It seems commonplace that among the main news stories of the day, is a proposed federal congressional bill addressing cannabis reform. There are at least 10 right now with the most promising ones featuring bipartisan support. “Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), adding “it ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals.”
The two main strategies to end cannabis prohibition in the U.S. involve either legalizing at the federal level or creating immunity for states that pass their own legalization laws.
SAFE Banking Act
The SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) would allow banks to work with the cannabis industry in legal states. This bill is unique because it has bipartisan support and it’s being moved along via committee hearing by Senate Banking Committee Chair Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) whose home state completely outlaws cannabis. Once opposed to any hearings due to the federal illegality of cannabis, Sen. Crapo has reconsidered. “We now need to, I think, move forward and see if there’s some way we can draft legislation that will deal with the issue,” said Crapo, according to Leafly News.
“Senator Crapo’s willingness to hold a hearing recently on the SAFE Banking Act was very encouraging,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “We’re thrilled to learn that he is open to solving this important issue and we are looking forward to working with the senator,” he added.
Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, or The STATES Act (S. 3032), sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would amend the Controlled Substances Act and exempts state-approved marijuana activity from federal enforcement. In other words, states with a medical, adult use, or combined program could operate without ever fearing federal interference. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and reintroduced in 2019 with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) signing on as a co-sponsor. The STATES Act was in response to the rescindment of the Cole memo, which President Obama created to protect legal cannabis state from federal interference.
However, there are those who believe the bill stops short of addressing racial and social matters. “We need to reinvest in those individuals and those communities that have been disproportionately impacted [by marijuana prohibition],” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, said. “The STATES Act does not do that, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m opposed to it.”
The two main strategies to end cannabis prohibition in the U.S. involve either legalizing at the federal level or creating immunity for states that pass their own legalization laws.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or The MORE Act, co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), assuages those concerns. Considered the most comprehensive cannabis bill yet, it takes a three-pronged approach that addresses descheduling, state-control, and racial and social justice. If passed, the bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allow states to write their own policies, and require cannabis convictions to be expunged or resentenced.
It creates further protections from the federal government, including prohibiting federal agencies from denying benefits to people found using marijuana and preventing immigrants from being deported for a cannabis-related conviction. The bill also sets up a 5 percent cannabis tax to establish grants for minorities and low-income communities.
“Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” Nadler said in a statement. “It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior.”
This one is perhaps the most significant because it’s an Amendment that passed in the House of Representatives and is attached to an appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for fiscal year 2020. Specifically, the Amendment prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state cannabis laws–covering D.C. and U.S. territories–including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales. It was approved by a floor vote of 267-165 with bipartisan support and is sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Tom McClintock (R-CA).
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.”
Each of these pieces of proposed legislation come with “even if” or “even though” caveats. For example, even if the MORE Act were to pass the House, it would have a tougher time in the Senate. Even though the House approved the amendment that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state cannabis laws, will it achieve passage in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who, though a champion of legalizing hemp, is opposed to cannabis? Still, the historic amount of cannabis bills and resolutions being drafted and considered by both chambers speaks to progress of cannabis legislation.
Cannabis Legalization News – Thomas Howard Podcast Featuring Andy Poticha
Tom Howard: It’s clearly 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, and so it’s cannabis legalization news time. We’ve had a huge week in cannabis legalization news. Illinois became … hey Miggy … what number is it?
Tom Howard: 11. The big number 11, and we also have a guest joining us. It’s Andy Poticha. Say hi, Andy.
Andy Poticha: Hello.
Tom Howard: Awesome. Well, we’re going to round up the news, and then Andy is going to discuss with us his unique knowledge about something that’s so hot right now. The cost of getting into a cannabis cultivation facility in Illinois. They’re called, The Craft Grows or a dispensary, but first, I think the biggest news of the week was of course that JB Pritzker signed it into law. Now, it’s number 11, but there’s been a lot of other really cool federal news, and Miggy have you heard anything on the west coast? Is there anything that you’re working on for weednews.co.
Miggy: No. Not me, per se. I mean state-by-state has been great also with New York and Texas and Ohio, but those are all more medical and one is decriminalization. The Banking Act.
