Rhode Island Budget Proposal Seeks Recreational Cannabis Legalization

The 2023 budget was recently proposed by the governor of Rhode Island, which aims to establish a legislative framework for recreational cannabis legalization.

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee presented his Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Proposal on January 20, and includes recreational cannabis legalization. “Today, we know there are still many pandemic-related challenges that we must once again come together to address—with our top priority being the health and safety of Rhode Islanders. At the same time, we have an historic opportunity to write Rhode Island’s next chapter now, with $1.13 billion in federal funds and an over $600 million surplus available to invest in our state’s future,” McKee wrote in the introduction of his proposal. “The decisions we make this year have the potential to bolster Rhode Island’s economic comeback and propel our state into the next decade with strength.”

In a press media presentation he briefly covers multiple topics included in his budget proposal. Under “other items,” includes the mention of adult-use cannabis “Allows for controlled, phased-in introduction of retail licenses, results in minimal net revenue in FY 2023.” A more detailed executive summary goes into detail of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Proposal in nearly 200 pages of plans, with cannabis being mentioned in a few key sections.

“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” the executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.” The summary states that 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue and fees collected from licensing would be given to public health and safety programs. An additional 15 percent would be granted to local governments and the remaining 60 percent would go straight to the state general fund (a combination of cannabis cultivation excise taxes and retail sales excise tax, in addition to the state’s seven percent sales tax). The summary also states that after a full year of sales by fiscal year 2024, the state projects that it will collect up to $16.9 million in general revenue.

The legislation proposal for legalization echoes similar states’ analysis of combating illegal cannabis sales. “Prohibiting the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis to adults has proven to be an ineffective policy for the State of Rhode Island,” it reads. “In the absence of a legal, tightly regulated market, an illicit cannabis industry has thrived, undermining the public health, safety and welfare of Rhode Islanders.”

Legal cannabis would allow adults to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, or store up to five ounces at home. The proposed bill is set to begin starting April 1, 2023. In its current form, the proposal doesn’t allow home cultivation, and imposes consequences for those who might illegally cultivate plants at home. In terms of licenses, it requires that 25 retailers should be licensed per year between 2023 and 2025, through a lottery system. Five of those 25 licenses must be granted to a minority-owned business.

In the past, there have been differing opinions between McKee and House and Senate representatives about how to approach legalization in the state. For instance, while McKee’s most recent proposal directs responsibility of maintaining a state cannabis program to the Department of Business Regulation, other representatives have previously believed that a new department be created for the task.

In the beginning of the 2022 legislative session on January 4, Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi mentioned that the Rhode Island congress is actively working on crafting a recreational cannabis program. “… We have also spent months analyzing the complex issue of marijuana legalization. The House and Senate intend to soon have draft legislation ready which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process. We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in the way that is best for all Rhode Islanders.”

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Episode 391 – Supply Chain Disruptions Hit Cannabis

Ben Larson joins host Heather Sullivan to talk about the recently announced breakup of drinks giant AB InBev and Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, some of the science behind marijuana drinks and edibles, and the ongoing supply chain disruption to the marijuana industry. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Episode 390 – The Hosts Dive In

Hosts Kris Krane, Heather Sullivan, and Ben Larson join fellow host Brian Adams to talk about the lack of federal progress on legalization, how the ‘great resignation’ has touched the cannabis industry, and the end of the DEA monopoly on growing cannabis for legal research. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Montana Launches Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales

Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Montana with the new year on Saturday, less than 14 months after voters in the state legalized adult-use cannabis use and commerce.

Montana voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana and regulated sales of adult-use cannabis with the passage of Initiative 190 in the November 2020 general election, when 57% of the electorate voted in favor of the ballot measure. A companion measure to set the legal age to purchase cannabis in Montana at 21, Constitutional Initiative 118, was also passed by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Under Initiative 190, the use of recreational marijuana and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis became legal for adults 21 and older on January 1, 2021. But regulated sales of cannabis were delayed until January 1, 2022 by House Bill 701, legislation passed by lawmakers last year to implement the successful ballot measure. HB 701 also allows adults to cultivate up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants at home, with a cap of four mature plants per household.

