Rhode Island Governor Nominates Three for Cannabis Regulatory Board

The governor of Rhode Island on Wednesday nominated three individuals to a regulatory panel that will oversee the state’s legal marijuana programs.

Gov. Dan McKee, a Democrat, announced his appointments to the Rhode Island Cannabis Control Commission, which “will oversee the regulation, licensing and control of adult use and medical cannabis in the Ocean State,” his office said in a press release.

“I am proud to appoint these three individuals to the commission to ensure Rhode Island’s cannabis industry is both fairly regulated and successful,” McKee said in the announcement. “These nominees bring diverse and relevant experience and I look forward to working with them.”

The three nominees are headlined by Kimberly Ahern, McKee’s pick to serve as chair of the commission and who currently serves as the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

“I am grateful to Governor McKee for his trust in me, and I look forward to the Senate confirmation process. If confirmed, I hope to continue the good work that has already begun in Rhode Island thanks to the leadership of the Department of Business Regulation and the Department of Health for many years. The first six months of adult-use have demonstrated our state’s success in carefully expanding into this new industry. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to regulate cannabis in a manner that is safe, transparent and equitable in the years going forward,” Ahern said in the announcement.

The governor’s other two nominees are Robert Jacquard, currently a self-employed attorney, and Layi Oduyingbo, a managing attorney for a law firm in Cranston, Rhode Island.

“I am truly honored to be selected to the Rhode Island Cannabis Control Commission and serve as one of its three voting commissioners,” Oduyingbo said in the announcement. “I thank Governor Dan McKee for my appointment, and I am grateful for everyone who supported my candidacy. As a lifelong Rhode Islander and small business owner, I grasp the significance of this new and exciting opportunity to succeed which is now available to businesses operating in this industry. As a commissioner, I will use my business and legal experience to efficiently oversee the regulation, licensing, and control of cannabis and marijuana use in a manner that is cautious, transparent, equitable, and consistent with the laws of our State.”

The governor will now “send these three names to the Rhode Island Senate for Advice and Consent,” according to his office.

Recreational cannabis sales began in Rhode Island in December after McKee signed a measure legalizing pot for adults aged 21 and older last spring.

“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee said in a statement at the time. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

The adult-use cannabis market opened for business late last year after McKee announced that five existing medical cannabis dispensaries had been licensed to sell recreational pot as well.

“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 the announcement. “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.”

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North Carolina Lawmaker Introduces Legalization Bill

A Democratic lawmaker in North Carolina on Monday introduced a bill that would legalize the sale and possession of recreational cannabis for adults in the state.

State Sen. Toby Fitch’s proposal focuses primarily on “the sale, possession and use of marijuana,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal, “although a section covers the legal use of industrial hemp.”

As in other states and cities that have lifted the prohibition on pot, Fitch’s bill would apply to individuals who are 21 and older.

Under the proposal, those adults could “possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person,” the newspaper reported, but there would be restrictions and penalties tied to consuming pot in public.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, anyone “who possesses more than two ounces on their person in a public setting could be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25,” but “anyone possessing more than one pound of marijuana—not including a marijuana licensure—could be found guilty of a Class F felony and face a fine of up to $250,000.”

Neither recreational nor medicinal cannabis are legal in the Tar Heel State––one of a dwindling number of states with outright prohibition still intact.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the bill “may represent an attempt to link legalization to a medical marijuana bill…that cleared three Senate committees during the 2021 session before stalling in August in Rules and Operations.”

The medical cannabis bill was introduced last year by a Republican state Senator.

Fitch’s bill would also establish a regulatory body overseeing the new cannabis market called the Cannabis Control Commission.

Under the text of the legislation, the commission would “consist of a Chief Executive Officer, the Board of Directors, and the agents and employees of the Commission. The Commission shall be administratively located within the Department of Public Safety but shall exercise its powers independently of the Secretary of Public Safety.”

The commission would issue rules over the sale and transportation of cannabis, while also enforcing them.

The regulatory body would also be charged with overseeing the social equity provisions of the new law, which are designed to provide opportunities within the new market to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

Of course, all of this may well be moot, given the composition of the North Carolina General Assembly. Republicans control both legislative chambers, while Democrats have one of their own, Roy Cooper, currently serving as governor.

