On Wednesday, April 17, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 324 into law, closing a loophole that has been around for years, which prevented the cultivation of cannabis in-state. Before the signing of this bill, possession of medical cannabis was technically legal, but the cultivation of it was still illegal under state law, preventing legal patient access entirely.
Back in 2015, Georgia’s legislature legalized medical cannabis with less than 5% THC, as well as CBD oil for a number of qualifying conditions. Since then, the state has added more qualifying conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD, bringing the total to sixteen types of illnesses that would qualify patients for medical cannabis.
Governor Kemp signing HB 324 into law sets in motion the process to establish a regulatory framework for six growing licenses in the state. According to WSB-TV Atlanta, the new law goes into effect on July 1, but it could take up to two years to establish legitimate cultivation operations in the state. The law gives a state commission the authority to investigate and establish the regulations further.
That state commission will give priority to pharmacies for distributing cannabis, but reserves the right to establish licenses for independent retail locations as well. According to ABCNews, “The commission can also attempt to legally obtain the oil from other states. Two universities will be allowed to seek federal approval to research and produce the oil.”
Across the country, a handful of states are expected to move forward with a number of bills making their way each state’s legislature. Here is a quick recap on some of the more newsworthy bills from this week.
When Arizona legalized medical cannabis use, there was no provision in the legislation that required laboratory testing to insure the safety of cannabis products. To this day, Arizona is one of the few states left that has legalized medical cannabis, but does not require lab testing. A bill, SB 1494, that just passed through the state’s Senate could very well change that. According to azmarijuana.com, the bill passed unanimously through the Arizona Senate and would require the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to implement regulations for laboratories to test for contaminates like pesticides.
They need at least 75% of the House to vote in favor in order for it to pass. If that happens, testing could be required as soon as June 1, 2020.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 to recommend HB 481, which would legalize recreational cannabis, including growing up to 12 plants, imposing a tax of $30 per ounce on cannabis sold through retail. It would also set up a regulatory agency in charge of licensing and regulating the industry.
Governor Phil Murphy met with lawmakers earlier this week to discuss the legalization of recreational cannabis. According to CBS New York, the Governor reached a deal with Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano to introduce a bill that he would sign into law.
Back in February, the Vermont Senate passed a bill to regulate and tax recreational cannabis with a veto-proof majority. SB 54 is now in committee review in the House, where it is expected to see more hurdles, according to Burlington Free Press.
Another bill was introduced in the Vermont Senate, SB 117,which would reportedly open up more access to the medical cannabis program, including increasing possession limits, allowing patients to grow more plants at a time and set up a lab testing program as well.
President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the Farm Bill) into law late in December of 2018, which removed hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act in states that choose to regulate it. Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signing HB0171 means that the state intends to regulate the cultivation and sales of hemp-derived CBD.
Scott McDonald with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture told Wyoming Public Media that once the bill is signed, the state has 30 days to show their plans for regulation to the federal government. “We were kind of hoping to get something in place this spring for this growing season,” McDonald told Wyoming Public Media. “But we’re not sure that’s going to happen or not. There’s some uncertainty there, so it might be next year.”
McDonald also discussed the next steps that the WY Department of Agriculture needs to take to follow through on the bill’s promises, including figuring out a way to distribute licenses to hemp farmers, licensing laboratories to test hemp, insuring it has less than 0.3% THC and implementing a remediation plan for when crops test above that threshold.
According to Charlotte Peyton, a consultant with 30 years of experience in FDA regulations and experience working in the hemp industry, it is important to keep in mind that as soon as products containing hemp-derived CBD are sold across state lines, the FDA maintains regulatory authority. “If you manufacture and sell hemp products inside of a state with a state mandated hemp program, you are legal and protected under state laws, but the minute you sell across state lines, it becomes the jurisdiction of the federal government and, more specifically, the FDA,” says Peyton.
It is not news that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker favors recreational cannabis legalization. But State Senator Heather Steans (Chicago-D) and State Representative Kelly Cassidy (Chicago-D) introducing a formal bill to legalize recreational cannabis is certainly news. With what they hope will be bipartisan support in the legislature and a Governor on their side, Illinois seems poised to pass legislation legalizing recreational cannabis for adults.
