New Law Allows Sales of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana in Maine

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill June 27, 2019, setting up a legal framework for the sale of recreational marijuana to adults as early as next year.

Her office said that the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy plans to accept applications for licenses by the end of 2019. The Democratic governor said her administration has worked quickly to implement the voter-approved law since she took office earlier in 2019.

The state’s voters chose to legalize both the use and sale of recreational marijuana among adults in November 2016, but months of delays and political squabbles have slowed the implementation of a commercial industry. 

State officials say retail adult-use marijuana could arrive in stores as soon as early 2020. 

Medical marijuana was already legal in Maine, and under the 2016 law, adults over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces (70.9 grams) of marijuana without penalty.

The new law becomes effective in September 2019. At that point, the Office of Marijuana Policy has 60 days to finalize regulations. Then, the state must start accepting applications within 30 days.

In the meantime, Mills’ administration is working on a public health and safety education campaign, and figuring out how the state will track, trace and license marijuana.

“We have drafted these rules with a view toward keeping the public’s health and safety at the forefront,” said Office of Marijuana Policy Director Erik Gundersen.

The new framework makes several changes to state law ahead of sales.

Municipalities could opt in or out of allowing marijuana sales. Only a handful of cities and towns have laid the groundwork for retail sales.

Currently, state law defines poisonous or harmful substances as “adulterated.” The new law says Maine would not consider edibles produced with recreational marijuana adulterated.

Under the new law, Maine residents who have lived in the state for at least four years would have to claim at least 51% ownership of a cannabis company to qualify for a license. The state would also authorize the department to impose an administrative hold on a licensee.

Marijuana is legal for adult use in 10 states and the District of Columbia, though some, like Maine, have yet to set up commercial sales. 

— Marina Villeneuve

Feature image: Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill June 27, 2019 setting up a legal framework for the sale of adult-use marijuana that could arrive in stores as early as 2020. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

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With Public Pressure, New Jersey Could Still Pass Legalization in 2019

Like Mark Twain or the old guy getting tossed onto a cart in Monty Python’s film “The Holy Grail,” reports of the death of legal marijuana in New Jersey have been exaggerated.

At least that’s what Kelli Hykes, the Government Relations Director for Weedmaps, maintained at a June 18, 2019, conference on the status of marijuana in Somerset, New Jersey, and presented by the nonprofit news organization NJ Spotlight.

Hykes argued that there is still time to approve the bill, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act, an option she sees as far preferable to a referendum vote that is more than a year away. But to do so, she said, supporters of marijuana reform need to let lawmakers know how they feel.

“I may be the Pollyanna of pot in New Jersey but it’s not dead yet and I’m still holding out hope that we can breathe life into it,” she said.

It’s premature to call the (marijuana legalization) bill dead. It definitely was involved in a fiery crash, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the bill is in a coma.
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Hers was the minority opinion at the event.

In March 2019, New Jersey seemed poised to become the first state to create a regulated, taxed marijuana market for adult use through the state Legislature. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was fighting for the measure, which had the support of the leadership in the state Senate and Assembly. The votes were there in the Assembly, but supporters were unable to cobble together the 21 votes needed in the Senate for passage.

After a morning of intense lobbying, Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney pulled the bill rather than see it defeated. He and Murphy had said the bill would return, but even Sweeney now says it will be taken to New Jersey voters as a ballot measure in 2020 rather than trying to push it through the Senate. 

Another panelist at the event, Fruqan Mouzon, helped write the bill. Mouzon has served as general counsel to New Jersey’s Senate Majority Office and is now the chair of the cannabis practice group at the law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney, and Carpenter LLP.

Fruqan Mouzon chairs the cannabis practice group for McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney, and Carpenter LLP and served as General Counsel for the New Jersey Senate Majority Office. He helped write the New Jersey adult-use marijuana legalization bill, which was pulled when it did not have enough Senate support to pass. (Photo by Bill Barlow)

According to Mouzon, the bill became increasingly complex in part because of efforts to create a new, multibillion-dollar legal industry that also would help address social and economic justice issues.  

“What we didn’t want was three big conglomerates taking over the marijuana industry in New Jersey,” he said. The bill aimed to create space for women, minorities, and disabled veterans as entrepreneurs.

But the complexity also came at a cost. There were several elements that he described as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” He described a balancing act in which compromises that were needed to bring in one reluctant Senate vote would in turn lose two others.

For Hykes, that complexity is an important reason the bill should be passed legislatively. The language of the referendum question will likely be very simple, without including the detailed policy that is needed to launch a new industry.

In New Jersey, she said, the referendum vote would amend the state’s Constitution. If approved as supporters expect, that would mean a slow and difficult process to make any changes that contradict the language on the ballot, a process that takes years at best. That’s a bad idea in a fast-changing industry, she said.

“The idea that we would be putting ourselves in a situation that it could take two to three years to course-correct is very dangerous, in my opinion,” Hykes said.

Not only is it a good idea for New Jersey lawmakers to pass the bill, she argued, but it is also doable, if supporters start putting political pressure on their representatives. A vote could happen after the November 2019 election, which Hykes described as the “lame duck” session. That would give lawmakers months to work out a compromise.

“It’s premature to call the bill dead,” she said. “It definitely was involved in a fiery crash, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the bill is in a coma.”

