Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), whose proposed state budget includes provisions to legalize both medical and adult-use marijuana, says he’s sick of seeing tax revenue from cannabis sales go to neighboring states that have already legalized.
“Frankly I’m kind of tired of talking to the governor from Illinois,” he said in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday. “Whenever I get with him, he thanks me for having Wisconsinites cross the border to buy marijuana.”
Later in the day, Evers held a virtual town hall-style meeting where he and other members of the administration explained the legalization proposals and other elements of the budget plan, took public comments and urged constituents to pressure the Republican-controlled legislature to stop blocking cannabis reform.
Nearly 300 people attended the evening event, which featured comments from the governor, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) and representatives of some state agencies, including the Department of Corrections.
A Twitter follower asked: "When will we hear about marijuana reform?"
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) April 14, 2021
Evers noted that among voters, members of both parties support the policy change even if that isn’t being translated into legislative action by lawmakers in the state’s GOP-led Senate and Assembly.
“In one of the rooms I work in at the Capitol, on the ceiling it says: ‘The will of the people is the law of the land,’” Evers said, “and I take that seriously. When people are passing referenda to say, ‘We believe that we should have recreational marijuana and/or medicinal marijuana,’ that’s what we should do as legislators and as leaders in the executive branch.”
At the local level, Wisconsin voters in three jurisdictions last year approved non-binding advisory questions in favor of marijuana legalization. That’s after Wisconsinites overwhelmingly embraced cannabis reform by supporting more than a dozen similar measures across the state during the 2018 election. Late last year, city officials in the state’s capital, Madison, voted to remove most local penalties for cannabis possession and consumption, effectively allowing use by adults 18 and older.
Evers said his office estimates that legalizing and taxing cannabis statewide could bring Wisconsin more than $165 million annually starting in 2022, an amount that would likely increase as the market matures.
Early last year, when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) gave his State of the State address, he quipped that the state’s legal cannabis program would attract buyers from nearby states. Legalization, which Pritzker signed into law in 2019, “gives us a chance to collect tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana,” he said.
Legal cannabis sales in Illinois, one of only a few U.S. states to have legalized the drug through its legislature, made the state more than $200 million last year, and so far this year consumers are on track to far exceed that mark. Average daily sales surpassed $3.5 million last month—and the state now takes in more tax revenue from cannabis sales than from alcohol.
Evers, in the video he posted to Twitter, said that because lawmakers in his state are refusing to end prohibition, “the sales tax goes to them [in Illinois], instead of us.”
Our #BadgerBounceback proposal also modifies criminal penalties for marijuana-related crimes, and creates an opportunity for repealing and reducing sentences of those previously convicted of nonviolent minor marijuana-related crimes.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) April 14, 2021
Republicans in Wisconsin’s legislature are broadly opposed to legalization, and some have criticized the governor’s proposals as grandstanding. House Speaker Robin Vos (R) said the marijuana reform component of the budget request is an example of Evers demonstrating that he is “not serious about governing, he’s serious about politics.” Senate President Chris Kapenga (R) recently called adult-use legalization a nonstarter and said it’s “not in the best interest of Wisconsinites.”
During a section of Wednesday evening’s town hall meeting, participants split up into small breakout groups, and members of the administration took feedback on the plan and answered questions from the public. In one group, two separate commenters said they supported legalization but felt the provisions would be rejected by state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
“If we’re going to have a meaningful conversation, we need to address and recognize political realities that are going on,” said one person, “which is that a lot of the things that are proposed in this budget are not going to get through the legislature.”
Another commenter, who said he had reached out to his state representatives as well as local sheriffs in Wisconsin, asked what the governor’s plan is if lawmakers remove the legalization proposal from the budget. “The GOP is taking what law enforcement leaders tell them, and none of them are going to support this,” he said. “It’s not going to pass, so what is going to happen next?”
“I am certainly not an eternal optimist,” replied Maggie Gau, Evers’s chief of staff. “If they strip it out, which they probably will,” Gau added, the governor’s office hopes to continue to expand on recent local pushes to decriminalize cannabis.
“We see communities across the state are taking the steps to decriminalize locally,” she said. “Continuing to build on that momentum, as well, I think is another place where we can make some headway.”
