The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection approved nine licenses for dispensaries to commence adult use sales on Tuesday, January 10. While nine were approved, just seven began adult use sales today. Connecticut also launched its “Clean Slate & Cannabis Erasure” website, as the state’s Clean Slate bill went into effect on January 1, effectively erasing thousands of cannabis convictions.
Connecticut’s legislature voted to legalize cannabis back in 2021. On June 17, 2021, Governor Ned Lamont signed the bill into law, marking the beginning of the state’s journey of building a legal adult use cannabis market that culminates today.
In a speech he delivered on January 9, 2023, Governor Lamont told reporters that the bill eliminating past convictions makes a big difference. “Under a new state law that went into effect on January 1, our administration has marked 43,754 low-level cannabis convictions as erased,” the Governor tweeted, alongside a video of his speech. “An old conviction for possession should not hold someone back from pursuing their career, housing, professional, and education aspirations.”
At the ZenLeaf Meriden dispensary, one of the nine retailers authorized to commence sales, politicians, stakeholders, the press and customers met outside of the store for a news conference at 9 a.m., shortly before the store opened for business an hour later. Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz delivered a speech at the news conference where she celebrated the occasion, shared details on the launch and emphasized the importance of “not losing sight of a very robust medical program.”
In a video shared by WFSB, Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz said they are requiring all businesses to have a “medical preservation plan” to ensure safe, adequate and fair access for patients continues as the adult use market opens up. Part of that plan is a state-mandated cap of ¼ ounce of cannabis for all adult use purchases to make sure inventory remains available for patients.
By Brett Schuman, Jennifer Fisher, Jeremy Lateiner, Allyson McCain, Amy Arnelle, Whitney Williams No Comments
Five states voted on adult-use cannabis legalization. These results increase the number of states that have legalized cannabis for adult-use from 19 to 21. Similar ballot measures failed, however, in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota. The continued expansion of legalized cannabis at the state level, combined with President Biden’s recent initiation of an administrative process to review expeditiously how cannabis is scheduled under federal law, is likely to increase pressure on Congress and the rest of the federal government to either decriminalize or legalize cannabis under federal law.
Here is a snapshot of the cannabis-related election results:
November 2022 Cannabis Referenda Results
On November 8, 2022, Maryland voted to pass Maryland Question 4 (the Marijuana Legalization Amendment), by a margin of 65.5% to 34.5%. Maryland Question 4 amends the Maryland Constitution to add a new article, Article XX, which authorizes adults 21 years of age and older beginning in July 2023 to use and possess cannabis, and directs the Maryland legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.
Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2014.
Interestingly, unlike most other ballot measures, Maryland Question 4 actually originated from the Maryland legislature. On April 1, 2022, the state legislature sent implementing legislation that was contingent upon the approval of the Marijuana Legalization Amendment to Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) desk. House Bill 837 (HB 837) was passed by the state House on February 25, 2022, by a vote of 92-37. The state Senate passed an amended version on March 31, 2022, by a vote of 30-15. The House concurred on April 1, with a vote of 89-41. Governor Hogan decided not to sign or veto the bill, allowing it to take effect upon approval of the amendment.
HB 837 temporarily expands decriminalization from January 1 to June 30, 2023. It decriminalizes the possession and use of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis with a civil fine of up to $100. Before the passage of the Marijuana Legalization Amendment, the decriminalized amount was 10 grams. It also reduces the penalty for possession of more than 1.5 ounces but not exceeding 2.5 ounces to a civil fine of up to $250.
Beginning July 1, 2023, HB 837 legalizes the personal use and possession of up to 1.5 ounces or 12 grams of concentrated cannabis for individuals 21 years of age or older. It also legalizes the possession of up to two cannabis plants. It changes the criminal penalties for persons found possessing cannabis under the age of 21. The bill also automatically expunges convictions for conduct that is now legal, and individuals serving time for such offenses will be allowed to file for resentencing.
The bill also requires specific studies on the use of cannabis, the medical cannabis industry, and the adult-use cannabis industry. It also establishes the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund and the Cannabis Public Health Fund.
The Marijuana Legalization Amendment does not establish any licensing or regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis sales.
On November 8, 2022, Missouri voters passed constitutional Amendment 3 by a margin of 53.1% to 46.9%, legalizing the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture, and sale of cannabis for anyone over the age of 21. The law also imposes a 6% state tax on all cannabis sales and allows local governments to impose an additional tax of up to 3%. The law will go into effect December 7, 2022.
Missouri legalized medical cannabis in 2018.
Under Amendment 3, private residences may contain no more than twelve flowering plants at one time, and both the plants and any cannabis produced by such plants in excess of three ounces must be kept in a locked space and not be made available to the public. Individuals may obtain a license to cultivate up to six flowering plants, six non-flowering plants, and six clones.
