Recreational Pot Sales Begin in Rhode Island

Licensed sales of adult-use cannabis began in Rhode Island on Thursday, only six months after Governor Dan McKee signed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. Five stores began selling adult-use cannabis on December 1, with more licensed retailers expected to begin business operations in the coming weeks.

The five retailers who launched adult-use cannabis sales on Thursday were all already licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients registered with the state’s medicinal cannabis program. By the end of next month, two additional so-called hybrid retailers will add recreational marijuana sales to their existing medical cannabis operations. 

Last week, the governor marked the impending launch of adult-use cannabis sales as the December 1 launch date approached.

“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said in a November 22 statement from the governor’s office. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”

Recreational Marijuana Legalized In May

Matt Santacroce, chief of the Rhode Island Office of Cannabis Regulation and interim deputy director of the Department of Business Regulation, noted the speed with which state regulators had authorized the launch of recreational marijuana sales after McKee signed legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis in May.

“We were pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period,” said Santacroce. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators.

State officials are not expecting a surge in cannabis use because medical marijuana has been legal since 2006 and recreational cannabis is available in neighboring states. 

“It’s a good opportunity for Rhode Islanders to buy safe, regulated cannabis products in the convenience of their own town or area of the state,” Santacroce told the Boston Globe. “If you are used to going to Massachusetts or wherever, you can save time and gas. We will generate state and local tax revenue that didn’t exist before. And we have the opportunity to capture value in our market, in our industry, in our supply chain. That’s a big deal.”

Under state law, adults are permitted to smoke cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is allowed, unless the use poses potential harm to children. The legislation passed in May also includes provisions to expunge prior cannabis possession offenses no longer illegal under current law.

Taxes On Recreational Weed Total 20%

Taxes on recreational sales include a 10% state cannabis excise tax in addition to the 7% state sales tax, plus an additional 3% local tax for the city or town in which the sale takes place. Taxes on recreational marijuana sales are expected to generate about $15 million in tax revenues in the first full fiscal year of sales. State officials project regulated marijuana sales to generate about $7.5 million in state excise tax revenue, $5.2 million in state sales tax revenue, and $2.2 million in local excise tax revenue.

Cannabis retailer Mother Earth Wellness in Pawtucket opened three hours earlier than its normal 8:00 a.m. opening time to get a jump on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales, and the shop’s first recreational marijuana transaction was rung up at 5:18 a.m. The dispensary saw about 300 customers visit the dispensary by mid-morning, about 80% of whom were recreational buyers.

“We’ve had a very successful day,” Mother Earth Wellness co-owner Joe Pakuris told the Associated Press. “I think it has been a smooth transition and the state has done an excellent job of rolling out this program. Everything’s great.”

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Amendment 3 Passes in Missouri, Legalizing Cannabis

Residents of The Show Me State approved Amendment 3 to legalize recreational cannabis on Nov. 8. The Missouri Constitution will now be amended to allow for cannabis sales, possession, consumption, delivery, and manufacturing. Additionally, it automatically allows anyone convicted of a non-violent cannabis crime or offense to be release from incarceration, or to clear their records via expungement.

The amendment will also implement a 6% tax on cannabis, which will be allocated to fund veteran healthcare, drug treatments, and the public defender system. (Local governments may implement a sales taxes of up to 3%.)

The campaign to legalize was led by Legal MO 2022, which raised $5.6 million to help make legalization a reality in Missouri. According to the campaign, projections show that annual cannabis sales revenue could reach up to $40.8 million, with local governments seeing at least $13.8 million.

Residents may also have up to six cannabis flowering plants, six non-flowering plants, and six clones (under 14 inches tall), as long as they register as a cultivator with the state. Plants are allowed as long as they are located inside a residence, or a locked space. If it’s found in public view, growers can receive up to a $250 fee, and the confiscation of their plants.

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Legalization Initiative Passes in Maryland with Question 4

Voters approved Question 4, also called the Marijuana Legalization Amendment, in Maryland on Nov. 8. The passage of this initiative amends the Maryland Constitution with Article XX which allows cannabis possession and consumption for adults 21 and older, starting on or after July 1, 2023. The amendment also instructs the Maryland General Assembly to “provide for the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”

Companion legislation known as House Bill 837 has also become law, now that voters passed Question 4, possession of cannabis up to 1.5 ounces of flower and 10 grams of concentrate, is immediately decriminalized after Jan. 1, 2023, and will become legal after June 30, 2023. The bill permits residents to grow two cannabis plants at home, and immediately expunges anyone with cannabis convictions on their record, if their crimes are made legal by the passing of Question 4 and HB-837. It also permits the creation of the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund (to assist minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses) and Cannabis Public Health Fund (a collection of legislators and other important industry members who will enact change based on studies of youth impact, reporting data, public health campaigns, and more).

