 2025. Projected excise tax revenue is $500,000 for 2022, $6.1 million for 2023, $12.7 million for 2024 and $16.4 for 2025.

JFO also created a chart that normalizes other legal cannabis states’ populations and applies that model to the House’s proposed tax rates.

Via JFO.

While the conference committee dedicated significant time to talking about economic forecasts for each chamber’s respective bills, Sen. Joe Benning (R) emphasized that tax revenue “was never the main reason for going through this system” of approving cannabis commerce legislation.

“We want a place for people to purchase a safe product that has to be monitored,” he said. “Those are the main objectives for this program, not the number of dollars that we will see.”

Sears also stressed that the reform “is more about consumer safety than it is about revenue.”

The senator also circled back to the seatbelt hangup the panel debated at last’s month meeting. He reiterated that the issue is a non-starter on the Senate side. Saliva testing components would also be a “tough sell,” he said.

“What we have done is given in many areas, we’ve agreed with the House,” he said. “There’s about eight areas where we’re apart. I won’t insult anybody that they’re not major issues, but we are actually much closer than many would believe. So we could get this done.”

Legislators are hoping to come to a resolution and finalize the bill during their next meeting on August 31, when the House will deliver its counter-offer to the Senate. If agreed upon, the panel would still have to get authorization to sign the conference report from the Joint Rules Committee. Then the unified proposal would go back to both chambers for a final vote on sending it to Gov. Phil Scott (R).

“I appreciate the Senate’s work here in agreeing to many of our positions. I do think we have covered a lot of ground and reached agreement on many things,” Rep. John Gannon (D), who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations, said. However, “there are some areas that are deeply important to the House where we’re still in disagreement,” specifically concerning highway safety.

“I think we’re all in agreement what the top priorities are. We’ve come down to six of seven issues that are outstanding,” Sears said. “Whether we can bridge those issues or not, we’ll find out next Monday.”

On a separate note, leaders from the Judiciary Committees in both chambers are moving on a bill to facilitate automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions. While not included in the tax-and-regulate bill at this stage, it’s possible it could be adopted as lawmakers finish negotiations.

“The announcement that the Senate and House Judiciary leaders have agreed to advance Senator Pearson’s automatic expungement bill is exciting news,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and Democratic nominee for the elected office of high bailiff in Addison County, told Marijuana Moment. “Thousands of Vermonters still carry criminal records for simple possession, and suffer real harm from those records every day.”

“My experience running expungement clinics shows that automatic expungement is the only way to truly repair the harm that decades of prohibition have wrought on Vermonters,” he said.

The Senate approved a bill in June that would double the amount of marijuana that can be possessed and grown without the threat of jail time.

Meanwhile, Vermont Democratic Party insiders included planks to decriminalize drug possession and legalize marijuana sales in a draft platform for 2020. The document is still subject to change based on comments from county committees and delegates at the party’s September 12 convention.

Washington State Wants Help Studying Smelly Marijuana Business Emissions

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New York Doctors Can Now Recommend Medical Marijuana To Patients For Any Condition They See Fit

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As New York prepares the launch of its adult-use marijuana market, the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) announced on Monday a significant expansion of the existing medical cannabis program.

Now doctors will be able to issue medical marijuana recommendations to people for any condition that they feel could be treated by cannabis, rather than rely on a list of specific eligible maladies. Physicians were granted that discretion through the state’s recreational marijuana law that was enacted last year.

The expansion is being made possible as part of OCM’s new Medical Cannabis Program certification and registration system.

“It is terrific to see the Medical Cannabis Program expand so vastly with the launch of the new certification and registration program and the ability of practitioners to determine qualifying conditions as included in the MRTA,” Cannabis Control Board (CCB) Chair Tremaine Wright said in a press release.

“The new cannabis industry is taking shape as we continue to implement the MRTA and provide greater access for New Yorkers to a medicine that we’re learning more about every day,” Wright said. “We’re continuing to move forward swiftly and today’s system launch follows our achievements that already include adding whole flower medical product sales, permanently waiving $50 patient fees, and advancing home cultivation regulations, among others.”

Lat last year, CCB voted unanimously to advance a policy change to allow medical cannabis patients in the state to grow plants for personal use, another change made possible by the broad legalization law that was enacted.

In November, regulators also approved rules for the state’s cannabinoid hemp program, notably clarifying that flower from the crop can be sold but delta-8 THC products are currently prohibited from being marketed.