In addition, those individuals currently serving a sentence for certain cannabis-related offenses are now able to submit a petition for release from incarceration and/or expungement of the offense, and those previously convicted of certain cannabis-related offenses may petition for expungement.
Arkansas, North Dakota & South Dakota
Voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected adult-use legalization efforts in their respective states. Each state’s ballot measure would have allowed adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. In addition, among other things, Arkansas’ Issue 4 would also have expanded the state’s medical cannabis program to permit licensed businesses to sell to cannabis to adults; and North Dakota’s Initiated Statutory Measure 2 would have required the establishment and implementation of a program for the production and sale of adult-use cannabis by October 1, 2023.
Medical cannabis remains legal in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota. Although there has been a trend in a number of states where legalization of adult-use cannabis follows prior legalization of medical cannabis and the establishment of a medical cannabis program in the state, that trend does not appear to hold true in these “red” states. For example, after North Dakota voters passed a ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis in 2016, they have now rejected ballot measures that would have legalized adult-use cannabis in both 2018 and 2022. In South Dakota, voters passed a ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2020, which was later invalidated by South Dakota courts in response to a challenge brought by Governor Kristi Noem. Two year later, voter interest dwindled and a similar measure failed.
A Look Ahead to 2023
On the horizon for 2023 is a second chance for Oklahomans to decide on State Question 820, which would legalize adult-use cannabis for individuals 21 years of age and older after the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied a chance for voters to decide on the measure this November.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) petitioned State Question 820 for the November ballot on July 5th, submitting nearly 164,000 signatures one month in advance of the August 1st deadline. Despite the Secretary of State Brian Bringman’s office advising OSML that the counting and verification process for signatures typically takes 2 to 3 weeks to complete, the office took nearly seven weeks to certify that 117,257 signatures were valid – well over the required minimum of 94,911 signatures. The severe delay caused OSML to miss the August 26th deadline for the measure to complete a 10-day protest period, finalize the measure, and print State Question 820 on the ballot. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on September 21, 2022 that the measure would have to be postponed until a future election. “At this point in time, SQ820 is not in full compliance. There is still a possibility of rehearing in two of the protests, which prevents this Court from fully resolving those objections in compliance with [state law]. That, in turn, prevents the Secretary of State and the Governor from taking their final steps in compliance with [state law].” Nichols v. Ziriax 2022 OK 76, ¶14.
On October 18, 2022, Governor J. Kevin Stitt issued an Executive Proclamation declaring a special election to vote on State Question 820 – a proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis, which will take place on March 7, 2023.
By Abraham Finberg, Simon Menkes, Rachel Wright No Comments
Some states, like California, Colorado and Washington, have welcomed cannabis with open arms while others have taken a while to come to the party (or haven’t gotten there yet). Missouri, whose licensed sales only began in October 2020, is one of the late arrivals.
Perhaps it’s in the nature of the people of the Show Me State to wait for proof that something is a good thing rather than being early adopters. Even Missouri’s nickname came into being as a statement of skepticism when Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, in an 1899 speech in Philadelphia, said, “Your frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” (Not surprisingly, perhaps, Missouri’s state animal is the Missouri Mule).
Missouri legalized the use of medical cannabis on December 6, 2018. Compared to many other states, Missouri’s definition of what constitutes medicinal use is more tightly defined. For example, most medical cannabis states allow “anxiety” as an acceptable condition for a prescription; Missouri does not.1
Current Status of Adult Use Cannabis
Missouri is now locked in a battle to legalize adult use cannabis, with the group Legal Missouri 2022, among others, working hard to put the measure on the ballot this year. At the same time, Representative Ron Hicks (R) is pushing to legalize recreational purchases with his Cannabis Freedom Act. “I want the legislature to be able to handle it so that when there are problems and things need to be changed, it can be changed,” Hicks said.2 Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R), who has been against recreational usage, has stated he would “much rather have the legislators have that discussion out here and see if there is a solution other than doing the ballot initiative.” Parson added, “If it got on the ballot, it’s probably going to pass.”3
Cannabis Business in Missouri: Only Cost of Goods Sold Deduction
Missouri has maintained its state tax code to be in conformity with Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which disallows deductions and credits for expenditures connected with the illegal sale of drugs, stating:
No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business … consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law.4
This is true for both corporation5 and individuals6 in Missouri.