The “Yes on 4” campaign led the charge with this initiative, which is chaired by former NFL athlete Eugene Monroe. The initiative’s success can also be attributed to donors such as SunMed Growers, Trulieve Medical Cannabis Dispensary, Curio Wellness, Marijuana Policy Project, and Green Thumb Industries.

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Recreational Pot Presents Opportunities for Missouri’s Medical Cannabis Biz

In less than two weeks, voters in Missouri will decide on an amendment to legalize recreational pot in the state, a prospect that has some established medical cannabis businesses eyeing expansion.

The St. Louis Business Journal has a report out this week on the ballot proposal, known as Amendment 3, which is “projected to create a significantly larger market for the companies that have already emerged as major players in the state’s legal medical marijuana market.”

The outlet highlighted “Proper Cannabis, a St. Louis-based medical dispensary that opened a $20 million facility in Rock Hill last year, operates three dispensaries in the St. Louis region,” which has recently expanded “its existing facility by 25,000 to 30,000 square feet in preparation for a drastic increase in demand.”

“It’s both exciting and needed,” Proper Cannabis CEO John Pennington told the Business Journal. “What you have in Missouri is two to three times the number of people who are likely already consuming, who will now have safe, compliant and enjoyable places to shop with reliable quality products and medicine.” 

Medical cannabis opened for business in Missouri in the fall of 2020 after voters there passed a measure legalizing the treatment in 2018. 

A year after the medical marijuana program launched, the state reported that the industry had grown to more than 140 dispensaries employing about 5,000 people.

The St. Louis Business Journal also reported on “BeLeaf Medical, an Earth City-based medical cannabis firm, made a notable change as it prepares for the possibility of a market expansion into recreational cannabis.”

According to the outlet, the company recently hired Jason Nelson as its new CEO. Nelson “joined the company three and a half months ago from Chicago-based Cresco Labs, where he was the cannabis firm’s senior vice president of horticulture,” and where he “helped the company expand into 10 states, including five that made the transition from medical to recreational sales.”

Amendment 3 officially qualified for the Missouri ballot in August, when Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said that the group behind the proposal, Legal Missouri 2022, had submitted a sufficient number of valid signatures.

“Our statewide coalition of activists, business owners, medical marijuana patients and criminal justice reform advocates has worked tirelessly to reach this point, and deserves all the credit,” Legal Missouri campaign manager John Payne said in a statement at the time. “Our campaign volunteers collected 100,000 signatures, on top of paid signature collection. That outpouring of grassroots support among Missourians who want to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis made all the difference. We look forward to engaging with voters across the state in the coming weeks and months. Missourians are more than ready to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana.”

If it is approved by voters, Amendment 3 will allow “Missourians 21 years and older to possess, purchase, consume and cultivate marijuana,” and “Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to automatically expunge their criminal records.”

The initiative would also create a legal marijuana market that would impose a six percent sales tax on weed.

“Beyond covering administrative expenses and the costs to process automatic expungements, any remaining surplus will be split equally between veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment, and Missouri’s underfunded public defender system,” Legal Missouri explains on its website.

In addition, it would allow local governments in Missouri to levy their own sales taxes of up to three percent. According to the group, state officials “project additional annual revenue of at least $40.8 million and additional local government revenues of at least $13.8 million.”

The amendment’s prospects are difficult to gauge, with polling on the proposal all over the map.

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Five States to Vote on Cannabis Legalization Measures

Voters in five states will see recreational marijuana legalization proposals on their ballots for the November midterm elections, giving the cannabis community a chance to gain new ground in the movement to free the plant.

Activists in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota have successfully led campaigns to put an adult-use cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot in their states, while lawmakers in Maryland have turned to the voters for guidance with a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. As the November election nears, the campaigns for reform are busy rallying the voters for support. And with the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana approaching half the country, each new jurisdiction brings the country one step closer to comprehensive reform.

Brooke Butler, vice president of partnership at cannabis compliance tech company Simplifya, told Cannabis Now that in addition to giving voters a chance to weigh in on cannabis reform in their own states, the ballot measures in this year’s election can help inform policy and spur progress in other jurisdictions and at the national level.

“As we head into midterms, we’re going to see a number of cannabis ballot initiatives take center stage,” Butler said. “Ballot initiatives are one of the truest forms of democracy in action and a great barometer of where America stands on key issues. When it comes to cannabis, historically, Americans have said yes in overwhelming numbers.”

