Illinois Announces Plans for 185 New Dispensary Licenses

The state of Illinois on Friday announced plans to award 185 new dispensary licenses for its adult-use cannabis program, less than a month after a judge cleared the way for the process to begin anew.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said that the licenses will be awarded in “three waves” of lotteries this summer, and that the “pace of licensing will be determined by how quickly applicants’ compliance checks can be verified.”

“Today marks the beginning of the next chapter of the most equitable adult-use cannabis program in the country,” Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said in a statement on Friday. “After signing the most equity-centered program in the country into law, expunging thousands of low-level cannabis convictions, and investing tens of millions of dollars in cannabis proceeds in communities failed by the war on drugs, we are about to more than double the number of adult use cannabis dispensaries in Illinois. This means countless more opportunities for communities that have suffered from historic disinvestment to join this growing industry and ensure its makeup reflects the diversity of our state.”

The announcement on Friday was made possible by a ruling late last month from Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen, who lifted a stay on new recreational cannabis dispensary licenses that had lasted nearly a year. 

The courts had issued an injunction on new licenses while it considered from parties who said they were wrong excluded from previous lotteries.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “Black and Latino applicants have complained they have been unfairly kept out of the legal cannabis business in Illinois, where just 21 licenses for full-size growers have been issued, almost entirely to white owners, several of whom have come to dominate the industry nationally.”

In March, Pritzker’s administration announced “rules to simplify the cannabis dispensary license application process, remove barriers for social equity applicants, and expand opportunities targeted to the communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs.”

“From day one, Illinois has been dedicated to leading the nation in an equity-centric approach to legalizing cannabis, and these proposed changes to the application process will make it much easier for social equity applicants to pursue licenses.” Pritzker, a Democrat, said at the time. “I appreciate all the feedback we have received from stakeholders since the start of the cannabis program, whose work informed this proposal and is continuing to make Illinois’ growing cannabis industry the most equitable in the nation.”

Mario Treto, Jr., Acting Secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said at the time that the state is “committed to an inclusive and equitable cannabis program that continues to build on its successes while also recognizing and taking steps to improve it further.”

The state said Friday that to “ensure fairness for all applicants and correct any errors in the lottery process, [Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation] has also announced its plans to conduct three corrective lotteries in June (one for each of the cannabis dispensary license lotteries held in 2021).”

“We recognize this is a long-awaited day by many seeking to join the most diverse and inclusive adult use cannabis industry of any state and IDFPR is prepared to take the next steps forward together,” Treto said in a press release on Friday. “Our agency is ready to work with applicants throughout the next stage so they may obtain their licenses and join Illinois’ robust adult use cannabis industry.”

The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said Friday that it will issue conditional licenses in three lottery waves beginning on or before July 22.

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D.C. Council Says Workers Can’t Get Fired for Pot

Workers in the nation’s capital won’t have to worry about getting canned over cannabis, under a bill passed by the Washington, D.C. city council on Tuesday.

The measure, known as the “Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022,” was approved unanimously by the governing body.

It now awaits the signature of Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. According to National Public Radio, if Bowser were to sign it, “the bill will become law after a 60-day congressional review and the bill’s publication in the District of Columbia Register.”

The bill does not apply to every employee working in D.C. As the Washington Post noted, the law would “[make] exceptions, however, for workers in ‘safety-sensitive jobs,’ including operators of heavy machinery, construction workers, police and security guards who carry weapons and medical professionals.” And, of course, the law would not protect the scores of federal employees from facing discipline if they tested positive for cannabis.

The federal government, however, continues to exert its authority over Washington, D.C.’s cannabis laws.

Voters in D.C. approved a measure legalizing pot use for adults back in 2014, but recreational cannabis sales are still illegal.

That’s because Congress, which has authority over D.C.’s laws, has barred the commercialization of weed in the city in every appropriations bill since the legalization measure passed eight years ago.

There was hope last year that Congress may finally end the restriction, after a draft bill introduced in the Senate last October did not include the provision.

Bowser’s camp applauded that at the time.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in a statement. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Republicans, however, were not pleased.

“This one-sided process has resulted in bills that spend in excess of the Democrats’ own budget resolution and fail to give equal consideration to our nation’s defense. Their bills are filled with poison pills and problematic authorizing provisions, and they remove important legacy riders on topics like terrorism, abortion, and immigration that for years have enjoyed broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby said at the time.