According to the Herald & Register, State Sen. Steans says that public opinion polls show that roughly two-thirds of voters in Illinois favor recreational legalization. “We have a huge opportunity in Illinois to do this right and carefully,” Steans told an audience at a town hall meeting in Springfield, IL yesterday. From what the lawmakers told the public during that town hall meeting, the legislation sounds like it mirrors programs in other states.
The bill “would allow Illinoisans 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams, or about 1 ounce, of marijuana,” Steans and Cassidy said. “Nonresidents would be able to buy and possess half that amount. Use of the drug in public wouldn’t be allowed.” The bill would expunge previous criminal records with respect to cannabis, make it harder for minors to access it and raise an estimated $350 million to $750 million, providing funding for “community development of impoverished neighborhoods,” says Cassidy. “If we don’t address the social-justice issues of this, if we don’t address the collateral consequences of the ‘war on drugs,’ we will have failed,” Cassidy added. The bill would also allow people to grow up to five plants at home, would not allow for public or social consumption, and municipalities, employers and landlords would be able to prohibit possession and use, according to the lawmakers.
In 2015, the state legalized medical cannabis and there are roughly 42,000 patients currently in the medical cannabis program, with roughly 40 qualifying conditions approved for use. Some critics have argued, according to the Chicago Tribune, that before the state legalizes recreational use for adults, they should first expand the list of qualifying conditions for patients. This would provide greater access to those in need while the state implements a regulatory framework for recreational use, which could take upwards of a year to establish the program.
On Monday, January 22nd, Vermont made history becoming the first state to legalize adult use cannabis via the legislature. Governor Phil Scott signed the bill, H. 511, into law, which legalizes adult possession and cultivation of cannabis, eliminating penalties for possessing one ounce or less and up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants for people 21 and older, beginning on July 1.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, they have been lobbying Vermont’s legislature since 2003 and they plan on working with the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana and the state task force to implement sensible and effective regulations for the state’s new industry. This makes Vermont the ninth state to legalize cannabis.
On Thursday, January 4th, the Vermont House passed this bill, sending it to the Senate for concurrence. On January 10th. The state’s Senate also passed the vote, sending it to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk to sign. Now that he signed the bill into law, Vermont is officially the first state to legalize cannabis through their legislature.
“After more than 15 years of hard work by MPP and our allies in the state, adults in Vermont no longer need to fear being fined or criminalized for low-level marijuana possession and cultivation,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is a great step forward for the state and the whole region. Responsible adults will soon have the freedom to enjoy a safer option legally, and law enforcement will be free to concentrate on serious crimes with actual victims. We are looking forward to working with lawmakers and state leaders to continue improving marijuana laws in the Green Mountain State.”
Back in November, New Jersey elected Democrat Phil Murphy for governor, who ran on a campaign of legalizing adult use cannabis and using tax revenue from that for important government programs like education and pensions. According to CNN Money, NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney says he wants to vote on draft legislation and have it approved within 100 days of Gov. Murphy’s inauguration.
That bill, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari back in May (the same Senator that sponsored the state’s now-implemented medical cannabis law), would legalize cannabis use, growing and sales, for those over the age of 21, while tacking on a hefty tax. The legislation, if it passes the vote and signed into law this spring, would also create a licensing framework and a “Division of Marijuana Enforcement,” the government body that would be tasked with regulating the industry.
Election victories throughout the state for Democrats means they now control the executive and legislative branches of the state’s government, opening the door for possibly legalizing cannabis within a year. This is a massive about-face for the state, previously controlled by Republican and Trump-supporter Chris Christie, a less-than-cannabis-friendly Governor who once called tax revenue from cannabis “blood money.”
But the newly revived fervor over legalizing cannabis in New Jersey comes with its own hang-ups. For one, Governor Phil Murphy claimed this could bring up to $300 million in tax revenue, which is a bit of a pipedream in the short term. The state would need total cannabis sales to hit $1.2 billion to reach that amount of tax revenue, something New Frontier Data doesn’t expect would happen until maybe 2025.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, wrote an op-ed addressing Murphy’s campaign promises. Sinha says that Gov.-elect Murphy ran on legalizing cannabis “as a social and racial justice priority.” He argues that in order for New Jersey to legalize cannabis equitably, the legislation needs to have automatic expungement of previous cannabis-related criminal convictions, a provision for growing at home, fair regulations and community reinvestment of the tax revenue. On the surface, Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s bill introduced back in May of 2017 seems to have provisions in place to meet all of these requirements.