A spokesperson for the Democratic governor indicated last year that Cooper would be amenable to signing the medical cannabis legislation that was introduced.

“Studies have shown medical marijuana can offer many benefits to some who suffer from chronic conditions, particularly veterans, and the Governor is encouraged that North Carolina might join the 36 other states that have authorized it for use,” the spokesperson told the Outer Banks Voice. “The Governor will review this bill as it moves through the legislative process.”

There is reason to believe that North Carolina voters are ready for lawmakers to legalize both medicinal and recreational cannabis.

A poll last month found that a whopping majority of North Carolina voters––72%––are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. The support included 64% of state Republicans, 75% of Democrats, and nearly 80% of independents.

A smaller majority of voters in North Carolina, 57%, said that recreational pot use should also be legal, including 63% of Democrats, and 60% of independents.

On the subject of recreational cannabis, state Republicans were divided, with 46% saying it should be made legal and 44% saying it should remain illegal.

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Weed Sales Outpace Alcohol for First Time in Massachusetts

Cannabis tax revenue in Massachusetts is performing better than projected, over four years into the state’s adult-use market. According to the most recently available data, Massachusetts reported collecting $74.2 million in marijuana excise taxes—much more than the $51.3 million in alcohol excise taxes that were collected. 

Alcohol sales continue the downward trend that began two decades ago, according to data collected by Gallup polling, despite a temporary sharp uptick in alcohol sales amid COVID. Analysts have wondered if there is a correlation between cannabis reform and alcohol sales.

The trends seen in Massachusetts are no different. Fortune reports that alcohol excise taxes imposed on each gallon of alcohol produced also remained flat over the last five years, at $0.55 per gallon of wine, and $4.05 per gallon of hard alcohol. 

Massachusetts collected over $112 million in adult-use cannabis sales excise tax revenue in 2021—206 percent higher than projected—according to a Monthly Public Meeting presentation from data from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission. 

“This number also underscores the entire agency’s tireless efforts, particularly those of our hardworking staff, to thoughtfully regulate a safe, accessible, and effective adult-use marketplace that keeps critical tenets of our mission—public health, public safety, and equity, among others—front of mind,” Commission Executive Director Shawn Collins said in a statement on January 25. 

The state charges an excise tax of 10.75 percent on the projected retail price of recreational cannabis in addition to a 6.25 percent state sales tax, plus a local tax of up to three percent. 

Cannabis sales are doing much better than anticipated, despite all of the hiccups along the way such as COVID. But analysts say the surge in cannabis sales in Massachusetts comes at no surprise.

Vivien Azer, a Wall Street research analyst and managing director at Cowen who covers the emerging cannabis sector told local news station WCBV that when states convert from medical cannabis to adult-use, it typically leads to a doubling or even tripling of revenues “almost overnight.”

Kicking off recreational cannabis sales in any state is something of a spectacle to be celebrated.

Mikayla Bell, community outreach manager for NETA, one of the largest cannabis retailers in the state. “I think that people are looking for an alternative to make them feel better,” Bell told WCBV. “Oftentimes people are turning to alcohol for relief. And now they found another product with without the hangover, without the calories.”

Cannabis sales in Massachusetts high a milestone last September when sales in the state eclipsed $2 billion.

During the first year of cannabis sales, from November 2018 through 2019, 33 cannabis retailers generated $393.7 million in gross sales. Sales for all of the 2019 calendar year reached $444.9 million. 

In 2020, 91 adult-use cannabis retailers tallied $702 million in gross sales, despite being closed for two months due to the pandemic.

Most states impose a relatively high excise tax rate on cannabis. California’s cannabis tax hike didn’t go over well with legacy growers, for instance. But cannabis isn’t the only industry that faces steep taxes.

Alcohol taxes in Massachusetts could soon see a hike as well. State Representative Kay Khan filed a bill to double the excise taxes on beer, wine and liquor with H 2973. The state spends $2.6 billion each year to combat alcoholism and addiction, and should consider making the industry pay for that themselves.

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