Tom Howard: The Banking Act. I’m actually going to present to everybody, that’s another thing. So FinCEN did just release, and says that FinCEN publishes these on a quarterly basis, but of course it takes them a little bit of time to get the actual date. This came out this past week, and it’s current as of April 1. When the quarter ends here in about a week for June, these numbers will be updated and then FinCEN will publish that in another couple of months.
Tom Howard: But you can see the sharp uptick right there. Q3 2018. Basically JB Pritzker won, and then maybe this was also some New York thing. They don’t really publish those, but this is the number of banking institutions that are lending to marijuana. Interestingly enough, the thing that you see when you are lending to marijuana a lot, and hopefully my screen was on there, is –
Miggy: Hey, Tom.
Tom Howard: They file nondisclosure agreements and all that other stuff to kind of keep it secret, but this uptick, and a fairly large uptick according to the number of banks that are actually banking cannabis, somewhat corresponds to the stuff that’s been coming out of Congress. This is a really fresh news. This is from the Marijuana Moment, just from like a half hour ago.
Miggy: Oh nice.
Tom Howard: Right. And if you’re not familiar with what’s going on in the federal level, especially when it comes to banking and cannabis, it has to do with two things. One is the defunding of the war against marijuana for everything, not just medical, but state law marijuana. Second is the continuing pushing of the Safe Banking Act, placing it into the funding bills itself. As we get up the fiscal cliff, the fiscal cliff happens every year September 30 because that’s when the federal budget actually ends. The budget that will be passed that will continue to fund, that’s how hemp was legalized. That’s how the first war on marijuana was defunded back in 2014, through Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment just for the medical. It looks like the budget for 2020, plus Illinois going open for business, will really signal it’s time to go. It’s time to lend to cannabis businesses, and I would not be surprised if New York next year legalizes it. I think 2020’s going to be the biggest year for cannabis legalization ever. What about you, Miggy?
Miggy: No, I totally agree, especially since the House agrees to protect the legal states. That’s a huge step towards legalization, like you said. Just like jury nullification but in a financial way of how to attack prohibition.
Tom Howard: There’s jury nullification. That’s great, but you’re already being prosecuted. You’re on trial. Imagine if you could just stand up during a trial and be like, “Excuse me, Your Honor. There’s no money for this trial.”
Miggy: Yeah, yeah. That’s for sure. Defunding the war on drugs. I think that’s the best way to put it. FYI, when you had the chart on the screen, on YouTube, I was a predominant screen.
Tom Howard: That gets back to, I really need, and if anybody’s out there that is majoring in YouTube, and also social media SEO and has a paralegal degree, I will hire you because I am doing this all myself. And it’s sad. Somebody could be managing this, and then I could get back to work for the clients, which are just blowing up my phones. It’s going great, but that’s one of the reasons why we brought our guest on. He has actually designed and built cannabis facilities in Illinois. Andy.
Andy Poticha: Yes?
Tom Howard: How many of these facilities have you built?
Andy Poticha: In Illinois, we have completed four dispensaries and one cultivation, and are working on one cultivation and another dispensary at this point. That’s just in Illinois. We’ve been doing work in other states outside of Illinois as well. We’re working on our 8th state, actually.
“In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation,” said Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker, following the passage of House Bill 1438 on Friday, May 31, 2019. The 66-47 vote made Illinois the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis and the first to do so through the state legislature. Vermont’s program was approved through its legislature but does not permit commercial sales. Approval in other states occurred via referendum.
The bill, which passed 38-17 in the state Senate two days earlier, focuses on social equity and addressing Illinois’ financial deficit. Chicago Crain’s Business reports that, “Illinois expects sales to eventually reach $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year, producing $500 million in revenue for the cash-strapped state.”
Following the November, 2018 midterm elections, we commented on what Governor Pritzker’s election victory would portend for the future of cannabis in Illinois. Once he signs the bill, it will be the law of the land.