Governor Mike Parson recently vetoed a bill to eliminate conformity with I.R.C. Section 280E. Eliminating conformity would have lowered the tax burden on medical cannabis businesses, and increased Missouri’s competitiveness.7
State Sales and Cannabis Taxes
Missouri taxes retail sales at 4% of the purchase price.8 In addition, Missouri taxes retail sales of medical cannabis another 4% of the retail price.9,10 The medical cannabis tax is collected by dispensary facilities who then remit it to the Department of Revenue using Form 5808.11
Tax compliance is burdensome in Missouri, with dispensaries having to file returns monthly, even when they have no tax to report.12 Missouri also doesn’t allow cannabis businesses to pay their taxes in cash.13
No Tax on Tax
It’s important to note that Missouri doesn’t charges sales tax on cannabis tax nor cannabis tax on cannabis tax (unlike high-tax states like California). Under Missouri’s law, the tax is “separate from, and in addition to, any general state and local sales and use taxes that apply to retail sales.”14 Under Missouri’s sales tax law, “ Tax collected as a part of a sale should not be included in gross receipts.”15 Missouri has not specified whether the medical tax constitutes tax collected as a part of a sale; however, its regulations state that gross receipts from the sale of cigarettes do not include the amount of the sale price that represents the state cigarette tax.16 If the medical tax is analogous to the cigarette tax, gross receipts from the sale of medical cannabis likely excludes the amount paid as medical cannabis tax.
If the Legislature-Sponsored Cannabis Freedom Act Passes
If the Cannabis Freedom Act passes, Missouri will have a number of additional interesting changes. The bill would only allow for double the number of current medical cannabis licensees to serve the adult use market. It would also allow for people with non-violent convictions to petition the courts to have their record expunged (cleared).
Adult Use Taxes
The Act would allow the Department of Revenue to set an adult-use tax of up to 12%. There would be no such tax on medical cannabis sales.17
Normal Tax Deductions Allowed for Businesses
Licensed businesses would also be able to make tax deductions with the state up to the amount that they’d otherwise be eligible for under federal law if they were operating in a federally legal industry.18
Amendment Added to Act
In a move seen by many as a bid to derail the Cannabis Freedom Act, Representative Nick Schroer (R) amended the Act to bar transgender women from accessing no-interest loans for women- and minority-owned cannabis businesses, adding that only women who are “biologically” female would be eligible for the benefit. In the end, this addition may have the effect of scuttling the bill.19
Multiple Efforts to Place Cannabis on the Ballot
Even if the Act doesn’t pass, there are multiple efforts to place cannabis before the voters, including one by Representative Shamed Dogan (R), the group Legal Missouri 2022, which got medical cannabis passed by voters in 2018, and Fair Access Missouri.20
Comparison to Neighboring Oklahoma
Oklahoma, like Missouri, has not legalized the use of recreational cannabis, only medical cannabis. Also, Oklahoma taxes sales of tangible personal property (except newspapers and periodicals) at 4.5%, which is close to Missouri’s 4%.21 Tax is imposed on gross receipts or gross proceeds.22 Gross receipts (or gross proceeds) = Total amount of consideration, whether received in cash or otherwise. Credit is allowed for returns of merchandise.23
Oklahoma taxes retail medical cannabis sales at 7% of the gross amount received by the seller.24 Like Missouri, it has not specified any exemptions from the medical cannabis tax. Oklahoma’s medical cannabis tax base is the same as Missouri’s. Oklahoma’s medical tax rate is higher than Missouri’s. Therefore, Missouri’s tax treatment of medical cannabis is even better than Oklahoma’s.
Note, however, that Oklahoma has made it explicit that there is no tax-on-tax. “The 7% gross receipts tax is not part of the gross receipts for purposes of calculating the sales tax due, if the tax is shown separately from the price of the medical marijuana.”25
Oklahomans appear to be far more favorably disposed towards cannabis than Missouri, however. 2021 cannabis sales per person in Missouri was approximately $34, while Oklahoma boasted an impressive $210 per person, besting even California, which had $111/per person in cannabis sales.26
The Hidden Opportunity
Although Missouri only began licensed sales in October 2020, the state’s monthly sales has shown a strong upward curve. By the end of June 2021, monthly sales were just above $16 million. That number had shot up to $29 million per month for December 2021, and almost $37 million for April 2022.27 Patient enrollment is also increasing significantly.28
The best move, many experts believe, is to get into the medical market now, before the inevitable happens and adult use is approved. Competition is low at the moment, due to the lack of medical licensed dispensaries in the state. Although obtaining a license can be difficult, the current lack of competition, as well as the opportunity to gain a foothold in the cannabis industry before recreational purchases are approved, could provide a 10 times revenue increase from current medicinal sales levels.
