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Soapbox

A Response to Governor Wolf’s Call for the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis

By Chris Visco
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As a medical cannabis professional, I, like most industry leaders, have been left out of the conversation around the Governor’s call to legalize recreational cannabis. Much like flying a plane without the advice of the pilot, those of us who are rooted in this space should be given a seat in the cockpit if we’re headed in this direction.

While Governor Wolf has called for legalization, which is absolutely necessary, those who understand where legislation has gone wrong and what works well – including business owners and most importantly, patients – have been largely left out of the conversation.

I meet regularly with legislators and unlike many, I speak and listen to both sides. I applaud the call for legalization by Governor Wolf, however, I question his true intentions. Is this political posturing to make Republicans look out of touch? Any political strategist would say that if you actually want something done, you must work with the opposition. Like many issues today, change can only be created once we come together. This is no different.

Few people understand that cannabis was used as medicine for thousands of years and legal in the U.S. until 1969. In 1971, Nixon told us that cannabis was “bad” and drug abuse was public enemy number one, so Americans listened. Nixon then goes on to break American law, be impeached, resigns, and yet, Americans continue to follow his lead, vilifying cannabis users, 46 years later. As a society, we are taught to conform to what we are told by elected officials and community leaders as truth.

PA Governor Tom Wolf
Image: Flickr

Act 16 legalized cannabis – a term illegal to use by someone like me, who has been mandated by The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to use ONLY the racist term “marijuana” – but in a way that shames users. The system fails our patients at every turn leaving business owners hostage to an unmanageable “seed to sale” platform, leaving many patients without access to their medicine. Low income patients have been left out of our program by high prices and have not received any of the subsidies they were promised, even though the program has produced hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pennsylvania law strictly prohibits anyone charged with the use of cannabis to work in the industry. You cannot own a cannabis business or work for a cannabis company if you have been arrested for possessing a $10 joint. Yet, my customers skip to their cars with hundreds of dollars of weed in their bags and go about their day. Meanwhile, a 19-year-old black kid’s life just ended after he was pulled over, driving while black and the officer finds a joint. He can never receive financial aid for college or get a job because he has “a record.” The reality is, the black teen’s life will most definitely come to an end because of a joint while others can smoke walking down Broad Street and no one blinks.

Pennsylvanians want legal cannabis. It has a consistent history of reducing opioid deaths, state by state, by 25%. How many lives would be saved if we allowed those who cannot afford legal cannabis but fear prosecution for illegal use, to grow their own?

I have no judgement against those who have been conditioned to believe cannabis is an “illicit drug” because this is how we’ve been programmed. Cannabis has healed but has killed no one. We must educate our legislators before we vilify them. There are more Republicans quietly for legalization than against, but they need information, not shaming.

Legalization of cannabis is necessary to preserve our health and welfare, because we’ve become a society addicted to chemically derived pharmaceutical drugs designed to cause dependence. Cannabis is not physically addicting. It can prevent and eliminate seizures, shrink and even kill cancer tumors, settle the nervous system from diseases like Parkinson’s and MS and help those with anxiety, depression and PTSD. Legalize cannabis and clean up our homelessness, allow people of color to profit from an industry which has capitalized on them, allow low income people and all people to grow their own medicine, and reduce the violence in our streets caused by prohibition.

Pennsylvania needs a legalization law that includes real, hard-working Americans. I am one of the few, born and bred small business cannabis owners in Pennsylvania and I want opportunity for my neighbors and fellow Pennsylvanians in this space. We need legalization to save our communities, but we need two separate application processes – one that is directed toward those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs which should be crafted to protect applicants who cannot afford thousands of dollars of application fees and the uncertainty of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars via legislative delays. The system is broken. There must be two points of entry.

Pennsylvania Republicans will legalize cannabis. Pennsylvania Democrats will not. Democrats hold no power or authority in our Republican controlled state, and they have shown no attempt to educate. Cannabis legalization is necessary to save the state, but money should not be the reason. Pennsylvanians deserve the education to understand what they do not understand.

Instead, lets legalize and allow 50% of the licenses to be awarded to social equity applicants (those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs) with a bill that is written in the best interest of the social equity applicant and the consumer. The other 50% of the applications should be open to current license holders (who should be grandfathered in with a high price license acceptance fee) and small business owners from Pennsylvania. (It is federally illegal to require residency requirements).

We must not eliminate the Multi State Operators (MSOs) because a free market depends on expertise and stability – and whether anyone wants to hear it or not, being disadvantaged is not enough to be a successful businessperson. We need a balance, but more importantly, as with our nation in crisis, we need to come together.

We CAN 

  • Provide affordable, non-addictive medicine to patients.
  • Allow people to grow their own cannabis.
  • Create BILLIONS in tax revenue nationally by taxing adult use cannabis.
  • Demand social equity reform where anyone can profit from the plant.
  • Free Americans from prisons and parole and expunge records.

All of this is a cry for peace. As a wise person once said, “Drunk men in a bar start a fight, high men start a band.”  Spread peace not hate. Thousands die from excessive alcohol consumption every year, but legalization of cannabis does not increase usage. No one has ever died from cannabis. Tell me again why we shouldn’t legalize? Those who believe we should not might as well push for alcohol prohibition again – it has no medicinal properties and kills.

Hopes and dreams will not help our humanitarian crisis – but action and education just might…

East Coast Market Update

By Lindsay Engle
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There are going to be some states that are less progressive in the pro-cannabis movement, the same way there were states that were slow to move past alcohol prohibition. This is normal for any country moving towards change, better economic standing and safer healthcare.