Here’s what you need to know about the new law:
Growing and Selling
Recreational sales will begin on January 1, 2020, with priority given to businesses with current medical licenses. They will be eligible to start cultivating, producing, and selling cannabis for retail use.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Only the 20 existing licensed medical marijuana cultivation facilities will be licensed to grow it initially. Next year, craft growers may apply for licenses to cultivate up to 5,000 square feet, with preference given to applicants from minority areas disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, such as the South and West sides of Chicago. Medical marijuana dispensaries and new retail stores will be licensed to sell it.”
The bill allows for Illinois residents 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams or roughly one ounce of cannabis flower or bud. They are also allowed five grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product. Adults visiting the state can possess up to 15 grams of cannabis. Growing plants at home will remain illegal except for certified medical patients.
Impact on Convictions
Central to the bill was the expungement of cannabis convictions.
“While the usage of cannabis has been the same across all racial groups, the actual incarceration charges have been shown to be seven times more likely for people of color than Caucasians,” said Illinois State Senator. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the Senate bill’s main sponsor. “This bill is going to set the model, I believe, the gold standard, for how to approach social equity issues related to cannabis legalization.”
Here’s what’s at stake for convicted felons, according to the Chicago Tribune: “The governor will pardon past convictions for possession of up to 30 grams, with the attorney general going to court to expunge or delete public records of a conviction or arrest. For possession of 30 to 500 grams, an individual or a state’s attorney may petition the court to vacate and expunge the conviction, but prosecutors may object, with a judge to make the decision.”
Per ABC News and the Chicago Tribune, consumers will be taxed in the following way:
- A 10% tax will be levied on cannabis products containing less than 35% THC
- 20% for cannabis-infused products like edibles
- 25% for THC concentrations of more than 35%
Additional state and local taxes apply and can be as high as 9.75%, including:
- 3% municipality
- 3.75% county in unincorporated areas
- 3% in Cook County (Chicago)
Opting In or Out
Similar to other adult use programs, local governments may opt in or out. According the Chicago Tribune, “Municipalities and counties may ban cannabis businesses within their boundaries, but may not ban individual possession. Any person, business or landlord may prohibit use on private property. Colleges and universities may continue to prohibit marijuana use.”
Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 illegal drug by the federal government; however, federal law enforcement tends not to prosecute possession of small amounts or businesses complying with state programs.
Medical cannabis was also a winner at the eleventh hour of the legislative session. The House passed the bipartisan SB 2023, which will make the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act permanent while broadening its scope. Illinois State Representative Bob Morgan’s (D) reauthorization bill removes the program’s July, 2020 sunset and adds more patient qualifying conditions, including chronic pain and autism.
The bill also permits advanced practice nurses and physician assistants to recommend medical cannabis in addition to physicians and increases the number of caregivers that patients can use to access the program. Similar to the adult-use program, the reauthorization bill emphasizes equity standards and will award five dispensary licenses to ensure equal opportunity.
“It is critical for the state that the pilot program be reauthorized and revised,” said Morgan in a press release. “The initial program placed a significant regulatory burden on patients. With the passage of SB2023, the new program will streamline the process and help patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions.”
Medical cannabis has been legal for only ten years in Israel, but the country is widely considered the global leader in cannabis innovation. It started back in 1964 when Israeli chemist and “Godfather of Cannabis Research”, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovered Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the body’s endocannabinoid system, the largest receptor system in the human body. Mechoulam’s breakthrough is credited with legitimizing the scientific study of cannabis, but Israel’s contribution to cannabis innovation has not stopped there.
Global Leader in Cannabis Research
Currently, there are more clinical trials in Israel than any other country. Not only does Israel have a government-sponsored cannabis program, it also boasts the world’s highest percentage of financial resources devoted to research, with much of the funding coming from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Germany, where federal laws obstruct research and trials. Since cannabis remains a Schedule 1 narcotic in the U.S., American companies and organizations have been outsourcing their research to Israel. For example, the National Institutes of Health has funded Mechoulam’s research for the past 50 years, providing an average of $100,000 a year to study the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
Ground-Breaking Autism Study
Israel further highlighted the efficacy of medical cannabis for the treatment of autism. A recent study conducted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center showed promising results. 188 patients treated with cannabis oil reported significant improvements in quality of life and mood. According to the Jerusalem Post, “A good quality of life, which was reported by 31.3 percent of patients prior to treatment initiation more than doubled to 66.8 percent at six months. Positive mood moved up to 63.5 percent from 42 percent after six months. Good sleep, reported by only 3.3 percent of patients, shot up to 24.7 percent, and concentration went up from zero percent to 14 percent during active treatment.”