Tyler Williams, founder of St. Louis-based Cannabis Safety and Quality and one of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 2021 40 Under 40, is optimistic about the future of Missouri cannabis. The state, he says, has been left “with only a few cannabis growers and manufacturers with a head start over the impending recreational market that is likely to come within the next couple of years.”29
The Bottom Line
The State of Missouri’s treatment of legal cannabis has been mixed, but the demand for the product by many residents of the state is unquestioned. If an entrepreneur has the foresight to get involved before all the wrinkles of legalization have been resolved, there is a possibility for very strong return on investment.
Update: Governor McKee has signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act into law, making it the 19th state to legalize adult use cannabis.
In Rhode Island this week, lawmakers voted to approve a bill that would legalize and regulate adult use cannabis. The state’s legislature passed the bill with overwhelming majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House voted 55-16 and the Senate voted 32-6 to approve the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, a bill that allows adults over 21 to possess, purchase and grow cannabis. The legislation contains a provision for automatic review and expungement of past cannabis convictions. Similar to other neighboring states, the bill also allows for allocating tax revenue from cannabis sales to communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition, such as low income neighborhoods.
Governor Daniel McKee has expressed support for the bill previously and is expected to sign it into law. According to Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, Rep. Scott Slater, Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Leonela Felix are to thank for their leadership in bringing the bill to a vote. “We are grateful to Rep. Scott Slater and Sen.Josh Miller for their years of leadership on this issue. Rhode Islanders should be proud of their lawmakers for passing a legalization bill that features strong provisions to promote equity and social justice,” says Moffat. “We’re also thankful to Rep. Leonela Felix who advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of an automatic expungement provision that will clear tens of thousands of past cannabis possession convictions.”
Among other provisions, the bill establishes a 10% sales tax in addition to the state’s normal 7% sales tax and 3% local sales tax. A quarter of all retail licenses will go to social equity applicants and another quarter of all licenses will be reserved for worker-owned cooperatives. The legislation also includes a “social equity assistance fund” that will offer grant money, job training and social services to communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition.
With the signing of the Cannabis Control Act (the Act) on April 21, 2021, Virginia became the first southern state to legalize adult use cannabis and just the fourth state to do so through the legislature. Legalizing adult use cannabis through the legislature, as opposed to through the ballot box, is not the typical route states have followed up to now. Eleven of the sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use cannabis through the use of ballot measures. Virginia joins Vermont, Illinois, New York and New Mexico (which legalized after Virginia) as one of the few states that have gone the legislative route. Under Governor Northam’s administration, the path to legalization was swift, taking less than four months from introduction to passage.
Governor Northam added amendments to the already passed Senate Bill 1406 and the General Assembly voted to approve those amendments, with the Lieutenant Governor breaking the tie in the Senate’s vote. Upon signing, Governor Northam called the law a step towards “building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.” This message and the opportunities to promote social equity through a legal cannabis industry have been consistent points of advocacy made by supporters as the bill advanced to becoming law.
Prior to the Governor’s amendments, the Act under consideration set July 1, 2024 as the date on which both legal possession and adult use sales would begin. The Governor decided to accelerate the date for legal possession to July 1 of this year, a decision believed to have been influenced by data showing that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be cited for possession, even after simple possession was decriminalized in the state a year prior. The regulated adult use market is still set to begin making sales on July 1, 2024; however, it remains possible that this date could be advanced through the legislature in the meantime. Nevertheless, Virginia is on track to becoming the first southern state with an operating regulated commercial cannabis market.
Creating an Administrative Structure for the Adult Use Program
This sweeping fifty-page law creates the Cannabis Control Authority to regulate the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis product. The Act further lays the groundwork for licensing market participants and regulating appropriate use of cannabis; defining local control; testing, labeling, packaging and advertising of cannabis and cannabis products; and taxation. The Act also contains changes to the criminal laws of the Commonwealth. Companion to the Act are new laws addressing the testing, labeling and packaging of smokable hemp products and manufacturing of edible cannabis products. Additionally, the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board was created to address the impact of economic divestment, violence and criminal justice responses to community and individual needs through scholarships and grants.
While persons 21 years or older may possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use per household beginning on July 1, 2021, there are a host of regulations to be written in order to regulate the adult use market. These regulations will be the devil in the details of how the regulated market will work. Regardless, the Cannabis Control Act does establish the framework for adult use cannabis that is unique to Virginia and designed to promote and encourage participation from people and communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.
The Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) will consist of a Board of Directors, the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, the Chief Executive Officer and employees. The Board will have five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature, each with the possibility of serving two consecutive five-year terms. The Board is tasked with creating and enforcing regulations under which retail cannabis and cannabis products are possessed, sold, transported, distributed, and delivered. It is expected that the Board will begin discussing regulations next year and that applications for licenses for cannabis cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, cannabis testing facilities, wholesalers, and retail stores will begin to be accepted in 2023. Importantly, a Business Equity and Diversity Support Team, led by a Social Equity Liaison, and the Equity Reinvestment Board, led by the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, are to contribute to a plan to promote and encourage participation in the industry by people from disproportionately impacted communities.