By March, Shelby and the Republicans won out, as the final version of the appropriations bill maintained the ban.

Groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union lamented the development, saying that Washington, D.C. “remains the only jurisdiction in the country that cannot regulate marijuana sales or fruitfully tap into the public health and safety benefits of legalization.”

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in March.

Despite the ban, some retailers in Washington, D.C. have still managed to sell pot, often through the practice of “gifting,” through which a business sells a product (often a t-shirt or hat) and then provides the customer with a “gift” of weed.

In April, the D.C. City Council rejected a proposal to crack down on those retailers.

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Former Cop, Says ‘Light Up’

At an appearance at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) held June 1 – 3 in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams spoke on Friday and told millions of New Yorkers to “light up.” He told attendees to support even unlicensed businesses during the gray area time period until New York’s market matures.

Mayor Adams was announced as the keynote speaker at the New York CWCBExpo in a press release last month. Other headline speakers included Chris Beals of Weedmaps and Nick Kovacevich of Greelane Holdings. In addition, Tremaine Wright, the Chair of the NYS Cannabis Control Board, shared a rule update.

The mayor did not beat around the bush, as conference attendees were anxious to know what the market will look like. “Enjoy yourself, light up, but most importantly—spend some money,” the Mayor said.

According to Governor Kathy Hochul’s fiscal 2023 spending plan, the state is expected to rake in $1.25 billion in cannabis revenue over the next six years.

While New York’s adult-use retail market hasn’t officially kicked off, locals say there are secret and not-so-secret clubs, trucks, and gifting shops open for business all over that have been popping up since the state approved adult-use in March 2021.

The mayor went on further, saying that he doesn’t plan on cracking down during the transition stage which appears to be in the gray area. “‘Listen, you can’t do this,’ give them a warning,” said Adams. In addition, Adams allocated $5 million in funding from his executive budget to provide the needed boost for New Yorkers to apply for adult-use cultivation licenses.

He also hinted that simple cannabis crimes will be dealt with as a slap on the wrist, providing a few hints to the specifics. “If they refuse to adhere to the rules, then you have to come back and take some form of enforcement actions, such as a summons, such as, you know, talking about their ability to sell alcohol.”

Before becoming the 110th Mayor of New York City, Adams served in the New York Police Department (NYPD) as a cop. In his extended bio, Adams said he chose to join the NYPD because of an earlier incident of police brutality. Adams “was beaten by police in the basement of a precinct house at 15,” but instead of being defeated, he eventually joined the force himself to make changes and decrease the amount of racism in police forces.

Adams even acknowledged the weed trucks that are all over the place in New York City, which are not yet licensed.

“We need to incentivize those who have their illegal trucks or have the trucks going on to show them that this is a better pathway,” he said. “The goal is to not leave people behind.”

The CWCBExpo also featured specialty show floor areas including the Women Grow Pavilion, University Row featuring leading academic cannabis curriculums and programs, and the “LGBTQ+ Proud Mary Lounge.”

A lot of legislative updates were also part of the program. The day before Mayor Adams spoke at the CWCBExpo, the New York Senate, led by Senator Liz Krueger, passed a bill that would have launched a crackdown on illicit cannabis possession and sales. That bill needed approval from the state Assembly before the end of last week to move forward. But Friday came and went, without a vote, stalling the bill until next year.

Earlier this month, New York regulators approved draft regulations that will determine marketing rules under the New York Cannabis Control Board. New York’s market is ready to launch late this year or in early 2023, and New York’s mayor is certainly onboard.

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Reports Show Cannabis Tourism Industry Valued at $17 Billion

The cannabis tourism industry is reported to be valued at $17 billion and could begin to grow rapidly post-COVID. A report featured in Forbes states that 50% of millennials think that adult-use cannabis access is important when making plans to travel, and that 43% of millennials specifically choose a destination because of legalization.

According to Emerald Farm Tours Co-founder Victor Pinho, cannabis tourism has a lot of potential. “They’re tourists and they’re shopping—they are here to spend money in the mecca of weed,” he told Forbes of his business, which is located in Northern California. He also estimated that tour participants sometimes spend $300-$400 when they visit dispensaries, which is much more than the average adult-use consumer.

In 2016, MMGY Travel Intelligence reported that “the net impact on consumers’ decision to travel to states with legalized cannabis use was minimal.” However, an MMGY study conducted in 2020 stated that 18% of American travelers were interested in cannabis experiences while traveling. When the survey data was reduced to include only those who are over age 21, and with an annual income of $50,000, the percentage of who are interested in cannabis experiences while on vacation increases to 62%.

Forbes estimates that $4.5 billion of the $25 billion collected in 2021 cannabis sales revenue was connected to cannabis tourism and related purchases such as hotels, food, local attractions, and more.

With nearly 20 states that have legalized adult-use, the opportunity for cannabis-related tourism rises. States such as Colorado, which was the first state to legalize recreational consumption in 2014, has a strong reputation of adult-use consumption that doesn’t require marketing. The Colorado Tourism Office only offers a little advice on safety and consumption, and doesn’t currently have any specific data in regards to cannabis-related tourism. “Cannabis is not one of the major drivers in terms of tourism to our state, compared to categories like outdoor recreation,” the office told Forbes.

In other states, the new image of cannabis tourists is beginning to form. According to a report from the Cannabis Travel Association International, the consumer breakdown by sex is fairly balanced between those who identify as male or female, 63% of tourists are millennials or younger, 59% have a college degree, and 82% have a job with an $87,000 annual household income.

Brian Applegarth, founder of the Cannabis Travel Association International, believes that the number of aging millennials is contributing to the rise in cannabis tourism interest. “By 2025, 50% of travelers in the U.S. are going to be millennials,” said Applegarth. “And their relationship to cannabis consumption is extremely normalized compared to the stigmatized industry leaders of today.”

Overall, many states are beginning to bolster and advertise their cannabis offerings to replace funds that were lost due to decreased travel during the height of the pandemic. CEO of Visit Modesto, Todd Aaronson, sees cannabis travelers as the same as any other tourist. In 2021, Aaronson partnered with Applegarth to create the MoTown CannaPass which helps visitors explore local cannabis food, entertainment, and dispensaries. “We wanted the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if cannabis is your thing, and you’re here, we have retail shops that are legal.’ And we have experiences that you can enjoy no differently than if you went to a brewpub or wine bar,” Aaronson said. “They’re all equally regulated. You should have a designated driver for each. Every visitor is welcome. Leave your money here.” He also shared that there was a notable 11% boost in traffic to local dispensaries when the CannaPass went live.

While places like Amsterdam are seeking to discourage cannabis tourism, North America is becoming a premier legal tourism destination. Attractions such as cannabis-related historic tours, various Airbnb or Bed and Breakfast locations, fascinating museums, and countless adult-use dispensaries to explore, there’s a lot of potential to look forward to. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont even recently advertised his state’s many offerings, which includes a country song that sings about everything from online gambling to cannabis consumption.

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Gen Z Prefers Weed Over Booze

Generation Z has been shaped by a variety of dynamics that have dominated their young lives: technology and social media, social justice movements and, according to fresh research, abundant access to cannabis.

That is perhaps the chief takeaway from a study conducted by New Frontier Data, a firm that specializes in research on cannabis policy.

The study, released last week, found that 69% of individuals aged 18-24 prefer cannabis over alcohol.

In fact, the figures were comparable among the next two age cohorts: 70% of those between the ages of 25 and 34 said they also prefer weed, while 68% of those aged 35-44 said the same.

The numbers are indicative of emerging generations of young adults who came of age at a time when a large and growing number of states and cities throughout the United States have legalized recreational cannabis for adults.

Moreover, polls routinely show large majorities of young Americans support ending the prohibition on pot.

New Frontier Data noted in the study’s analysis that Generation Z, AKA “Zoomers,” or individuals born between 1997 and 2012, “were between birth or age 15 when the first states legalized cannabis.”

“Gen Z is the first generation to be of legal consumption age in an environment with widespread adult-use cannabis access,” New Frontier Data’s vice president of public policy research Amanda Reiman told Bloomberg.

Bloomberg reported that New Frontier Data’s study “included 4,170 current cannabis consumers and 1,250 nonconsumers, found that the preference seems to fade with age, with just 44% of respondents aged 65 to 74 choosing weed over booze.”

While the research suggests a greater familiarity and comfort with cannabis, it also indicates that young people are generally less drawn to alcohol and tobacco than their older peers.

“A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by researchers at the University of Washington looked at alcohol and tobacco consumption among Gen Zers in Washington during 2014-2019,” the New Frontier researchers wrote. “Those findings saw declines in each past-month alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking, and cigarette use during that period. It is possible that the reductions were related to an overall disinterest in alcohol and tobacco among individuals in Gen Z, an observation supported in the New Frontier Data Consumer Survey.”

“Cannabis consumers aged 18-24 were most likely to say they never drank alcohol (19.7%), and the least likely to say that they drank every day (5.9%). They were also the most likely (among those under age 55) to say that they never used tobacco (39.3%), and the least likely (among those under 65) to say that they used it every day (26.3%),” the researchers continued.

Among individuals aged 18-24, “more than half (56%) reported replacing some of their alcohol with cannabis, compared to nearly 60% among ages 25-34, and more than 60% among 35-44-year-olds,” according to the study, which noted that those “rates declined further among older cohorts, from over 44% among ages 45-54, to about 43% among ages 55-64, and nearly 30% among ages 65-74.”

“The numbers suggest that young people are learning to navigate the legal cannabis landscape without adopting compulsive, increased use, and may also be less likely to consume either alcohol or tobacco, thereby making cannabis their drug of choice,” the researchers wrote in their concluding analysis. “Considering that cannabis carries a lower risk of dependence than do either alcohol or tobacco – and presents no risk of either fatal overdose (e.g., alcohol) or long-term impacts to the lungs (e.g., tobacco) – it suggests that the younger generation may indeed be making more considered choices about their consumption patterns.”

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Arizona Adult-Use Weed Sales Top a Record $72 Million

Sales of adult-use cannabis in Arizona hit a record $72 million in March, while purchases of medical cannabis dropped for the fifth month in a row. Regulated sales of recreational pot began in Arizona in January 2021, less than three months after the state’s voters approved a cannabis legalization measure in the November 2020 general election.

The Arizona Department of Revenue this week reported sales and tax revenue figures for March 2022 in the agency’s updated monthly report. The department also revised the reported sales for February 2022, increasing the total by several million dollars.

Sales of recreational pot in Arizona amounted to $72.3 million in March, increasing by more than $2 million over the previous month. Sales of adult-use cannabis were also up more than $2 million in February, following a slight dip in sales in January compared to the month before.

Sales of medical pot dropped to $49.4 in March, marking the first time sales of medicinal cannabis fell below $50 million since sales of recreational pot began last year. Medical sales hit their highest total of nearly $73 million in March 2021, dropping to more than $60 million per month over the next six months. Since October, sales of medicinal cannabis have dropped by more than $1.5 million every month as sales of recreational pot increased. Combined medical and adult-use cannabis sales came to $121.8 million in March.

The Department of Revenue also raised its reported figures for regulated cannabis sales for February. Sales of medical pot were increased for the month by $1.2 million to $53.7 million, while reported adult-use cannabis purchases were adjusted upward by $2.3 million, bringing the new monthly total to almost $71 million. The figure for total cannabis sales for February was revised up to $123.8 million.

Pot Sales Bring Tax Revenue to State Coffers

Cannabis taxes collected were also reported by the department. Arizona levies an excise tax of 16% on recreational pot and customers also pay the state sales tax rate of 5.5%. Medical weed patients pay the sales tax but not the excise tax. City and county sales taxes are also assessed on cannabis purchases.

In March, weed taxes collected totaled $21.3 million, including $4.1 million from sales of medicinal cannabis. Sales tax collected on recreational pot purchases came to $5.6 million, while the excise tax on adult-use cannabis generated $11.6 million in revenue.

“The legalization of cannabis in Arizona has been a boon for our economy and the state tax coffers,” Arizona Dispensary Association executive director Sam Richard said in a statement quoted by the Arizona Mirror. “The financial benefits are important, but the social impact cannot be understated, as citizens no longer have to live in fear of having their lives disrupted by low level marijuana arrests and convictions.”