There are only four states that completely ban recreational and medical cannabis altogether, and those states are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Although, there is no doubt that more and more states are moving towards a pro-recreational and medical cannabis stance. There are some states in the Northeast that are making strides to legalize cannabis.

Most of the states in the Northeast already have some form of medical cannabis law in the books already, but some are moving towards recreational legalization surprisingly quickly. Massachusetts already has legalized recreational cannabis and is setting up their regulatory framework currently while Vermont, New Jersey and New York, all of which already have medical laws, appear to be just steps away from legalizing it recreationally.

Northeast States Moving Towards Legalization

With Canada’s recent recreational legalization, a number of states just south of the border appear to be eyeing the issue for themselves. While some of these states have somewhat strict regulations in place, they look like promising emerging market opportunities.

New Jersey

New Jersey is closer than ever to legalizing recreational cannabis. Governor Phil Murphy built his campaign on the pledge to end cannabis prohibition. Murphy says having recreational cannabis legalized this year is his goal.

Murphy says that he wants legal recreational cannabis to be available because he believes it is a way to improve social justice in New Jersey and to bring the state new tax revenue. The biggest issue is what the legislation will look like and how it can be tied to expanding the states medicinal cannabis program.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

Their current medical program, while still small in market size, appears to be gaining steam and growing in terms of patients getting access. Six months ago, The New Jersey Department of Health added a number of qualifying conditions patients can get a cannabis prescription for. The program still has its limits, like a 10% THC potency cap, small selection of types of products and other various restrictions.

New York

It was just last year when Governor Andrew Cuomo said cannabis was a “gateway drug” and he was opposed to legalization. After conducting a study on cannabis legalization, the result was a July Health Department report that determined the positive effects of legalization outweighs the potential negative impacts.

The debate between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial race has highlighted their views of cannabis as well as other important issues; it’s important that New Yorkers vote in the primary election to have the best opportunity for the future.

If New York legalizes recreational cannabis, it could open up a huge new market. Medical cannabis users will likely see a price drop in their medication. Similar kinds of restrictions that plague the New Jersey market are also affecting medical patients in New York. Currently, smoking and edibles are both prohibited even for patients. Back in 2017, the state added chronic pain to its list of qualifying conditions, undoubtedly increasing the number of patients.

Companies with large amounts of capital are planting their flags in New York, like MedMen’s dispensary in Manhattan, even if the medical market might still be in its infancy.

MassachusettsOver the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely

Recreational cannabis became legalin the last couple months for Massachusetts, while the state legalized medical cannabis some time ago. Their medical program is relatively advanced compared to New York or New Jersey. Online registration, a large number of qualifying conditions, and a less restrictive business environment seemed to encourage a much larger number of patients and businesses supporting them.

Regulators in Massachusetts are currently consideringthe option of allowing delivery operations for the recreational market. The roll out for the recreational industry might seem somewhat slow, but regulators are tackling a wide range of issues and making considerable progress towards the highly anticipated recreational market opening. Just last week, regulators issued licenses to two cannabis-testing laboratories, and, according to the Boston Globe, the debut could be just weeks away.

While the industry and regulators get ready for the recreational debut, a recent crackdown on pesticide usehighlighted some of the growing pains that come with it. Over the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely as dispensaries begin selling recreational cannabis and the industry develops.

Vermont

The recent Canadian legalization of recreational cannabis will no doubt put pressure on states sharing a border with them to consider adjusting their laws.

Legalizing recreational cannabis will likely increase tourism to Vermont, the way other states saw an influx in tourism when they legalized. Unfortunately, Vermont has only decriminalized recreational cannabis. You can possess, grow and consume cannabis, but you can’t buy or sell it, which obviously restricts the ability of any business to enter the market.

Vermont Statehouse, Montpellier, VT
Image: Tony Fischer, Flickr

However, their legal medical program is relatively laissez-faire compared to other states in the region. They allow for cultivation at home or through a caregiver and there are a number of small businesses working under the legal medical program.

Maryland

Recreational cannabis isn’t legal in Maryland yet, but medical cannabis has been legal since 2014. It’s illegal for patients and caregivers to grow their own. Attempts have been made to make recreational cannabis in 2016, but the bill didn’t move forward.

Maryland’s industry was off to a rocky start, when the application process for businesses wanting to enter the market slowed to a crawl. This month, the state just approved four new medical dispensaries and one new processor for the market. The latest round of approvals brings the total to 69 dispensaries serving patients, while back in 2016, the state pre-approved 102 dispensaries originally.

Delaware Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

Delaware is looking at the possibility of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. Even though medical cannabis is legal, recreational use isn’t. Back in June, lawmakers in the state were close to recreational legalization but fell short of the mark by four votes. Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

The Delaware Department of Health will continue to accept applications for medical cannabis cards, which is required for patients seeking to obtain their medicine from a compassion center. Patients are not allowed to grow their own cannabis. The state’s program has been operational for quite a while, and a small number of companies have established footprints in the state, like the Israeli brand Tikun Olam.

Pennsylvania

In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis. In contrast to some of the other states discussed earlier, PA is off to a more streamlined start. The second phase of their medical program allowed for more businesses to enter the market, a wider range of qualifying conditions and a larger number of patients registering. The industry is maturing here fast and could make for an exciting opportunity with recreational legalization potentially on the horizon.

A state lawmaker recently introduced legislation to legalize recreational cannabis. The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess cannabis products such as edibles and up to six cannabis plants, but not more than three mature plants that are flowering.

The bill would call for the immediate release of people jailed for cannabis-related crimes. This would also allow anyone with a criminal history related to cannabis to have that expunged.

If the bill passes, the tax imposed is estimated to generate $500 million a year.