Gau noted that some Republicans have expressed support for medical marijuana, saying the governor’s office plans to “really lean in on the legislature in terms of what we can do on medical” if the provision is stripped from Evers’s budget proposal.
Zach Madden, legislative affairs director for the governor, said there’s “a lot of chatter about the possibility to maybe get medical marijuana done,” adding that “there are still going to be folks who are very fired up and continuing to talk about recreational marijuana in the Capitol moving forward, as well.”
Evers urged all the attendees to ask lawmakers to support the proposal.
“We need your help,” he said, noting that his budget plan will soon be taken by the Joint Committee on Finance. “We need you to contact your local representatives and let them know why you support this budget, and help us get this budget over the finish line.”
Evers tried to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize small-scale cannabis possession in his first budget proposal as governor, in 2019, but Republicans in the legislature stripped those provisions from the bill.
His current proposal would allow adults 21 and older, or qualifying patients, to purchase, possess and consume cannabis. Residents could buy and possess up to two ounces of marijuana, while out-of-state visitors could have up to one quarter-ounce. Adults could grow up to six plants for personal use.
The governor’s plan calls for a 15 percent wholesale excise tax on cannabis, in addition to a 10 percent retail excise tax on marijuana sales. Medical cannabis sales would not be subject to the sales tax.
Sixty percent of those funds would go to a new “community reinvestment fund” and the rest would be deposited in the state’s general fund.
Of the nearly $80 million of that revenue that’s expected to be set aside for community reinvestment, Evers proposed using $10 million for grants “to promote diversity and advance equity and inclusion,” $10 million for community health worker grants, $10 million for “equity action plan grants,” $5 million to support businesses in underserved communities and about $35 million in school sparsity grants.
Unlike some legalization laws in other states, the plan does not appear to set aside any licenses or provide extra scoring points for businesses run by people from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“Our budget legalizes marijuana and also creates a pathway for people who’ve been previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses to repeal or reduce their sentences, which is how we work to promote equity, and it also creates a community reinvestment fund to invest those dollars from legalization into equity grants,” Barnes, the lieutenant governor, said at Wednesday’s event.
“We know that we need systemic change in Wisconsin, we’ve needed it for a few decades now,” he continued, noting that the state’s criminal justice approach “has disproportionately impacted communities of color, particularly Black and Indigenous communities in Wisconsin.”
Black people in Wisconsin were nearly 4.2 times more likely than white people for simple marijuana possession, according to a 2020 ACLU report. Four counties—Ozaukee, Manitowoc, Washington and Waukesha, showed among the country’s worst racial disparities in cannabis arrests.
“When will this happen?” the governor said of legalization on Twitter Wednesday. “When your legislators agree with me on this issue. So feel free to contact them. I was just talking to a legislator yesterday, a Republican who indicated that he believes that legalizing recreational marijuana is the right thing to do. It’s not just a Democrat thing. It’s a thing that people of Wisconsin have said they want.”
Despite Republican leaders’ opposition to legalizing marijuana outright or to including any cannabis reforms in the budget, Vos and others have expressed openness to considering medical cannabis as a standalone matter. And other GOP lawmakers have filed bills to decriminalize marijuana possession. But none of those ideas have been given hearings or votes so far this session.
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash
Illinois Will ‘Blow Past’ $1 Billion In Legal Marijuana Sales In 2021, Chamber Of Commerce President Says
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” the Chamber leader said.
By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square
Illinois’s cannabis industry is growing up fast, with adult-use recreational cannabis sales expected to hit $1 billion by year-end.
In March alone, Illinoisans spent $110 million on recreational marijuana.
Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said one factor contributing to Illinois’ explosive growth is that most neighboring states haven’t legalized marijuana yet.
“What we saw early on in states like Washington and Colorado is they did have demand come in from surrounding states, which frankly benefits our industry and benefits the taxes collected,” Maisch said.
Cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol’s tax revenues for the state, and Maisch said he thinks $1 billion estimates are conservative.
“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” Maisch said.
There are only a couple of things that could stop Illinois’ explosive cannabis market growth, Maisch said. He said that policymakers could ruin things by pushing taxes too high as evidenced by the tobacco market.