Recreational marijuana products sold in Montana are subject to regulations under the legislation, including a 35% THC cap on cannabis flower. Edible products are limited to 100 mg of THC per package and a maximum serving size of 10 mg of THC. The Montana Department of Revenue is tasked with developing and regulating the state’s new recreational marijuana market and will be responsible for licensing adult-use cannabis cultivators, processors, distributors and retailers.

Brisk Start to Retail Cannabis Sales

In its first weekend, Montana’s recreational cannabis market pulled in $1,566,980 in sales. Chris Fanuzzi, founder and CEO of Lionheart Caregiving and Dispensaries, which currently operates five medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana, attests to the weekend’s success. 

With 2022 already marking 15 years of cannabis cultivation, extraction, infusion and retail sales for the company, the onset of recreational marijuana sales in the state made New Year’s Day a particularly memorable occasion for Lionheart this year.

“I was extremely excited, indeed,” Fanuzzi told Cannabis Now. “It’s been super hectic, but there’s been a lot of activity. Lots of hustling, moving, shaking and getting things done.”

A selection of top-shelf Indica strains at Lionheart Caregiving in Billings, Montana. PHOTO courtesy Lionheart Caregiving

To protect Montana’s existing medical marijuana infrastructure, only dispensaries that were licensed before November 3, 2020 will be permitted to make retail sales of adult-use cannabis for a period of 18 months. Fanuzzi said that on the first day of recreational marijuana sales, Lionheart saw a mix of adult-use customers and medical marijuana patients, with approximately 30 cars parked at the company’s Billings location by 8:30 a.m. on January 1.

“There seemed to be a lot of new users,” Fanuzzi said. “Probably half and half. Most people were looking for flower and then concentrates, followed by edibles.”

According to Fanuzzi, Lionheart is already reaping the benefits of recreational marijuana legalization in Montana, including the ability to sell cannabis products to all adults 21 and older. The result is a much broader marketplace for the industry.

“It’s easier to do business not having such a small, restricted customer base,” Fanuzzi said. “One of the biggest pros is that more people have access to quality medicine that’s safe. That’s the biggest pro for everybody.”

Recreational Sales Only Allowed in ‘Green Counties’

But not all residents will have easy access to recreational marijuana, despite this week’s launch of legal adult-use cannabis in Montana. Under the terms of HB 701, cannabis possession and use are legal statewide. But retail sales of recreational marijuana are permitted only in those counties where a majority of voters supported the 2020 legalization initiative in the general election. As a result, Montana has 28 “green counties” where recreational marijuana sales are now allowed and 28 “red counties” with a ban on sales of adult-use cannabis.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries located in red counties are protected by a grandfather clause in the legislation and will be allowed to continue operating. Recreational marijuana sales can be authorized in red counties with the passage of a countywide referendum to permit adult-use cannabis commerce.

Approximately 380 medical marijuana dispensaries were expected to begin serving adult-use customers with the launch of recreational marijuana sales, according to media reports. Leise Rosman, CEO of the new Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, says that the company has been hard at work preparing for Montana’s new adult-use cannabis market, and plans are underway to open dispensaries in Bozeman, Butte and Livingston in the near future.

“We doubled down our efforts in the last two months to make sure it was perfect for opening day,” Rosman told Cannabis Now. “We figured on January 1, it might be a lot of people’s first time in a dispensary, so we wanted to make sure that first impression was right for them.”

Opening day cannabis purchases at Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, Montana. PHOTO Raphael Pierson

Betty’s Roadside Provisions is a boutique dispensary where visitors can feel welcome and enjoy the shopping experience as much as the product itself. 

“When we looked at creating a curated experience, we wanted to make sure all the years we spent working with other dispensaries and talking to customers all got into Betty’s stores,” said Rosman, whose family has been in the cannabis business for the better part of a decade. 

“Cannabis isn’t behind glass or counters, or in the back,” she explained. “It’s an experience where we want you to touch and feel the product you are about to take home with you.”

Betty’s Big Sky location strategically appeals to the millions of tourists traveling to Montana each year.

“In Montana, the domestic population isn’t high, but the tourism effect is incredibly high,” Rosman said. “It felt like a great place to meet people where they are in an environment to unplug and recharge. Our product makes perfect sense for that.”

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Illinois Cannabis Sales Doubled in 2021

The first year of legal cannabis sales in Illinois was a roaring success, but it turns out the second year was even better. 

