Capitol Confidential: How cannabis laws are changing in your state this week
Editor’s note: This week we introduce Capitol Confidential, 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.
Florida judges skeptical of 2022 legalization
On Tuesday, one of two currently proposed 2022 ballot measures to legalize adult-use cannabis in Florida got a chilly reception before the state Supreme Court. Justices picked apart the measure’s summary language with challenges that verged on the pedantic.
Florida justices picked apart a proposed legalization amendment with challenges that verged on the pedantic.
Also this week, the contentious fight over state-mandated vertical integration of licensed medical marijuana businesses continued to play out before the Supreme Court. The outcome could have major repercussions for the industry and patients. In CBD and hemp news, a pair of bills clarifying oversight and use of these commodities won unanimous approval before committees on Tuesday, including one that would ban certain products for people under 21.
The bills would clarify rules on hemp seeds and the packaging of hemp products, but the Senate version would also restrict the sale of inhalant hemp and CBD products—such as joints and vape pens—to people 21 and older.
Oregon considers vape ban, hemp tracking
This week kicked off a controversial effort to ban flavored nicotine vape products in Oregon. A bill to be heard this session, which began Monday, would ban all “flavored inhalant delivery systems” except those that taste like tobacco. The ban would not include cannabis products or federally approved devices designed to help people quit smoking.
A track-and-trace system for hemp: Is it really necessary?
Another bill would ban internet, mail, and telephone sales of vape products. Meanwhile, a controversial hemp-tracking rule lost steam as lawmakers worked to pass legislation to give the state Agriculture Department more authority over the state hemp industry. A provision in one bill would have required hemp plants be tagged and tracked individually, similar to how high-THC cannabis is regulated. The industry called the requirement onerous and unnecessary, and supporters now say they’ll reconsider the proposal.
Quick hits, state by state
Colorado: With a federal banking bill stalled, Gov. Jared Polis said last week that the state has an obligation “to do what we can with the tools that we have” to provide financial services to the legal cannabis industry. He ordered his administration to provide regulatory clarity and identify legislative opportunities to better support cannabis banking at the state level.
Connecticut: With a newly introduced adult-use bill, Connecticut may be on its way to joining a growing number of legal-cannabis states in the Northeast. The bill surfaced Thursday, a day after Gov. Ned Lamont renewed his campaign pledge to legalize during his annual State of the State address.
Georgia: How do you tell whether someone’s carrying a truckload of illicit cannabis or state-legal hemp? Make hemp workers carry a license. That’s the aim of House Bill 847, heard by a House committee that chose not to vote on the measure due to ongoing questions about how much to charge for the licenses and whether private colleges should be allowed to engage in hemp research.
Hawaii: There are literally dozens of cannabis bills before Hawaii’s Legislature, with goals ranging establishing a hemp program to allowing MMJ dispensary sales of seeds, plant cuttings, and infused edibles. It’s too much to list here, so go read the complete rundown. On Tuesday a state Senate committee tentatively approved a bill that would decriminalize possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. The current limit—which took effect only weeks ago—is 3.5 grams.
Illinois: Frustrated with the slow start to legal adult-use sales? That’s actually pretty normal in a newly legal state, and state officials and cannabis policy experts said this week that it was all part of the plan to prevent a rush to market by would-be business owners eager to cash in. Regulators wanted to “intentionally slow things down to make sure we made space for new entrance to the market,” said Toi Hutchinson, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s chief cannabis adviser.
Indiana: A punitive Indiana bill that would’ve increased charges for possessing small amounts of cannabis fizzled this week in the Legislature. The measure, introduced by Republican lawmakers after they grew frustrated with an Indianapolis prosecutor’s refusal to prosecute possession cases, died Monday when its sponsor, Sen. Mike Young (R-Indianapolis), failed to call it to action before a legislative deadline.
Kentucky: Good news for the state’s ongoing push to legalize medical marijuana: A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that nine out of 10 Kentucky adults support allowing the purchase and use of cannabis if a doctor recommends it. Are you one of them? Call your representatives.
Maine: Cannabis could soon be legally delivered to your door in Maine, which is planning to launch its adult-use retail market this spring, nearly four years after voters approved legalization. Home delivery is one of at least a dozen cannabis-related bills lawmakers are considering as the legislative session kicks off in Augusta.
Maryland: Medical marijuana patients such as teen Connor Sheffield are supporting a bill that would allow students with valid doctors’ recommendations to access medical marijuana on school grounds, for example in a school nurse’s office. Sheffield, who has a condition called gastrointestinal dysmotility, says cannabis helped free him from confinement in a bed, allowing him to live a happier, healthier life. Senate Bill 331 remained pending this week before two legislative committees.
Massachusetts: Amid a federal investigation into demands by local governments for outsized payments from cannabis businesses, the Massachusetts House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to further restrict such payments. The payments in host community agreements are already capped at 3%, but cannabis companies and some regulators complain that cities and counties routinely push for higher amounts. The measure still needs Senate approval and the governor’s signature to become law.
Michigan: On the heels of the VAPI outbreak caused by illicit vape cartridges, House lawmakers in Michigan voted overwhelmingly to ban vitamin E acetate in vape products. The legislation, which would make adding vitamin E acetate a misdemeanor, now goes to the Senate.