“As taxes have gone up and up and up, they’ve pushed people all the way into the black market or they’ve created this grey market in which people are ostensibly paying some of the taxes, but they’re still getting sources of tobacco products that avoid much of the tax,” Maisch said.
The other thing that could head off continued growth is other states opening up recreational-use markets.
“So if you start to see surrounding states go to recreational, that’s definitely going to flatten the curve because we’re not going to be pulling in demand from other states,” Maisch said.
Maisch points out some concerns that accompany the explosion of Illinois’s recreational cannabis market including workforce preparedness.
“All of those individuals who are deciding to go ahead and consume this product are really taking themselves out of a lot of job opportunities that they would otherwise be qualified, so there’s a real upside and a downside,” Maisch said.
While it’s easy to track the revenues this industry brings into state coffers, he points out, it will be harder to track the lack of productivity and qualified individuals to operate heavy machinery and other jobs that require employees to pass a drug test.
DEA Finally Ready To End Federal Marijuana Research Monopoly, Agency Notifies Grower Applicants
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
This is a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.
It was almost five years ago that DEA under President Barack Obama first announced that it was accepting applications for additional manufacturers. No approvals were made during the Trump administration. And the delay in getting acceptances has led to frustration—and in some cases, lawsuits—among applicants.
But on Friday, organizations including the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC), Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC were notified by the agency that their requests were conditionally accepted.
“DEA is nearing the end of its review of certain marijuana grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for research purposes,” DEA said. “Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process.”
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the move, and it’s unclear just how many organizations have received a DEA communication so far.
Matt Zorn, who has represented SRI in a suit against DEA over the processing delays, told Marijuana Moment that the agency explained that it is “moving forward” with the facility’s application and that it appears to be “consistent with public interest” to give the institute the ability to grow marijuana for study purposes.
SRI’s Dr. Sue Sisley is in a process of completing a memorandum of agreement that DEA requested “so that it can be executed and official,” according to a press release.
BRC CEO George Hodgin said in another press release that after being finalized, “this federal license will forever change the trajectory of our business and the medicinal cannabis industry.”
“The DEA’s leadership will set off a nationwide wave of innovative cannabis-derived treatments, unlock valuable intellectual property and create high quality American jobs,” he said. “The BRC team is already familiar with DEA compliance procedures based on our extensive history of controlled substances activity, and our world class staff is ready to hit the ground running on this new business arm that the DEA has authorized.”
DEA said it has presented applicants that appear to meet legal requirements “with an MOA outlining the means by which the applicant and DEA will work together to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana under the new regulations as well as other applicable legal standards and relevant laws.”
“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers,” the agency said. “Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate marijuana—up to its allotted quota—in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation.”
DEA said it “will continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future” and will publicly post information about approvals as they are finalized.
Following a 2019 suit against DEA by SRI, a court mandated that the agency take steps to process the cultivation license applications, and that legal challenge was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
That suit argued that the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi is of poor quality, does not reflect the diversity of products available on the commercial market and is therefore inadequate for clinical studies.
That’s also a point that several policymakers have made, and it’s bolstered by research demonstrating that the federal government’s cannabis is genetically closer to hemp than marijuana that consumers can obtain in state-legal markets.
Last year, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary to move forward with licensing approvals due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
SRI filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications. And that was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released last year as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their initiative. Sixty-eight percent of voters approved a general ballot question on whether to allow medical cannabis, and 74 percent signed off on advocates’ specific measure in a separate question.
“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a press release. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right.”
“It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter,” he said.
Today the MS Supreme Court ruled against the state’s ballot initiative process, killing the medical marijuana program 74% of Mississippians voted to pass. This is devastating for not only patients, but voters as a whole. Below is our statement: https://t.co/jrDoJM3K16 pic.twitter.com/AR3xuId3xR
— Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (@medmarijuanams) May 14, 2021
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
The Mississippi State Department of Health told WJTV that it will cease work on developing medical cannabis regulations in light of the court ruling.
“However, the agency has certainly learned a lot in the process of putting together a successful medical marijuana program, and we stand ready to help the legislature if it creates a statutory program,” Liz Sharlot, director of the Office of Communications for the department, said.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: