Capitol Confidential is a pop-up column tracking dozens of cannabis bills and initiatives across the nation. We’ll continue to offer a weekly roundup of political action through the end of the legislative season in June.
Colorado: Stop firing people for legal activity, boss
Think it’s outrageous that you can be fired on Monday for a joint you smoked, legally, on Friday night? That could soon change in Colorado. Current law prohibits employers from firing workers for engaging in lawful off-duty activities, including consuming alcohol. But cannabis isn’t included in that protection because it’s illegal under federal law. This coming Wednesday, the House Business and Labor Committee is scheduled to consider a bill, HB 20-1089, that would extend the protection to cannabis consumption by clarifying that the legal and protected activity must only be lawful under state law, regardless of federal statutes.
Kentucky making progress on medical legalization
Legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky passed a House panel on a 17-1 vote last Wednesday. Lead sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said he thinks his bill can pass the House with more than 70 votes. The fight is still to come in the Senate, where lawmakers have expressed hesitancy to take up the issue. “It’s a balancing test of do the goods outweigh the bads,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said last week. Meanwhile lawmakers moved forward with a plan to ask the federal government to increase the THC limit of industrial hemp from 0.3% to 1%, which would be a boon to the state’s large hemp industry.
Quick hits, state by state
Alabama: Republican Sen. Tim Melson (Florence) last week introduced a bill to legalize some forms of medical marijuana. Senate Bill 165 is a revised version of a bill Melson introduced last year, which passed the Senate but failed in the House. Vaping and smoking products would be forbidden under the proposal, which would allow patients with qualifying conditions access only to tablets, topicals, and certain types of edibles. Products would be taxed at 9%. State Attorney General Steve Marshall is against the measure, warning that medical marijuana could spark the next opioid crisis. The bill’s first major hurdle comes this Wednesday with a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Florida: House Speaker Jose Oliva said last week he’d like to cap the amount of THC in medical marijuana, calling the matter a priority for his chamber. “I think it’s important that we pass it,” the Miami Lakes Republican said. “We’re seeing different strains. Now in Europe, there are strains that are 100 times stronger.” (Fact check: There are no such strains.) No bill has yet been filed in the House or Senate, but Oliva says he’d be willing to introduce one.
Hawaii: A Senate committee last week granted preliminary approval to a plan that allows the sale of edibles at dispensaries. Don’t stop your DIY tincture operation just yet, though. Even if the plan passes the Legislature, the first edibles aren’t expected in stock for many months. Next step: Senate Judiciary Committee.
Iowa: Lawmakers last week advanced reforms to the state’s medical marijuana program, including some commonsense measures (like putting the Public Health Department in charge of medical cards, instead of the Department of Transportation) and a controversial one: limiting the amount of THC patients can buy within 90 days. Iowa already limits individual products to no more than 3% THC. The current proposal would prohibit patients from purchasing more than 4.5 grams of total THC within a 90-day period. Some lawmakers have indicated they want to increase the proposed limit. “How we can pull back and do this to patients here in the state of Iowa is very disconcerting to me as a legislator and a pharmacist,” said Rep. John Forbes (D-Urbandale).
Maine: With the state’s adult-use cannabis stores set to open this spring, nearly four years after voters approved them, lawmakers last week considered key questions about the coming market. At a two-hour hearing Monday on proposed cannabis law changes, an “underlying theme of David versus Goliath echoed through much of the public testimony,” the Portland Press Herald reported. One contentious provision would exempt state-licensed cannabis businesses’ trade secrets, security practices, and operating procedures from Maine’s public records law. Another would qualify alcohol-based extraction as a hazardous process, akin to extraction with more dangerous chemicals like butane, which opponents say would put undue burdens on cottage-industry producers.
Massachusetts: The state’s cannabis industry is humming, and lawmakers have their sights on a number of key issues this session. Gov. Charlie Baker’s imperfect bill on cannabis-impaired driving is already off the table, but a bill to allow hemp-derived CBD in edibles and a measure greenlighting local pilot programs for cannabis cafes could both be moving forward. The Boston Globe recently checked in on the status of seven key bills.
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Minnesota: Local TV news reports about a forthcoming bill to legalize adult use cannabis are “swirling” in St. Paul ahead of the coming legislative session. House Leader Ryan Winkler has already teased that the forthcoming legislation “should be the best legalization bill in the country to date,” but he’s also acknowledged that it’s “highly likely that it will take more than a year to get it done.”
Missouri: Lawmakers dug into the muck of Missouri’s medical marijuana business-licensing process last week at a meeting of the House Oversight Committee. The Springfield News-Leader’s story is worth reading in its entirety. At last week’s hearing, a state senator called the process “one of the biggest boondoggles I have seen in my business life.”
New Jersey: Patients may soon be able to get medical marijuana recommendations electronically under a bill approved last week by the state Senate. S-619 now heads to the Assembly for consideration. Meanwhile, an Assembly committee moved forward two bills last week aimed at treating cannabis more like its peer industries. One would protect insurance companies from retaliation by state or local governments if the businesses work with cannabis clients. Another would require workers’ comp to cover medical cannabis costs if another treatment had already failed.
New Mexico: New Mexico’s bid to legalize adult-use cannabis this year is “all but doomed” the Associated Press reported last week. A Senate committee has rejected the proposal, and the state’s short legislative session ends this week, leaving little time to salvage the measure.
New York: The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo doubts lawmakers can manage to legalize adult-use cannabis this year unless it’s included as part of the state budget. Last year Cuomo also included legalization in his original budget, but the provision was removed later in the session. A separate standalone bill to legalize last year ultimately died in the Legislature as stakeholders fought over details of the legislation and struggled to build support.
NEW: During an interview, @NYGovCuomo said he didn’t believe a marijuana bill would win a vote in the state Senate outside of the budget in an election year. Asked if marijuana would be approved in the budget, he said “I’m optimistic” and then laughed.https://t.co/FRymBaAl97
— Jimmy Vielkind (@JimmyVielkind) February 12, 2020
North Carolina: Ahead of the state’s legislative session kickoff in April, North Carolina law enforcement leaders are pushing for a bill to ban smokable forms of hemp, which they say is difficult for them to distinguish from high-THC cannabis. The state currently has 1,400 hemp farmers and grows 17,500 acres of the crop, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Police say the current situation sometimes prevents officers from stopping people to search them for drugs. ““In many cases, people who are transporting marijuana are also transporting much more serious drugs,” Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina State Sheriffs’ Association, told public radio station WFAE. “Often transporting stolen weapons … stolen goods. And a lot of times it’s the marijuana charge that gets the officer the opportunity to search the vehicle.” OK, officer.
North Dakota: A group that was aiming to put a legalization measure on the state’s June ballot is setting its sights on November 2020 instead. Signatures to qualify the ND for Freedom of Cannabis Act for June’s ballot would have been due last Monday. Sponsoring committee chairwoman Jody Vetter said she’s confident organizers can submit the necessary number of signatures by the new deadline of July 6. Another group, Legalize ND, is trying to qualify a separate legalization measure for November’s ballot.
Ohio: A state panel has rejected “being a Bengals or Browns fan” as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. It was one of a number of proposed qualifying conditions to be added to the state’s list. Three proposed conditions moved forward for consideration: anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and cachexia, a wasting disease sometimes associated with AIDS or cancer. State officials will accept public comment through the end of February.
Oklahoma: The Secretary of State’s office has OK’d a signature drive for a cannabis legalization measure that the Tulsa World says “may do more to confuse the issue than advance it.” The measure is being led by Paul Tay, whom the newspaper describes as “a perennial Tulsa political candidate currently serving nine months in the Tulsa County jail for outraging public decency.” The proposal is separate from another campaign working to qualify a legalization measure for the ballot, which could complicate organizing efforts.
Oregon: Oregon’s push to ban flavored vape products is over, at least for now, after sponsor Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham) determined it lacked the necessary Senate votes to pass. As now amended, the bill would instead create a program to license all nicotine retailers. A separate November ballot proposal aims to tax vape products in the state for the first time.
Pennsylvania: The push to legalize in Pennsylvania is back on. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) last week announced that he’ll soon be introducing what he described as “the most comprehensive and well-vetted legislation providing for a legal adult-use cannabis industry.” The measure is an updated version of a similar bill he filed last year.
South Dakota: A plan to legalize industrial hemp in the state won approval of the state House last week with little fanfare, passing on a 54-12 vote after less than five minutes on the floor. HB 1008 now goes to the Senate. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a hemp legalization effort last year but has said she’s changed her position.
Utah: A bill introduced last week would clear certain criminal convictions for people caught with medical marijuana or who failed drug tests after using CBD that contained trace amounts of THC. SB 121 would not apply to anyone convicted of distributing cannabis or people with felony convictions.
Virginia: Lawmakers recently gave up on a plan to legalize cannabis in Virginia, then last week voted to take a smaller step forward. Both the Senate and House of Delegates passed similar legislation that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, reducing fines and removing jail time entirely. Gov. Ralph Northam has said he’s in favor of the change, clearing the path toward it becoming law. Attorney General Mark Herring, meanwhile, said in a statement that the goal remains full legalization: “Passing decriminalization in both the House and the Senate is a really important first step in the right direction on Virginia’s journey towards legal and regulated adult use, but this cannot be the end.”