Arkansas

PHOTO Christopher Boswell

In Arkansas, voters will see Issue 4, a proposed initiative to amend the state’s constitution, on their ballots. If passed, the measure from Responsible Growth Arkansas would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and permit licensed dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana. Taxes raised on sales on adult-use cannabis would be used to fund hospitals and healthcare research, law enforcement and drug courts, which focus on reducing repeat offenses and substance abuse among nonviolent offenders with substance misuse disorders.

Polling by Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College released last month showed that Arkansas’ legalization proposal was supported by 59% of likely voters, with just 29% opposed and 13% undecided. Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg, said that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas would be a significant victory for the cannabis reform community. But provisions of the measure that favor the state’s existing medical marijuana industry have left segments of the movement unsatisfied with the legislation.

“A win for legalization in Arkansas would be seen as a major win for legalization advocates due to the fact that the current Governor Asa Hutchinson is a rabid prohibitionist who served as a chief architect of the nation’s Drug War when he was the head of the DEA,” Vicente noted. “However, this measure is the most controversial of the five ballot initiatives, since it provides a major benefit to the relatively small number of current medical marijuana business owners and only allows a very narrow path for new business entrants.”

Maryland

Maryland marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Christopher Boswell

Voters in Maryland will decide on Question 4, a referendum that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023. The measure also directs the state legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation and taxation of marijuana. Currently, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in Maryland under a 2013 law, while possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis was decriminalized in 2014. Question 4 is overwhelmingly supported by Maryland voters, with a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland showing 73% in favor of the proposal.

In July, California firm The Parent Company, home of Jay-Z’s Monogram brand, announced that it would be entering Maryland’s medical marijuana market through a partnership with Curio Wellness. TPCO CEO Troy Datcher said that if Question 4 succeeds, the company will be well-positioned to grow with the state’s newly legal market for adult-use cannabis. As might be expected, Datcher told Cannabis Now in an email that “TPCO is in favor of passage of Question 4.”

“Cannabis criminalization in Maryland has been a major public policy failure and has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of communities of color,” said Datcher. “It is critical that the state take a new direction, particularly as many of its neighboring states begin adopting adult-use programs. In addition, legalizing cannabis in Maryland would stimulate the state’s economy and create tens of thousands of new jobs for locals.”

Missouri

MIssouri marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Sean Pavone

Midterm election ballots in Missouri will include Amendment 3, which would change the state constitution to legalize the possession, use, sale and delivery of marijuana for personal use and sets a 6% tax on commercial cannabis sales. The proposal, advanced by Legal Missouri 2022, also includes provisions for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions. Polling on Amendment 3 is mixed, with a survey commissioned by the Missouri Scout in early September finding only 43% of respondents in support of Amendment 3, compared to 47% against and 10% undecided. However, a SurveyUSA poll conducted only days later found that 62% of voters were “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.  

Mark Toigo, CEO of Organic Remedies Missouri (ORMO), said that his company supports the ballot measure, noting that polling has shown that a significant majority of the state’s residents support legalizing adult-use cannabis. But the state legislature has failed to act in accordance with the will of the people. Noting that the initiative campaign collected more than 400,000 signatures from supporters, Toigo believes the whole state will benefit if the measure is approved.

“If the ballot question receives a majority vote it will transform the Missouri cannabis industry into one of the strongest in the country. With existing infrastructure, a well-trained workforce, and some of the best brands in cannabis already established in the Missouri Medical Marijuana program, Missouri will be positioned to no longer lose its tax revenue to states like Illinois and Oklahoma,” Toigo explained in an email. “Legal Mo 22 ensures sustained job creation, economic development and revenue flow to Missouri, while also righting the wrongs of cannabis’ past prohibition and providing ample opportunities for those most harmed by the failed war on drugs.”

North Dakota

North Dakota marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Eldon

Statutory Measure 2 in North Dakota would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and permit the home cultivation of up to three cannabis plants. Retail sales of marijuana would be permitted by the measure, although the initiative includes a cap of 18 dispensaries and seven production facilities. The measure also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to enact regulations governing commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and sales by October 1, 2023. Although statewide polling data is not available, a poll of southwestern North Dakota residents in July found that only 39% supported the marijuana legalization initiative from New Approach North Dakota, while 43% were opposed and 18% were indifferent. A similar effort in 2018 failed at the polls, with 59% voting against the measure and 41% in favor. But the campaign manager for both efforts, David Owen, believes this year might be different.