Last month, a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that Arizona and five other states raised more tax revenue from cannabis taxes than they did from taxes on alcohol. Together, the 11 states that have legalized sales of adult-use cannabis received about $3 billion in excise taxes on cannabis, while alcohol sales generated around $2.5 billion in tax revenue.

In 2021, Arizona raised $105 million from cannabis taxes, compared to $92 million in alcohol taxes. California received about $832 million in cannabis taxes, approximately twice the revenue generated by alcohol taxes. In Colorado, cannabis taxes totaling $396 million eclipsed alcohol taxes by a magnitude of eight times.

“This is still a small part of state budgets, but it’s a very quickly growing area. There aren’t many revenue sources that grow year over year. This has been a several-year trend now,” Carl Davis, one of the authors of the ITEP study, said in a statement quoted by The Hill. “The early states, what you see is revenue start low and grow very, very quickly.”

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New Hampshire Senate Committee Rejects Cannabis Legalization Bill

A New Hampshire legislative panel rejected a bill to legalize recreational cannabis on Wednesday, likely dooming the measure from being passed by the state Senate. Under House Bill 1598, possession of cannabis by adults would be legalized and the state liquor commission would become the sole retailer of legal cannabis.

The bill was passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives earlier this month by a vote of 169-156. But with a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended that the bill be deemed “inexpedient to legislate,” according to a report from the New Hampshire Bulletin. That recommendation is expected to receive a vote by the full Senate in the upcoming weeks.

The bill would permit adults 21 and older to possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis, up to five grams of hashish and certain cannabis-infused products containing up to 300 milligrams of THC. The measure allows for the transfer of cannabis products, subject to the same limits, from one adult to another. The bill also permits adults to cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home.

State-Run Cannabis Shops

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission would be given the authority “to regulate and administer the cultivation, manufacture, testing, and retail sale of cannabis statewide,” according to the text of the bill. Cannabis would be sold at state-run stores, the same way alcohol is marketed in the state. The legislation also gives local governments the power to limit or ban cannabis businesses from locating in the cities and towns they govern.

All senators on the Ways and Means Committee voted to kill the bill, including those who support cannabis policy reform. Democratic Senator Cindy Rosenwald said “I’m overall concerned about the Liquor Commission’s ability to take on another responsibility,” noting that the legislation does not have restorative justice or social equity provisions.

“This bill is not fixable today,” she added.

Democratic state Senator Erin Hennessey said that a state-run monopoly on cannabis retailing would put cultivators at a disadvantage. She also expressed concerns over competition for the state’s existing medicinal cannabis operators and said her constituents were disappointed that the bill does not legalize cannabis edibles.

“I would love to be able to fix this bill, but there’s just too many questions that we’ve received that do not make it fixable for those who would like to see marijuana legalized in the state,” Hennessey said.

Other senators made their opposition to cannabis policy reform clear before the vote Wednesday, which was held on the 4/20 weed high holiday.

“I’m opposed to marijuana,” said Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a Democrat and former teacher. “I’ve dealt with it with students; I’ve dealt with it with constituents. It’s a problem. I think that the situation is quite clear: The availability of marijuana on, let’s call it the black market, is pervasive. It’s everywhere. And we must deal with the ramifications of it.”

“I think this is a poorly drafted bill,” D’Allesandro added. “The ability to actually implement this doesn’t exist.”

Republican state Senator Bob Giuda put his ignorance of the issue on full display by suggesting that cannabis leads to the use of more dangerous drugs, a theory that has been debunked time and time again.

“Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?” Giuda asked his colleagues on the committee.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, spoke in favor of the bill, although he failed to persuade the lawmakers on the panel.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is the perfect bill,” Chaffee said, and added, “but what I will tell you is that we are done waiting for the perfect bill on this issue.”

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Delaware Lawmakers Revive Pot Legalization Effort

Delaware lawmakers have launched a new drive to legalize cannabis with the approval of two separate bills in legislative committees on Wednesday. A more comprehensive proposal to legalize pot for adult use and regulate commercial cannabis operations failed to gain approval in the Delaware House of Representatives last month.