“Launching the new patient certification and registration system and expanding eligibility for the Medical Cannabis Program are significant steps forward for our program,” OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said. “We will continue to implement the MRTA and ensure that all New Yorkers who can benefit from medical cannabis have the access they need to do so.”

“It’s important for New Yorkers to know that even as we shift the medical program to the OCM, your access will not be disrupted and the program will continue to expand,” he stressed.

While marijuana retailers have yet to launch in New York, the legalization law signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) already permits adults 21 and older to possess and publicly consume cannabis. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the state have been working to build upon the reform.

For example, a New York senator filed a bill last month to make it so that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can qualify as social equity applicants under the state’s marijuana law.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) introduced the legislation, shortly after filing a separate bill to include transgender and non-binary people in the cannabis social equity program. He’s also behind other recent marijuana reform proposals related to cannabis business tax benefits and licensing.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In July, Cooney 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.

Cooney is also sponsoring a newly filed bill to allow licensed cannabis companies to deduct certain business expenses on their state tax returns.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who replaced Cuomo after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law.

Hochul released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.

The governor said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”

That proposal was also cited in Hochul’s executive budget, which was released last week. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.

The state Department of Labor separately announced in recent guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.

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.

Another state legislator filed legislation last month to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes and establish facilities where the psychedelic could be grown and administered to patients.

Colorado Meets Marijuana Industry Diversity Goal Ahead Of Schedule

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Colorado Meets Marijuana Industry Diversity Goal Ahead Of Schedule

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Colorado officials announced on Monday that the state has achieved a “wildly important goal” of increasing diversity in the legal marijuana industry—but the data shows there’s still a way to go before cannabis business ownership is on par with the state’s population demographics.

Nearly 17 percent of the state’s cannabis businesses are now minority-owned as of January 1, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) reported. Colorado had set a goal of at least 16.8 percent minority ownership in the cannabis sector by June 30, 2022, and that’s already been narrowly exceeded by the beginning of the year.

When data on licensee demographics started to be collected in July 2021, there was 15.2 percent minority ownership in the marijuana market. Now it’s up to 16.8 percent.

As of January 1, the state has also approved 50 social equity licenses for communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Via Colorado DOR.

As one of the first states to legalize marijuana for adult use, there’s been significant pressure on Colorado to ensure that the industry is equitable, benefitting those who have been most impacted under criminalization.

“Colorado is demonstrating that intentionally revising state marijuana laws to be more equitable gets results,” Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator and current CEO of the Parabola Center, told Marijuana Moment.

“If one of the most mature markets can make clear progress, it’s not too late for any market. And although there’s always more to go—we should all be aiming for proportional representation in ownership at the very least—Colorado is setting and reaching reasonable goals,” she said. “It’s good for transparency and it’s good for morale, and having more data on what’s working at the state level is valuable to inform federal policy.”

(Disclosure: Title supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly pledge on Patreon.)

A demographic breakdown of the new data shows that while there’s been an increase in minority ownership, the percentage of black people who own a majority stake in a cannabis business (2.9 percent) is still lower than the percentage of black people who live in the state (4.6 percent).

There’s also a significant disparity when it comes to gender and marijuana licensing. MED’s report says that there are 1,535 men who own a marijuana business, compared to just 350 women.

And with respect to license type, white people have a notably more expansive portfolio compared to other races.

Via MED.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) is also working to right the wrongs of prohibition outside of licensing. For example, last month he granted 1,351 pardons for convictions of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

That move focused on people who were made eligible for relief under a new law that increased the legal cannabis possession limit for adults in the state, which Polis signed in May. At the time, he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for amounts under the new, two-ounce limit.

Polis signed an executive order in 2020 that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana. And while earlier legislation that enabled him to do that in an expedited way applied to possession cases involving up to two ounces, his office declined to pardon those with more than one ounce on their records because that amount violated the existing state law.

As the state works to increase diversity in the marijuana industry, it’s also collecting significant tax revenue from cannabis sales.

Last year alone, Colorado generated $423 million in tax revenue from cannabis, the state’s Department of Revenue reported last week.

Nearly $500 million of cannabis tax revenue in Colorado has supported the state’s public school system so far, according to a report from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Massachusetts Marijuana Tax Revenue Now Exceeds Alcohol By Millions

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Governors Across The U.S. Tout Marijuana Reform Progress In State Of The State Speeches And Budgets

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Governors across the U.S. have been taking the opportunity to tout marijuana reform accomplishments as part of their annual State of the State speeches and budget requests this month.