Regulating Participation in the Market
The Act empowers the Board to establish a robust and diverse marketplace with many entry opportunities for market participants. Up to 450 cultivation licenses, 60 manufacturing licenses for the production of retail cannabis products, 25 wholesaler licenses and 400 licenses for retail stores can be granted. These numbers do not include the four permits granted to pharmaceutical processors (entities that cultivate and dispense medical cannabis) under the Commonwealth’s medical program.
In addition to the sheer number of licenses that can be granted, the Act devises a unique approach to addressing concerns of a concentration of licenses in too few hands and a market dominated by large multi-state operators. At the same time, it sets up a mechanism to capitalize two cannabis equity funds intended to benefit persons, families and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement through grants, scholarships and loans. Over-concentration and market dominance concerns are addressed by limiting a person to holding an equity interest in no more than one cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaler, retail or testing facility license. This eliminates the ability of companies to be vertically integrated from cultivation through retail sales operations. However, there are two exceptions to the impediment to vertical integration. First, the Board is authorized to develop regulations that permit small businesses to be vertically integrated and ensure that all licensees have an equal and meaningful opportunity to participate in the market. These regulations will be closely scrutinized by those looking to enter Virginia’s regulated market once they are proposed. Qualifying small businesses could benefit substantially from the economic advantages commensurate with being vertically integrated, assuming they have the access to the capital needed to achieve integration and operate successfully. The second exception allows permitted pharmaceutical processors and registered industrial hemp processors to hold multiple licenses if they pay $1 million to the Board (to be allocated to job training, the equity loan fund or equity reinvestment fund) and submit a diversity, equity and inclusion plan for approval and implementation. Consequently, Virginia is attempting to fund, in part, its ambitious social equity programs by monetizing the opportunity for these processors to participate vertically in the adult use market.
Those devilish details of how this market will function, and how onerous compliance obligations will be, will emanate from those yet to be proposed regulations covering many areas and subject matters including:
Outdoor cultivation by cultivation facilities;
A testing program;
An application process;
Packaging and labeling requirements;
Maximum THC level for retail products (not to exceed 5 mg per serving or 50 mg per package for edible products);
Record retention requirements;
Criteria for evaluating social equity license applications based on certain ownership standards;
Licensing preferences for qualified social equity applicants;
Low interest loan program standards;
Personal cultivation guidelines; and
Outdoor advertising restrictions.
Needless to say, the CCA Board has a lot work ahead in order to issue reasonable regulations that will carry out the dictates in the Act and encourage the development of a well-functioning marketplace delivering meaningful social equity opportunities.
Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debutThe application process for the five categories of licenses will be developed by the Board, along with application fee and annual license fee amounts. It is not clear how substantial these fees will be and what effect they will have on the ability of less-well-capitalized companies and individuals to compete in the market. The Act dictates that licenses are deemed nontransferable from person to person or location to location. However, it is not entirely clear that changes in ownership will be prohibited. The Act contemplates that changes in ownership will be permitted, at least as to retail store licensees, through a reapplication process. Perhaps the forthcoming regulations will add clarity to the transferability of licenses and address the use of management services agreements as a potential workaround to the limitations in license ownership.
Certain requirements particular to certain license-types are worthy of highlighting. For example, there are two classes of cultivation licenses. Class A cultivation licenses authorize cultivation of a certain number of plants within a certain number of square feet to be determined by the Board. Interestingly, Class B licenses are for cultivation of low total THC (no more than 1%) cannabis. Several requirements specific to retail stores are noteworthy. Stores cannot exceed 1,500 square feet, or make sales through drive-through windows, internet-based sales platforms or delivery services. Prohibitive local ordinances are not allowed; however, localities can petition for a referendum on the question of whether retail stores should be prohibited in their locality. Retail stores are allowed to sell immature plants and seek to support the home growers, an allowance that is fairly unique among the existing legal adult-use states.
Taxing Cannabis Sales
Given the perception that regulated cannabis markets add to state coffers, it is little surprise that Virginia’s retail market will be subject to significant taxes. The taxing system is straightforward and not complicated by a taxing regime related to product weight or THC content, for example. There is a 21% tax on retail sales by stores, in addition to the current sales tax rates. In addition, localities may, by ordinance, impose a 3% tax on retail sales. These taxes could result in a retail tax of approximately 30%.
Changes to Criminal Laws
Changes to the criminality of cannabis will have long lasting effects for many Virginians. These changes include:
Fines of no more than $25 and participation in substance abuse or education programs for illegal purchases by juveniles or persons 18 years or older;
Prohibition of warrantless searches based solely on the odor of cannabis;
Automatic expungement of records for certain former cannabis offenses;
Prohibition of “gifting” cannabis in exchange for nominal purchases of some other product;
Prohibition of consuming cannabis or cannabis products in public; and
Prohibition of consumption by drivers or passengers in a motor vehicle being driven, with consumption being presumed if cannabis in the passenger compartment is not in the original sealed manufacturer’s container.
These changes, and others, represent a balancing of public safety with lessons learned from the effects of the war on drugs.
The Act contains myriad other noteworthy provisions. For example, the Board must develop, implement and maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system for the industry. Plants being grown at home must be tagged with the grower’s name and driver’s license or state ID number. Licenses may be stripped from businesses that do not remain neutral while workers attempt to unionize. However, this provision will not become effective unless approved again by the legislature next year. Banks and credit unions are protected under state law for providing financial services to licensed businesses or for investing any income derived from the providing of such services. This provision is intended to address the lack of access to banking for cannabis businesses due to the federal illegality of cannabis by removing any perceived state law barriers for banks and credit unions to do business with licensed cannabis companies.
The adult use cannabis industry is coming to Virginia. Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debut. However, the criminal justice reforms and commitment to repairing harms related to past prohibition of cannabis are soon to be a present-day reality. Virginia is the first Southern state to take the path towards legal adult use cannabis. It is unlikely to be the last.
Update: On April 21, 2021, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the legislation into law, making Virginia the first state int he American South to legalize adult use cannabis.
On April 7, 2021, legislators in Virginia finally came to an agreement for their adult use cannabis legalization plan. Back in February of this year, lawmakers passed a bill to legalize adult use cannabis with a launch date of 2024, but Governor Ralph Northam wanted to move quicker than that.
Last week, Gov. Northam issued a number of amendments to the legalization bills (Senate Bill 1406 and House Bill 2312) that essentially tapers the time frame of legalization to July of this year. With the legislature approving those amendments yesterday, the state of Virginia has now finalized their legalization plans, setting in motion the launch of the very first legal adult use cannabis market in the American South.
Beginning July 1, 2021, Virginia will allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and up to four plants per household. The commercial cannabis market, and the regulatory framework accompanying it, will be set to legalize sales July 1, 2024.
The bill establishes the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory body overseeing the legal cannabis market. A five-member Board of Directors in that agency will develop and issue regulations and licenses. According to the bill, the Board can set the number of licenses, with a maximum of 400 retailers, 25 wholesalers, 450 cultivators and 60 manufacturers, aside from any medical cannabis and hemp processing license already issued. The Board is also in charge of licensing testing labs.
Vertical integration is not permitted under Virginia’s new legalization plan, but all of the medical cannabis licensees in the state are already vertically integrated. According to the bill, they can keep their vertical integration for a small fee of $1 million and after they submit a diversity, equity and inclusion plan.
In addition to Virginia’s normal 6% sales tax, a state tax of 21% is added to retail sales of adult use cannabis, excluding medical dispensaries. Local municipalities are allowed to issue up to 3% in additional taxes.
Update: The House Judiciary Committee has passed the legalization bill, HB0209, by a 6-3 vote. After moving out of the Judiciary Committee, the bill now awaits a floor hearing, which is expected to come within the next week or two during the legislative session that ends on April 2.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Wyoming have introduced a bill to legalize cannabis in the state’s legislature. First reported by Buckrail.com, HB0209 was assigned on March 2. The bill would legalize possession, home grow and sales for adults, as well as establish a regulatory framework for licensing, tracking and taxation.
In November 2020, voters in Montana and South Dakota passed ballot measures that legalize adult use and sales of cannabis. About a month after Election Day, the University of Wyoming conducted a poll that found roughly 54% of Wyoming residents now support legal adult use cannabis. In 2018, UW found that 85% of Wyoming residents support medical cannabis legalization.
In March of 2019, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed a bill into law that essentially legalized hemp in the state. That bill was a boon for the state’s agricultural economy, giving many farmers a much-needed boost in their crop diversity.
You can find the current version of HB0209 here. Sponsors of the bill include: Representatives Jared Olsen (R-Laramie), Mark Baker (R-Sweetwater) Eric Barlow (R-Campbell/Converse), Landon Brown (R-Laramie), Marshall Burt (L-Sweetwater), Cathy Connolly (D-Albany), Karlee Provenza (D-Albany), John Romero-Martinez (R-Laramie), Pat Sweeney (R-Natrona), Cyrus Western (R-Sheridan), Mike Yin (R-Teton) and Dan Zwonitzer (R-Laramie) and Senators Cale Case (R-Fremont) and Chris Rothfuss (D-Albany).
According to Buckrail, if the bill becomes law, Wyoming could get roughly $49.15 million in tax and license fee revenue in 2022. That number would mean a sizable windfall for the state that saw an 8.5% decline in tax revenue in 2020. Governor Gordon proposed budget cuts as high as 15% for agencies across the state last year. Most of the revenue generated from cannabis taxes would be earmarked for education.
On Friday, December 4, 2020, the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (the MORE Act), which would effectively legalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill (H.R. 3884) has several key components:
Most importantly, the bill would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances in the Controlled Substances Act, as well as other federal legislation such as the National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986. This would effectively end many of the obstacles created by the federal illegality of cannabis such as the lack of access to banking, tax consequences such as 280E, adverse immigration impacts and threats of federal criminal enforcement.
Second, not only does the bill preclude future prosecution for cannabis-related crimes, the bill is designed to be retroactive and would provide for the expungement of past non-violent cannabis offenses.
The bill creates a prescribed excise tax on cannabis and cannabis products. The funds collected from the taxes would be channeled into opportunity and reinvestment programs.
A Community Reinvestment Grant Program would be established aimed at the provision of services for “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” such as job training, education, literacy programs, mentoring, and substance use treatment programs;
A Cannabis Opportunity Program would be established providing state funds for small business loans in the cannabis industry targeted at social equity candidates; and
An Equitable Licensing Grant Program providing funds for states to implement equitable cannabis licensing programs aimed at minimizing “barriers to cannabis licensing and employment for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”
The bill would require all cannabis producers to obtain a federal permit. Cannabis businesses would need to be licensed at the state, local, and federal levels to operate.
This MORE Act is a substantial step in cannabis legislation. Reactions to the proposed legislation have been mixed. While the bill does include some measures aimed at social equity, critics of the bill claim it does not go far enough. Similarly, while the bill includes a federal permitting provision, this would be the beginning of a nascent federal regulatory scheme.
What does this mean for your business?
While this bill passed in the US House of Representatives, it would still need to pass in the U.S. Senate this term, which by most accounts does not seem likely. However, the passage of this bill signifies the progress that has been made and provides insight on what further legislation may look like.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the presidential and congressional election results.
While the votes continue to come in for the presidential and congressional elections and we have some concrete results materializing, cannabis legalization has emerged as a clear winner across the board. Five states had initiatives on the ballot to legalize cannabis in one form or another and voters in all five states approved those measures by wide margins.
As of this writing, 15 states now have legalized adult use cannabis and 36 states have legalized medical cannabis. That is a significant portion of the United States with some form of legal cannabis, even without counting the emergent hemp markets across the country.
After a tight race and mail-in vote counts diminishing President Trump’s lead days following the election, Joe Biden has won the White House. Most cannabis industry stakeholders see this as a win for cannabis as both Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris have voiced support for federal decriminalization of cannabis. The vocal support is very much so tied to their campaign on ending racial injustices and systemic racism, citing the failed war on drugs for disproportionately harming communities of color.
While it is looking like the Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives, it is still unclear which party will control the Senate. That question likely won’t be answered until January 2021, when voters in Georgia will decide on two Senate seats in runoff elections that will decide which party gets the majority. With a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, it is entirely possible that the Biden administration could decriminalize cannabis on a federal level within the next four years. Without that majority, however, it is possible reform could come at a much slower pace.
As more states legalize cannabis, their neighbors see the potential economic benefits and want to cash in on the movement. Just take a look at the West Coast.
Well, New Jersey legalized adult use cannabis. So now it appears we are in a waiting game to see which neighboring state will move forward before the other. Alyssa Jank, consulting services manager at Brightfield Group, predicts cannabis sales in New Jersey to reach about $460 million in 2021, up from about $94 million this year. She says the market could reach $1.5 billion by 2025.
Sam D’Arcangelo, director of the Cannabis Voter Project, a division of HeadCount, says the New Jersey measure is pretty bare-bones, so the legislature will need to pass enabling legislation that actually creates the adult-use program. “It’s tough to tell exactly what that legislation will look like or how long it will take to pass, but it’s possible it will be approved pretty quickly,” says D’Arcangelo. “Tonight’s results could set off a domino effect that inspires lawmakers to move forward with legalization in a number of states throughout the region.”
Let’s take a closer look at Arizona: Back in 2016, Arizona had a measure on the ballot to legalize adult use cannabis that failed to get enough votes. Things have clearly changed in the state in the last four years because Prop. 207 (the 2020 ballot initiative to legalize adult use cannabis) won 59.8% to 40.2%. Arizona now joins a massive West Coast bloc of states slowly creeping inland that have legalized adult use cannabis, including, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and now Arizona, not to mention Montana. Drug Policy Alliance’s Emily Kaltenbach believes that New Mexico will follow suit as well, with three out of four voters in the state in favor of it.