“We’re a viable campaign that has a good chance of success,” he told the Associated Press.

South Dakota

South Dakota marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Eldon

Voters in neighboring South Dakota will also have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana in November. If they vote in favor of the measure, it wouldn’t be the first time. A 2020 ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis passed with 54% of the vote, but a legal challenge supported by Gov. Kristi Noem led to the state Supreme Court invalidating the measure on procedural grounds. The vote on this year’s proposal, Initiated Measure 27, could be closer than two years ago, with the results uncertain as election day approaches. A South Dakota State University poll released on October 14 showed that 45% were in favor of the legalization bid and 47% against, with 8% undecided.

If Measure 27 prevails on election day, possession and use of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia will be legalized. Adults 21 and older would be permitted to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Those living in a jurisdiction without a licensed marijuana retailer would be allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants in a secure location. Attorney Vicente says legalization in the Dakotas could put additional pressure on lawmakers in Congress to finally achieve national marijuana reform.

“Despite their small populations (both Dakotas have more cows than people), legalization votes in these states could move the needle in a profound way at the federal level,” Vicente wrote in an email. “Upon their states’ voting to legalize, the four U.S. Senators representing the Dakotas would be faced with an important decision—do they continue to vote to uphold federal prohibition and criminalize their own constituents, or do they join the growing number of voices in the Senate who are looking to legalize.”

How Will Legalization Efforts Fare in 2022?

federal cannabis legalization

With just weeks to go before the midterm elections on November 8, pollsters and pundits are closely watching the marijuana legalization proposals in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Beyond their intended effect on each state’s respective cannabis policy, the ballot measures could also affect other races on those ballots. Ellen Mellody, vice president at cannabis public relations firm Mattio Communications and a former spokesperson for the Obama-Biden campaigns, said that the marijuana legalization measures on the ballot this year are likely to spur turnout among prospective voters who support cannabis legalization efforts. Additionally, she noted that President Joseph Biden’s recent announcement that he would pardon federal convictions for marijuana possession, which she termed a “brilliant move” that is “likely to pay out dividends,” could also boost turnout and encourage voters to support Democratic candidates and bolster efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

“These ballot initiatives will absolutely swing results in certain states and districts, and the pollsters are finally catching on. At the federal level, it’s unlikely the timing of Biden’s announcement last week was an accident,” Mellody wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “Even in red states Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, you’re seeing numbers come in at over 50 percent. It’s no wonder why more electeds at the federal level are hopping on the legalization bus. At a minimum, the results of these initiatives should solidify that the dam is breaking.”

With polling showing that at least three of the cannabis policy reform measures on the ballot are likely to succeed, it’s becoming clear that this year’s election will make new strides in the efforts to end the prohibition of marijuana in the United States. A clean sweep similar to 2020, when voters in all five states deciding on cannabis legalization measures approved the efforts, would be a significant victory for the movement. Datcher of TPCO said that if cannabis policy reform measures post a strong showing next month, it would reenergize efforts to pass comprehensive national marijuana legalization.

“If all five measures pass, the number of states that have legalized adult-use cannabis will increase from 19 to 24, nearly half of the states in the country,” he said. “We are thus getting increasingly close to a ‘tipping point’ where we will hopefully see meaningful movement at the federal level.”

But even if all five states are added to the recreational marijuana fold, activists warn the progress won’t necessarily be the end of story in those states. In addition to South Dakota’s invalidation of the successful 2020 measure, the Mississippi Supreme Court also struck down a medical marijuana legalization initiative that passed the same year. And Paul Armentano, the deputy director National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that several of this year’s ballot measures faced opposition and efforts to keep them off the ballot. The tactic worked in Oklahoma, where voters will have to wait until 2024 to decide on State Question 820. In September, the state Supreme Court ruled that the recreational marijuana legalization measure would not appear on the November ballot, despite the campaign’s adherence to the state’s regulatory guidance and deadlines.

“With public support for marijuana policy reform reaching super-majority status in recent years, prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion,” Armentano said in a statement from the agency. “Rather, they are now relying on anti-democratic gamesmanship to prevent voters from weighing in on the issue.”

On November 9, the day after this year’s midterm elections, the cannabis community is sure to have new wins to celebrate. But the parties should be tempered with a realization that the job is not yet done. More than half the states in the nation will still have bans on adult-use cannabis, and prohibitionists will regroup to stand their ground, dwindling as it is. To maintain progress once the ballots are counted, the cannabis community must celebrate the victories, assess the failures and stay vigilant for the fight ahead.

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