Israel boasts the world’s highest percentage of financial resources devoted to cannabis research.
Penetrating the U.S. Market
Seizing on the expansion of medical cannabis programs here, Israel is investing in U.S. markets. Tikun Olam, the first licensed medical cannabis provider in Israel, currently offers its proprietary oils, tinctures, topicals and other delivery forms in Delaware and Washington state, and will be entering California and Florida next. The company has been testing 32 genetically unique strains of cannabis for help with cancer side effects, autism, Crohn’s disease, active Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, Fibromyalgia, and complex motor disorders. Since the importing of cannabis into the U.S. and transport across state lines is illegal, Tikun Olam is investing in infrastructure in these states where its products can be grown, processed, and sold.
In January, the Israeli Cabinet approved a law permitting the export of medical cannabis, following a parliamentary approval in December of last year. Along with the Netherlands and Canada, Israel is now the third country in the world to allow the medical cannabis product-exportation.
The green rush is on in the Sooner State.
Oklahoma–renowned for its once harsh possession penalties–is now a land of opportunity for medical cannabis businesses. Among the nation’s most progressive medical cannabis programs, Oklahoma has hit the ground running in only six months and is light years ahead of other states delayed by stagnating legislation.
One of Oklahoma’s greatest differentiators is its reciprocity program that allows patients with out-of-state medical cannabis cards to qualify for renewable, temporary licenses.
The Oklahoma medical cannabis market could realize $250 million in annual sales in its first few years. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, more than 2,200 business licenses had been issued, with an approved patient pool of more than 24,000 as of December, 2018. This speed-to-market is attributed to the fact that SQ 788 bypassed a special legislative session likely to have imposed restrictions, but instead prioritized patient-needs to get immediate access to cannabis treatments. The result is that there is no limit on business licenses, and doctors are free to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any condition they deem appropriate. In addition, the program is all-encompassing, prohibiting municipalities, cities, or counties from opting out.
High Retail & Wholesale Prices
Though there’s no cap on business licenses, supply is tight and product demand high, which is good news for dispensaries. Patients are lining up en masse for the state’s program, creating premium value for inventory. An ounce of cannabis flower, for example, averages $400, double the cost of Arizona’s medical cannabis market. Cultivation is prospering as well, with wholesale prices averaging between $3,500 – $4,500 per pound–at least twice that of competing markets.
One of Oklahoma’s greatest differentiators is its reciprocity program that allows patients with out-of-state medical cannabis cards to qualify for renewable, temporary licenses. They cost $100, are valid for 30 days, and permit patients to purchase, use, and even grow cannabis in Oklahoma. This provision is especially enticing for Arkansan customers as a stopgap while that program ramps up.
Some industry insiders caution that the possibility of over-cultivation and low prices will drive down retail and wholesale prices as it’s happened in other markets. Still, with so much success in its nascent stage and the evolution of regulations, Oklahoma may find a way to stabilize supply, increase demand, and sustain momentum.
Several governorships flipped as a result of the midterm elections, which can mean moving the needle on cannabis legislation. Here’s what we know about the new Governors Elect and how they are poised to change the cannabis landscape of their states:
Recognizing that Connecticut could see $30 million or more in tax revenue in year one of legalized recreational cannabis, Lamont has stated, “It is another source of revenue for the state. All of our neighbors have legalized marijuana. We [can] do this carefully [and] regulate it.”
The majority of Kansans support legal recreational cannabis, but Governor Elect Kelly wants to start with medicinal first. “I think that there is some momentum in the Legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana,” she said. “I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated.”
Voters in Cook County supported recreational cannabis by a margin of 63 – 37 percent in a non-binding ballot referendum in March. It served only to gauge interest for the state, which has had a medicinal cannabis program since 2015. The day after winning the gubernatorial election, Pritzker noted that legalizing the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use is “something we can work on nearly right away…We’ll restart those conversations with the leaders in both Houses, on both Republican and Democratic sides about our priorities, which will include legalization.”