Voters in Mississippi approved a medical cannabis program by a wide margin with almost 74% in favor. Even more encouraging, voters in the state rejected the legislature’s attempt to hijack the initiative with their own alternative measure that would have involved developing their own program as they see fit without any sort of deadline.
While Montana can tend to lean slightly Democrat, it is surrounded by heavily Republican-dominated states like Wyoming and Idaho. With both Montana and South Dakota voters approving adult use legalization measures, this presents a potential inroad for cannabis to reach far more conservative states in the Northern Rockies and beyond.
Greg Kaufman Partner at Eversheds Sutherland and frequent Cannabis Industry Journal contributor, says this election puts considerable pressure on Congress to take some action on one or more of the cannabis-related bills currently pending. “In several states, cannabis was more popular than the winning presidential candidate, regardless of the party of the winning candidate,” says Kaufman. “This suggests that cannabis is not a partisan issue, nor should it be.”
The 15 states that have legal adult use cannabis now represents about 34% of the population in our country. “During the most divisive election in modern U.S. history, Americans demonstrated unity around at least one issue – cannabis policy reform,” says Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association. He says the victories we saw this week are commendable and will lead to a lot of new jobs, tax revenue and thousands of fewer arrests, but there is still a lot of work to be done. “We look forward to building on this progress as we continue to work with Congress to end the conflict between outdated federal laws and the growing number of states with regulated cannabis markets, and help undo the racially and economically disparate harms caused by prohibition.”
While we wait to hear who will control the Senate in 2021, which will have a massive impact on cannabis reform, we leave you with this great quote from Aaron Smith: “There is still a lot of work to do, but the wind is at our backs.”
As states grapple with flagging tax revenues and soaring unemployment as a result of the pandemic, governors and state legislators are facing a quandary. Either cut back on programs that voters like, or increase taxes to keep them funded. According to a recent assessment by iUNU, many legislatures will look to the booming business of legal cannabis as a revenue source.
“For those states that have only made incremental steps towards legalization within their jurisdiction… there’s going to be pressure to initiate, whether it’s through medical marijuana programs or the expansion into recreational,” says Martin Glass, a partner at Jenner & Block who specializes in mergers & acquisitions and securities transactions.
In recent months, the average per-store retail sale of cannabis increased in legalized states – a telling change given the current state of the economy. Other facts – a loyal consumer base, proven health benefits and strong external investment – all point to a dependable industry. Mr. Glass saw this as a sign that cannabis is more stable than most believe: “The industry has proven to be quite resilient… it has absorbed the COVID-19 shock very well.”
Not only is cannabis a dependable industry, it’s also an expanding one. In 2019, global revenue rose to $15 billion, a 48% increase from the prior year. By 2020, economists expect that number to reach $20 billion. Kristin Baldwin, executive director of the Cannabis Alliance, added some perspective: “Right now, we’re at about 240,000 people employed according to the latest numbers I have. Maybe even 250,000. In King County, which is the largest county in Washington and where Seattle is, we had a 22% increase in sales in March alone.”
In the United States, the revenue from annual sales increased by nearly 40% from 2018 to 2019, rising 3.3 billion over the course of the year. This growth is expected to continue at a similar rate in the coming years, forecasted to hit $29.7 billion in revenue by 2025. These growth statistics are impressive and especially attractive as state legislatures and governors search for options to balance their budgets.
The industry also is logging similarly impressive growth on the employment side. The cannabis industry was recently dubbed “the fastest growing job market in the country” by CNBC, leaping an estimated 110% from 2017 to 2019 and hitting six figures in real numbers during that three-year period. The industry turned in those impressive numbers while constrained to 33 states (11, if evaluated from a recreational standpoint), leaving plenty of room for growth.
Baldwin agreed. “I think employment will grow along with the sales just because you are going to need budtenders, delivery drivers, and farmers,” says Baldwin. “For example, in California, Oregon, and Washington – highly regulated systems – there’s still going to be a significant amount of growth because there’s a significant amount of demand.”
Heading into budget negotiations in 2021, states are facing huge revenue gaps. Right now, those dismissing cannabis are, as Glass says, “leaving a lot of money on the table” by failing to take advantage of a major economic resource. Not only does the industry produce tax revenue to expedite states’ recoveries, as legalization expands, the cannabis industry has the ability to provide thousands of jobs.
Still dubious? Baldwin shared this fascinating piece of information: “It’s a generational shift that’s occurring as we speak. The fastest growing consumer group in cannabis right now is women over the age of 40.”
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