The demand for medical cannabis in Florida might be growing steadily, with patient numbers soaring, but that doesn’t mean the market will grow accordingly. Due to hampering regulations and a lack of state guidance, the industry in Florida is tiny and patients have limited options for medical cannabis products.
A little more than three years ago, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law, legalizing medical cannabis, but only for terminally ill patients and only for one strain, Charlotte’s Web. That stipulated a low-THC, concentrated oil form of cannabis. That bill also set up the licensing framework for what is now an extremely limited market.
In November of 2015, the Office of Compassionate Use, now called the Office of Medical Marijuana, issued licenses for five dispensaries. To get a license, applicants needed to meet a variety of absurd requirements. That included being a nursery in business for thirty years, growing a minimum of 400,000 plants at the time of applying, paying $300,000 in fees and a $5 million performance bond.
Fast forward to Election Day last year when voters passed Amendment 2 by a wide margin, amending the state’s constitution and legalizing medical cannabis for a broader scope of qualifying conditions. What hasn’t changed, however, is the old vertical licensing framework. Critics have dubbed this a “pay-to-play” market, with massive barriers to entry prohibiting small businesses from gaining market access.
David Kotler, Esq., attorney and partner at CohenKotler P.A., says we shouldn’t expect to see a viable market for years as a result of all this red tape. “Honestly the State of Florida, with their limited licenses and odd requirements to qualify for licensure have stunted what could be a good market both for businesses and patients,” says Kotler. “It has been an inefficient roll-out and is truly an embarrassment for the state, legislature and the Department of Health.” Kotler says he’s heard reports of extremely limited product selection, poor quality, as well as no dried flower being offered.
But the patients are pouring in by the thousands- on July 27th, the Office of Medical Marijuana reported 26,968 registered medical patients, with more than 10,000 patients signing up since June 7th. “Despite my belief that it would be a slow roll out, it appears the patient count is picking up,” says Kotler. “The elimination of the 90-day doctor-patient relationship will certainly help this.” He is referring to the reversal of a waiting period policy, where patients had to wait 90 days before receiving a medical cannabis certification. “But there still seems to be a backup with issuance of cards and poor guidance from the Department of Health leaving many doctors unsure of what they should be doing,” says Kotler. The rules and guidelines for physicians participating in the program are still not established, but the Florida Board of Medicine expects to vote on them this week, reports say.
With seven licensees right now and a total of ten licensees by October allowed to grow and distribute cannabis products, the question remains if that is enough to satisfy the growing number of patients. According to Matt Karnes, founder and managing partner of GreenWave Advisors, the state is adjusting by adding more licensees and allowing them to operate more dispensaries, potentially trying to sate that demand. “Both of these amendments will likely serve as a catalyst for revenue growth but could be tempered by a lack of physician participation (as we have seen in other states) in the medical marijuana program,” says Karnes. “For every incremental 100,000 patients who register in the Medical Marijuana program, four more licenses will be issued and existing licensees will be allowed to open another four dispensaries (current cap is 25). We do not expect an incremental 100,000 patients until sometime in 2021.” His firm’s market projections account for those increases and edibles now being sold, but still no dry flower allowed. They project total sales figures in the state to reach $712 million by 2021.
Those figures are contingent on the increase in registered patients and more licensees. If Florida’s vertical licensing model remains, it’s quite possible the state will see a cannabis shortage, much like Nevada during their opening month of adult use sales. “Instead of learning from so many states before it, Florida forged a path down the rabbit hole that may limit Florida’s potential until either a legislative change or a backlash at the polls in the form of an amendment bringing forth adult use,” says Kotler. In New York, that vertical licensing model arguably created a monopoly, with only a select few businesses controlling the entire market. That doesn’t foster market growth; it hurts quality, keeps prices high and prevents real competition. “We see how that worked out for New York,” says Kotler. “We cling to that despite what could be a large patient base with the potential to service tourists who wish to have reciprocity.”
Florida’s market could be a powerhouse for the state, with the potential to generate millions in tax revenue, create thousands of jobs and actually help patients get the medicine they need. But until the state ditches their conservative, closed-door approach, we won’t see the industry truly flourish. .
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