The first measure released from committee this week, House Bill 371, would legalize personal possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults. Representative Ed Osienski, the sponsor of the legislation, explained to Delaware Public Media that the bill “legalizes the personal possession of an ounce or less, but it still is illegal to be under 21 in possession, possessing over an ounce, and it’s still illegal to drive impaired.” He noted it would also still be against the law to smoke cannabis in public.

Osienski believes that separating legalizing possession from regulating and taxing commercial cannabis will make HB 371 easier to pass than the comprehensive measure, House Bill 305, that failed to reach the three-fifths majority required because it contains new tax provisions. Without such measures, HB 371 needs only a simple majority to pass. The bill was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee on Wednesday.

“HB 305 had the whole regulatory system in there for the industry of cultivating, manufacturing, and selling marijuana in the state of Delaware and it had a tax on it, which meant it would require 25 [votes], which is a hard threshold to meet,” Osienski told WDEL. “I figured, at least we can move forward with legalization with a simple majority of 21. I do have 21 House co-sponsors on the bill, so I think I’m pretty fairly confident that, unless something dramatically changes, that will pass and end prohibition.”

Separate Bill To Regulate Cannabis Commerce

A separate measure from Osienski, House Bill 372, was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday. The bill would regulate commercial cannabis production and sales, authorizing 30 retail licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and 5 testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date. The bill also levies a 15% tax on retail cannabis sales.

Representative Paul Baumbach voted in favor of HB 372. He said the bill has significant changes compared to the legislation that failed in March.

“This is a different bill than what we looked at last month,” said Baumbach. “This says when marijuana is legal in Delaware do we want it taxed and regulated? I think that everyone in my world and I know this is not the real world. I think everyone would want to have it taxed and regulated.”

Representative Mike Ramone voted against releasing HB 372 from the committee. He said that the bill includes too much government involvement in the cannabis industry.

“I would like to see a different format of that maybe even a digestion from process that is already there whether it’s through the smoke shops or the liquor stores or even a blend. I just think we’re doing an awful lot,” said Ramone. “I also do not like the fact of taxing them. I think that keeps the black market more active.”

Osienski says that separating the possession issue from regulation will make decriminalizing cannabis easier to pass. Once it has, he hopes that regulating commerce will become more palatable to those who currently oppose the idea.

“I’m hoping I won’t need their vote on legalization, but if they will then vote for regulation, we can possibly get both of these bills through,” said Osienski. “That’s my goal, and always was—that’s why I ran with the single bill that did both.”

“If, for some reason, regulation does not pass, I’ll come back next year and continue to push for it because I still feel an important aspect of these bills is ending the illegal market eventually,” he added. “So, until we have a regulated framework to allow businesses to grow, the illegal markets are going to continue, and that, to me, is not acceptable. I will keep on fighting to get the regulations and the industry set up, which is going to create jobs.”

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Petition Deadline Looms For South Dakota Legalization Campaign

The clock is ticking for a group of South Dakota activists to get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana, the group spearheading the effort to get the initiative on the ballot, said Wednesday that it is more than 3,000 signatures short of where it needs to be.

The deadline to submit the petition to the South Dakota Secretary of State is May 3.

“Our conservative estimate right now is that we’re at 13,500 valid signatures and we need 17,000 valid signatures,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told local television station KELO.

“We are a little nervous, we are within striking distance of getting enough valid signatures and qualifying for the ballot, but really don’t want to take any chances,” Schweich added.

The campaign is also an effort to avenge last year’s legal rulings that undid Amendment A, the constitutional amendment approved by a majority of South Dakota voters in 2020 that legalized recreational pot use for adults.

The state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, was vigorously opposed to the amendment from the start, and took the measure to court last year.

A circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying the amendment violated the state’s constitution.

In November, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling, saying Amendment A violated the constitution’s “one subject” requirement for amendments.

Noem, a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate, celebrated the outcome.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement following the decision. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

South Dakota voters have not celebrated Noem’s approach to cannabis policy, however.

A poll late last year found that only 39% of voters in the Mount Rushmore State approve of her handling of cannabis legalization, while 17.8% said they somewhat disapprove, and 33.4% said they strongly disapprove.

Activists like Schweich hope those numbers––not to mention the passage of Amendment A in 2020––augur well for this November.

But the protracted and messy legal challenge that followed the previous legalization effort has apparently soured some South Dakota voters on the issue.