The pro-cannabis Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party now controls the governorship, AG office and state House, which will help Governor Elect Walz with his recreational cannabis agenda. Earlier this year, he tweeted, “I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes. #mngov #OneMinnesota”
Michelle Lujan Grisham
The Tax Foundation projects that New Mexico, a medical cannabis state, could raise up to $57 million in a year should it enact recreational legalization. Governor Elect Lujan Grisham appears to be onboard: “I am committed to working with the Legislature to move towards legalizing recreational cannabis in a way that improves public safety, boosts state revenues, and allows for New Mexico businesses to grow into this new market.”
Evers is in favor of medical cannabis and will leave it to voters to decide on adult-use legalization. If the midterm elections were any indication, Wisconsin should have a fully legalized program sooner than later. Non-binding referenda in 16 counties and two cities showed that an overwhelming majority of voters support recreational and medical cannabis.
Significant legislative changes are not expected by governors elect of states that have already enacted full adult legalization. Gavin Newsom (California), Jared Polis (Colorado), Steve Sisolak (Nevada), and Kate Brown (Oregon) will most likely continue advocating as Marijuana Policy Reform Allies. Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), a consistent supporter, will assume office in the state to most recently pass adult legalization.
Check out our other 2018 election post Green Wave: Cannabis is Midterm Elections Winner.
While Democrats won back the House of Representatives and Republicans retained control of the Senate, there was a third winner that emerged from the midterm elections: cannabis. Four states voted on legalization and medical marijuana, and cannabis appeared on ballots in 22 cities and counties. Here are the results:
Voters approved Proposal 1 by 56 – 44 percent to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adult use. Michigan is now the 10th state to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over, and it is the ninth state to establish a system for regulating commercial cultivation and sales for adult use. The new law, expected to be enacted this month, permits adults to possess, grow, and use small amounts of cannabis. Over the course of the next year, licensed businesses will be allowed to cultivate, process, and sell cannabis to consumers.
Amendment 2 passed by a margin of 66 – 34 percent, making Missouri the 31st state to legalize medical cannabis. The new law allows physicians to approve patients to receive ID cards from the state, permitting them and their registered caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase at least four ounces of cannabis from dispensaries on a monthly basis. Qualified patients and caregivers will have to until late 2019 or early 2020 before they can enter a dispensary and buy medical cannabis.
Two other measures failed: Amendment 3, which would have authorized doctors to recommend medical marijuana for a specific list of conditions, and would not have allowed home cultivation. Proposition C did not pass and would have taxed medical cannabis sales at two percent and allow recommendations for a specific list of conditions.
Proposition 2 passed by a margin of 53 – 47 percent and will go into effect on December 1, making Utah the 32nd state (after Missouri) to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. In its current form, the ballot measure allows qualified patients to purchase two ounces of medical cannabis or products containing 10 grams of cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol from a dispensary during any two-week period. Patients who don’t live within 100 miles of a dispensary would be able to cultivate six cannabis plants at home and could designate caregivers to assist with the growing, obtaining and administration cannabis. Additionally, the state can issue licenses for cultivation, processing, testing, and dispensing businesses
There is a caveat: The Utah State Legislature plans to approve a compromise bill by sponsors of Proposition 2, opponents of the citizen ballot initiative, and political leaders.
Cannabis lost in North Dakota. Though a medical cannabis state, full legalization failed by a margin of 41 – 59 percent. One could point to the very loose restrictions included in the measure. For example, no set limit was proposed on the amount of cannabis that people could possess or cultivate. The state would permit production and sales but would have to create its own rules and regulations for the industry a legislative session down the road. The measure also called for automatically expunging convictions for marijuana offenses.
Cannabis saw gains on the local level. In Ohio, voters passed local decriminalization initiatives in five of six cities. Voters in 16 counties and two cities in Wisconsin were asked non-binding, cannabis advisory questions. The results: At least 14 counties have approved cannabis advisory referendums in support of various legalization and decriminalization policies.
Check out our other 2018 election post New Governors See a Bright Future for Cannabis.