Minnesota: Top Minnesota Democrats are preparing to unveil an adult-use cannabis bill that one claimed will be “the best legalization bill in the country to date.” Noting the bill could be heard by as many as 23 different legislative committees after its introduction, House Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL) said Tuesday that it’s “highly likely that it will take more than a year to get it done.”
Mississippi: Voters are digging into the details of a medical marijuana legalization measure that will appear on the Nov. 2020 ballot. Introduced last month, the proposal would allow qualified patients to access cannabis through state-licensed treatment, create a state registry for patients and caretakers, and establish an initial 20 qualifying conditions.
Missouri: With adult-use cannabis legal in neighboring Illinois, advocates in Missouri have begun collecting signatures to qualify a legalization measure for the state’s 2020 ballot. Supporters need 160,199 signatures by May 3 to qualify the proposal, which would cap tax at 15%, allow local communities to opt-out, and offer expungement of some cannabis-related convictions.
Montana: Two groups in Montana are working in parallel to qualify competing legalization ballot initiatives for the November election. New Approach Montana and MontanaCan each have submitted proposals that vary in specifics. After finalizing the language of each proposal, supporters will need to gather thousands of signatures. Polls show a slim majority—just 51%—favoring adult-use legalization, with 37% opposed.
New Hampshire: Medical cannabis patients may soon be able to grow their own under legislation approved Thursday by the state Senate. Senate Bill 420 now goes to the House before going to Gov. Chris Sununu, who last year vetoed a similar homegrow measure after it was passed by lawmakers.
New Mexico: Lawmakers are seriously considering adult-use legalization, with a committee last week giving it a “do pass” recommendation. Senate Bill 115 still needs to clear two more legislative committees, however, before it goes to the Senate floor and, potentially, the House. Time is ticking—the state’s short legislative session is nearly halfway done.
New York: Lawmakers are gearing up for another fight over whether and how to legalize cannabis. Last year the state seemed poised to pass a legalization bill, but the effort fell short as proponents bickered over details. Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month presented an updated vision for the of the proposal, which many see as an improvement, but success is still far from certain.
North Dakota: Lawmakers heard from adult-use legalization supporters and opponents on Tuesday and decided to proceed with a plan to scope out how legalizing might affect the state’s economy, public health, legal system, and existing medical marijuana program. Proponents are working to qualify two separate adult-use legalization measures for the 2020 ballot.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma patients, medical marijuana industry workers, and supporters took to the state Capitol on Friday to urge lawmakers to oppose a slate of new restrictions on medical cannabis. Bills would prevent advertising on billboards, increase licensing fees for growers and dispensaries, and make it more difficult to obtain zoning approval for cannabis businesses. “We’re not asking for anything except just let us be a business,” said Linda Jerchau, a grower at Hypnotic Farms in Claremore. “We’re legal. Let us stay legal.”
Rhode Island: Lawmakers backed down from their tussle over cannabis regulation with Gov. Gina Raimondo, voting to remove a “legislative veto” provision that gave the Legislature a final say over medical marijuana and hemp regulations. Proponents of the veto provision said the governor overreached when she imposed restrictions on new dispensaries last year, including a ban on cultivation. Meanwhile, Raimundo has been pitching an unusual adult-use legalization plan that would sell products through state-owned stores operated by private contractors.
South Dakota: A plan to allow industrial hemp production took a step forward this week as a legislative committee unanimously approved a bill to legalize and regulate the plant and its products. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a similar effort last year and had said she’d do the same this year, but she changed her position a month ago.
Tennessee: Some lawmakers want to increase the amount of cannabis that qualifies to be a violation of “simple possession” in the state, doubling the limit from one-half ounce to a full ounce. The measure would also prevent police from making the inference that someone intends to sell the drug merely because they possess up to an ounce. Another lawmaker has introduced a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. “We know the odds are stacked against us,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the bill’s sponsor, adding that the point of the bill is to “continue the conversation.”
Vermont: Vermont legalized cannabis for adults in 2018, but it remains illegal to sell it. Under a bill recently approved by a legislative committee, commercial sales would be allowed but wouldn’t start for almost two years. Sales would be taxed at a 20% combined rate, and THC would be limited: 30% in cannabis flower and 60% in concentrates.
Virginia: The push to legalize cannabis fell short, with lawmakers saying this week they’ll revisit the idea in 2021. Until then they’ll consider decriminalization: A House committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would prevent people from receiving jail time for low-level cannabis convictions.
Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee’s push to outlaw flavored nicotine vape products took a turn on Monday when lawmakers amended a proposed bill such that it will in fact allow the sale of such products to adults 21 and older. The bill now aims to make products safer by banning additives such as vitamin E acetate, which was linked to VAPI deaths last year, and limiting the amount of nicotine in the products.
West Virginia: Medical marijuana is legal here, but it’s still nearly impossible for most patients to get. A legislative package would allow patients to use raw cannabis flower in addition to processed products. A committee on Wednesday approved the change, with Del. Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) saying, “We have a lot of sick and suffering West Virginians that could benefit from this program and we’re not putting their needs first and that’s sad.” Another sad thing: Even if the bill succeeds, cannabis flower may not be available to patients for another two years.