From New York to South Dakota, the comments and proposals from state executives demonstrate how cannabis has become more mainstream and is being talked about in high profile venues alongside more traditional fare such as taxes, education and infrastructure.

It’s also part of a growing theme, as governors have increasingly brought up marijuana policy in State of the State addresses each year to kick off the new year as the legalization movement spreads.

Here’s a look at what governors are saying about marijuana policy in 2022: 

New Jersey

While adult-use marijuana retail sales have yet to launch in New Jersey after voters approved a 2020 legalization referendum, the state’s top executive said in his State of the State address that he’s expecting an economic boon.

“Many jobs await in the cannabis industry ready to take off,” Gov. Phil Murphy (R) said.

The governor also said separately in his second inaugural address this month that “businesses in the new cannabis industry that we are setting up in the name of social justice” are part of efforts to “continue growing the innovation economy that will power our future and make us a model for the nation and the world.”

As the state prepares to implement legal cannabis sales, Murphy said late last year that he’s open to giving adults the right to cultivate marijuana for personal use even though it’s not currently written into the law.

New Mexico

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) talked in here State of the State speech about the economic potential of the marijuana industry under the legalization law she signed last year.

“We’re expanding our economic footprint into every single community,” the governor said in her State of the State address. “Legal cannabis is going to create thousands of jobs and serious tax revenue for local governments to support local services in every corner of our state.”

New York

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market.

The governor said that while cannabis business licenses have yet to be approved since legalization was signed into law last year, the market stands to generate billions of dollars, and it’s important to “create opportunities for all New Yorkers, particularly those from historically marginalized communities.”

That proposal was also cited in Hochul’s executive budget, which was released last week. The budget also estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.

The briefing book for the executive budget touts how Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has “prioritized getting New York’s cannabis industry up and running” since marijuana was legalized under her predecessor last year. That includes appointing key regulators who’ve been “creating and implementing a comprehensive regulatory framework.”

Rhode Island

The governor of Rhode Island included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—the second time he’s done so. And time around, he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.

Gov. Dan McKee (D) released his request for the 2023 fiscal year on Thursday, calling for adult-use legalization as lawmakers say they’re separately nearing a deal on enacting the reform. It appears that an outstanding disagreement between the governor and legislators concerning what body should regulate the program remains unresolved based on the new budget proposal, however.

In general, McKee’s plan would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, though it would not provide a home grow option. Adults could also store up to five ounces of marijuana in secured storage in their primary residence.

“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” an executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.”

South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) isn’t a fan of adult-use legalization, going so far as to fund a lawsuit against a voter-approved 2020 reform initiative that ultimately led to a court ruling voiding the law. Her office has even suggested that activists behind the successful legalization campaign should front the legal bills for the case.

However, she seems to recognize the popularity of the issue and has recently attempted to associate herself with the implementation of the separate medical cannabis legalization law that voters also approved, as she did in her State of the State address this month.

“I take our citizens’ health seriously. I don’t make these decisions lightly. And when we create new policy, we’re going to do everything we can to get it right from day one,” Noem said. “Our state’s medical cannabis program is one example.”

“It was launched on schedule according to the timeline passed by South Dakota voters,” she said. “I know there will be some debate about that program this session. My focus is on making sure South Dakota has the safest, most responsible, and well-run medical cannabis program in the country.”

Noem tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for an additional year, but while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, delivering a defeat to the governor.

In response, her office started exploring a compromise last year, with one proposal that came out of her administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.

Advocates weren’t enthused with the proposal, and now they’re taking a two-track approach to enacting broader legalization legislatively and through the ballot.

Virginia

In his final State of the Commonwealth address this month, now former-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) talked about the criminal justice implications of his state’s move to legalize marijuana last year.

“We also worked closely with you to make sure our criminal justice system reflects the Virginia that we are today. Too often, our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past,” he said. “That’s why we’ve made marijuana use legal.”

He also thanked the legislators who championed the reform “for their work on this policy, which is complicated, but important.”

Meanwhile, the new governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, said recently that while he’s not interested in re-criminalizing marijuana possession, which became legal in the state last summer, but he feels there’s “still work to be done” before he gets behind creating a market for commercial sales and production.

Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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