Twice as good, in fact.

A report from the grimly named Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) showed that adult-use cannabis sales in the state totaled $1,379,088,278.61 in 2021––more than double the figure from the opening year of sales in 2020, which were roughly $669 million. 

The figures released by the IDFPR provide insight into the quantity of cannabis products sold, and when customers were buying them. 

The biggest month for pot sales in 2021 came at the very end of the year, with $137,896,859.11 generated in December. That was also the case in 2020, when the $86,857,898.27 worth of cannabis sales made December the highest-grossing month of that year. 

The IDFPR’s report also details the source of the money. Last year, $943,013,285.67 of the cannabis sales came from Illinois residents, while $436,176,093.93 came from out-of-state residents.

A total of 30,342,937 cannabis items were sold last year––up from 14,485,704 in 2020. 

Illinois’ recreational cannabis market opened for business on New Year’s Day 2020, a milestone that was met with long lines outside the states’ newly opened dispensaries. The first day of sales alone generated more than $3 million, and many of the shops ran out of weed during the opening week.

The figures continued to climb, giving the administration of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who signed the bill legalizing recreational cannabis in 2019, a reason to take a victory lap.

In June of 2020, Pritzker’s then-senior adviser for cannabis control Toi Hutchinson, who has since been hired as the Marijuana Policy Project’s president and CEO, said that the “successful launch of the Illinois legal cannabis industry represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and the very communities that have historically been harmed by the failed war on drugs.” 

“The administration is dedicated to providing multiple points of entry into this new industry, from dispensary owners to transporters, to ensure legalization is equitable and accessible for all Illinoisans,” Hutchinson said. 

To that end, the economics have only been one facet of Illinois’ new marijuana law. As with other states that have legalized cannabis, there has also been a concerted effort by policymakers to redress previous convictions of marijuana offenders. 

When legalization took effect in Illinois, Pritzker heralded the occasion with more than 11,000 pardons for nonviolent cannabis offenders.

“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said at the time. “We are restoring rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

Pritzker did the same to kick off 2021, issuing more than 9,000 pardons for low-level cannabis offenders and expunging more than 490,000 pot-related arrests.

“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a statement released at the time. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward.”

While most other states have legalized cannabis through the ballot process, Illinois became the first to do so through the legislature in 2019, something Pritzker touted at the time of the bill signing.

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy: a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people,” said Pritzker.

“Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do. This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, gubernatorial pardon and individual court action. I’m so proud that our state is leading with equity and justice in its approach to cannabis legalization and its regulatory framework. Because of the work of the people here today and so many more all across our state, Illinois is moving forward with empathy and hope.”

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Rochester, New York Mayor-Elect Plans Guaranteed Basic Income From Cannabis Taxes

One of New York’s largest cities could put cannabis tax revenue to work by helping to implement reparations for impoverished communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

First reported by Business Insider, Rochester, New York’s Mayor-Elect Malik Evans plans to fuel his city’s progressive Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) program with revenue from adult-use cannabis sales, once the state gives the green light to retail sales.

Two weeks ago, Rochester City Council approved a plan for GBI—largely spearheaded by Mayor-Elect Evans following the departure of former Mayor Lovely Warren. The two-year pilot program will provide $500 per month to 175 families that qualify. To qualify, families must live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. They will receive the monthly payment for the span of one year. In recent events, city leadership explained the difference between GBI and Universal Basic Income (UBI).

An additional 175 other families would receive the payments for the second year of the program.  

Rochester joins Ithaca, New York to launch a similar basic income program. Programs also already exist in Newark, New Jersey and Los Angeles, California.

The idea to divert cannabis tax revenue to fund guaranteed basic income shows the connection between two problems.

“Community folks told me, ‘this is a big source of revenue, and Black and brown people are prosecuted worse than others because of marijuana,’” Evans told Business Insider. An often-cited American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report identifies the double standard that stains American’s justice system—Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite nearly equal rates of usage. Rochester specifically needs improvement, as 34 percent of Black residents in the city fall into poverty compared to eight percent of white ones.

Rochester’s GBI program will receive funding from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), which several cities around the U.S. have used to launch GBI programs. Some programs that launched this year are either using ARP funds, grants from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey or state funds to help low income residents. 

Before he assumes the role of Mayor, Evans served as the Rochester City Council’s councilmember-at-large with an extensive background in education and community projects.

“This is an industry with the potential to make millions of dollars,” Evans said. “Everyone wants to start a marijuana business in Rochester.”

To prepare for the eventual rollout of cannabis tax revenue, Evans launched the Rochester Cannabis Preparation Commission last week, so that the city can stay one step ahead, building on the plan of Evans’ predecessor former Mayor Warren.

On March 31, New York legalized adult-use cannabis when former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation, after several years of false starts and other failed efforts.

In a statement, Cuomo called it “a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.”

Unfortunately, regulation for the sale of cannabis has not yet been finalized, so dispensaries won’t start collecting money for Rochester until those details have been ironed out at the state level first.

Mayor-Elect Evans also plans to ensure an inclusive industry in Rochester. “We’ll have to figure out how we go about setting up our program to make sure we can help entrepreneurs who may not have been involved in the [cannabis industry] in the past,” Evans said.

Cities and towns in New York have until December 31 to opt out of cannabis retail or consumption spaces. Over 400 towns across New York have blocked dispensaries already. Rochester is one of just four municipalities in Monroe County to give the green light. 

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Proposal to Legalize Cannabis Heads to Ohio Legislature

More than 200,000 signatures later, a proposal to legalize cannabis in Ohio is heading back to the legislature.

Activists in Ohio submitted their petitions totaling 206,943 signatures this week to the secretary of state for verification for a proposal that would legalize possession and purchases of cannabis for adults.

Once the verification is done, “lawmakers will have four months to act on the legislation,” the Columbus Dispatch reported, and if they fail to pass the bill or an amended version, “supporters can collect another 132,887 valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot for the next general election.”

The Dispatch reported that the proposal “would allow Ohioans age 21 and older to buy and possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of concentrates,” and that they “could also grow up to six plants individually and no more than 12 in a household with multiple adults.”

Cannabis products “would be taxed 10 percent, with revenue going toward administrative costs, addiction treatment programs, municipalities with dispensaries and a social equity and jobs program,” according to the newspaper.

The group behind the legalization effort is the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.”

“Marijuana legalization is an issue whose time has come in Ohio. According to recent polling, Ohioans are not only in favor of legalizing marijuana for regulated adult-use, they view it as inevitable,” the coalition says on its website. “We hope that Ohio’s leaders seize this opportunity to take control of our future. Support for a regulatory and taxation system is critical in order to set Ohio up for success should we see changes at the federal level.”

The group says its campaign is “an effort to encourage Ohio legislators to regulate marijuana for adult-use, just like we do for alcohol,” and to advance a proposal that would fix “a broken system while ensuring local control, keeping marijuana out of the hands of children, and benefiting everyone.”


Ohio Plans for Legalization

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol first drafted the proposed bill in the summer, and began gathering signatures shortly thereafter. 

The Dispatch reported that this campaign is different from the one waged in 2015, “when voters rejected a constitutional amendment pushed by ResponsibleOhio that would have paved the way for adult marijuana use.”

Additionally, the latest legalization proposal would grandfather the state’s medical cannabis businesses into the newly created recreational market, according to the Columbus Dispatch. 

Ohio’s medical cannabis program may already be on the cusp of a significant overhaul. The state Senate last week passed a bill that would result in the first changes to the program since it began five years ago. 

Most notably, the legislation would permit physicians in the state to “recommend marijuana for treatment for any condition if the physician, in the physician’s sole discretion and medical opinion, finds either of the following”: that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana” and “that the patient may otherwise reasonably be expected to benefit from medical marijuana.”

The bill, which is currently under consideration by the state House of Representatives, would also add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness and opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment.

Currently, cannabis treatment may be recommended for the following qualifying conditions: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Alzheimer’s disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Cancer; Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Crohn’s disease; Epilepsy or another seizure disorder; Fibromyalgia; Glaucoma; Hepatitis C; Inflammatory bowel disease; Multiple sclerosis; Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable; Parkinson’s disease; Positive status for HIV; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Sickle cell anemia; Spinal cord disease or injury; Tourette’s syndrome; Traumatic brain injury, and Ulcerative colitis.

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