“South Dakota is sick of it, we’re all exhausted,” said Melissa Mentele, an activist involved in the legalization campaign, as quoted by KELO. “It’s not the issue people are exhausted with, they’re exhausted with the process of I vote, and it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s the biggest thing that we’re running into. It’s not, I already signed this, it’s, why should I sign this because it doesn’t matter,” Mentele added.

As reported by KELO, “Schweich says this signature drive is to put a statutory initiative on the ballot that is a very simplified, shortened version of Amendment A.”

“I would call it legalization for individuals,” Schweich said, as quoted by the station. “It makes it legal for an adult 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce, to cultivate up to three plants at home and it reduces three personal penalties related to how you grow it.”

Lawmakers in South Dakota attempted to get ahead of the ballot initiative by passing their own legalization bill in this year’s current legislative session, but the effort fizzled out.

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Arizona Awards Cannabis Social Equity Licenses

Arizona state regulators awarded cannabis social equity business licenses last week, selecting 26 lucky winners out of a lottery pool of nearly 1,200 applicants. The Arizona Department of Health Services Offices selected the winners at its office on Friday after a judge ended a challenge to the state’s program to award licenses for recreational cannabis dispensaries to applicants negatively impacted by the War on Drugs.

State officials and applicants crowded the health department’s Phoenix office on Friday as the winning applicants were randomly selected using Smartplay International state lottery software. The process was operated and audited by Henry & Horne LLP to ensure the security of the selection lottery. The selected applicants will now begin the process to open licensed adult-use cannabis dispensaries.

Legalization with Equity

Proposition 207, the historic voter initiative to legalize recreational cannabis passed by Arizona voters in 2020, included provisions to “promote the ownership and operation of marijuana establishments and marijuana testing facilities by individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.” Applicant Arianna Munoz told reporters before the lottery that the social equity program has the potential to change her life.

“It would create generational wealth for me and my family. It would give me more opportunities to create other business ventures,” said Munoz, who was not selected in Friday’s lottery. “I’ve always wanted to be a brand owner and dispensary owner and it was the perfect time.”

Arizona’s legalization initiative included provisions to grant recreational cannabis business licenses to the state’s existing medical dispensaries, which began selling cannabis products to adults in January 2021. But social equity retailers will not be able to sell cannabis for medicinal purposes.

“Prop. 207 didn’t amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana act at all, so the reason why the currently established medical licenses can be kind of co-located is because they already existed,” explained Sam Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensary Association. “The only new licenses Prop. 207 created were adult-use, recreational licenses.”

Jon Udell, the director of politics for the Arizona branch of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that a bill to fix the issue has died in the state legislature.

“Right now there just isn’t really a realistic path forward” for a legislative solution,” Udell said.

On Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled against three social applicants who filed a legal action to delay Friday’s lottery. Paul Conant, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the social equity licenses should not be awarded before the health department conducted background checks on the applicants. He argued that the process could lead to the selection of unqualified applicants.

“This is a one-time deal in Arizona,” Conant argued at a hearing on Wednesday. Awarding licenses to unqualified applicants only to revoke them later “would be unfair to all the other people who have submitted applications, paid their $4,000 application fee, and otherwise have gone through the process of trying to qualify.”

But the judge rejected the argument and declined to issue an injunction to block Friday’s lottery.

“The Court finds that the Department properly exercised power that Proposition 207 expressly gave it, used proper procedures, and used its discretion when deciding whether to hold the drawing before or after completing the checks,” Smith wrote in a ruling quoted by the Phoenix New Times.

Other challenges to Arizona’s cannabis social equity program focused on the details of business ownership. Under the regulations, qualified individuals must own 51% of a social equity business, allowing large corporations and multi-state operators an avenue to partner with applicants to operate under the program. Business owners are also permitted to sell their licenses to companies that are not owned by social equity applicants. Critics charge the rules for the program fail to live up to its social equity objectives.

Because Arizona’s recreational cannabis regulations include a cap on the number of adult-use dispensaries that can be licensed by the state, the social equity licenses awarded last week will be the last to be awarded for the foreseeable future. The selected applicants have 18 months to open their dispensaries. A list of the lottery winners is available online.

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