Kelli Hykes, Government Relations Director for Weedmaps, says that voters can call upon their elected leaders to revive and pass adult-use marijuana legalization in New Jersey during a “lame duck” session after the November 2019 election. (Photo by Bill Barlow)

Mouzon did not believe a lame duck vote is likely. If voters support legalization, the Legislature would still have to act to create the regulations that would cover sales and use. At that point, he said, lawmakers would dust off that complicated bill, now with the political cover to vote yes.

He seems certain voters will say yes.

“I don’t think that there’s any fear that it won’t pass overwhelmingly, 70%,” he said. The vote will come in a presidential election cycle, one with President Donald Trump on the ballot, which is likely to strongly motivate Democrats and progressives to get to the polls.

Hykes also said at the event co-sponsored by Weedmaps that the legislative route is the best policy option for New Jersey.

“What we haven’t seen is an uprising, a swell of support from the public. I think that if we saw that, the likelihood of passing during lame duck would be much higher,” she said. “Possible and likely are very different. It is absolutely possible, and it would be much more likely if people picked up the phone and demanded it.”

Mouzon agreed. “I think she’s absolutely right. There wasn’t a cry for legalization. The only voices you heard were in opposition.” Though the bill’s social justice element earned vocal support, Mouzon said legalization advocates didn’t build much of a case beyond that.

In the meantime, lawmakers in New Jersey and beyond continue to move forward on the issue. New Jersey approved wide-ranging reforms to its medical marijuana system, part of a package of bills set to be voted together with adult use. New York approved a statewide decriminalization bill after also falling short on legalization.

Illinois, however, was able to pass marijuana legalization in its General Assembly. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill June 25, 2019, in Chicago. Adult-use sales go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Mouzon argued that decriminalization is not the answer, citing some people’s long-held belief that marijuana is a “gateway” to other drugs.

“The drug dealer is the gateway,” he said. “If the only way that you can get marijuana is on the street, that guy can also give you cocaine. He can get you heroin. He can get you anything else you want. So we wanted to make it legal so we can regulate it and we can control how it gets out.”

The arrests continue as well. In arguing for quick action on legalization and expungement, Murphy said about 600 people get arrested on marijuana-related charges each week in New Jersey, and about 450 of those are people of color. 

Featured Image: John Mooney, CEO and education writer for NJ Spotlight, introduces a panel of experts discussing how New Jersey can pass legislation this session to legalize marijuana. (Photo by Bill Barlow) 

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Illinois Becomes the 11th State to Legalize Marijuana

Illinois is officially the 11th state to legalize marijuana for adult use, with Democratic Gov. J. B. Pritzker signing the bill, HB 1438, into law on June 25, 2019.

Illinois is the first state in the country to pass comprehensive tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation through its legislature, as opposed to via a voter-approved ballot initiative.

The bill, which allows adults 21 and older to possess, consume, and purchase certain amounts of cannabis, will go into effect on January 1, 2020. It also includes several provisions aimed at promoting social equity in the legal industry.

Individuals with prior convictions for possession of 30 grams, or about 1 ounce, or less will have their records automatically expunged. Those with convictions for more than 30 grams but less than 500 grams (1 to 18 ounces) could petition the courts to have their records cleared.

“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,” Pritzker said at the signing ceremony. “Legalization of adult use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called the bill “revolutionary in its work to right the wrongs of a failed war on drugs.”

“The time for justice is now, especially for communities of color who have long been disproportionately impacted by low-level cannabis convictions,” she said.

“This historic law is the result of many years of activism and lobbying by many people and hopefully will repair some of the damages done by cannabis prohibition,” Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chapter, told Marijuana Moment. “The social equity components and money that will go to communities that were disproportionately harmed are aspects I am very proud of.”

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), also cheered the move.

“We applaud the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pritzker on this resounding victory for personal liberty, racial justice, and common sense,” Hawkins said in a press release. “Illinois’ focus on fairness and equity in legalization should be a model for other states.”

The signing represents a fulfillment of a key campaign promise for Pritzker, who pledged to quickly legalize cannabis during his 2018 gubernatorial run. The process took longer than anticipated, with some lawmakers arguing that the bill didn’t go far enough to right the wrongs of prohibition, but the governor ultimately helped push it past the finish line.

Marijuana sales for flower containing up to 35% THC will be taxed at 10%. There will be a 25% tax on products containing more than 35% THC. And cannabis-infused products will be taxed at 20%t. That’s in addition to the state’s 6.25% sales tax; local jurisdictions have the option to impose another 3.5% tax.

While Pritzker estimated in his budget proposal earlier this year that a legal marijuana market would generate $170 million in revenue for the fiscal year 2020, a separate analysis projected that the state would take in more than $500 million in the first year.

The revenue will be used to cover the administrative costs of implementing the law and will also fund community grant programs, law enforcement operations, and substance abuse facilities.

An earlier version of the legislation would have allowed for personal cultivation, but it was amended at the last minute. Medical cannabis patients will be permitted to grow up to five plants for personal use, which is new for the program. Non-medical cultivation of up to five plants will be decriminalized, punishable by a fine, however.

“While only patients will be able to grow their own now, I am confident that eventually all adults in Illinois will gain that right in the near future,” said Linn of Illinois NORML. “It isn’t perfect and may have some issues in its initial launch, but the legislative process requires compromises and in the end, we have now achieved a long-sought goal of ending cannabis prohibition in Illinois.”

Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will have an advantage in the licensing process. Some advocates worry that between that and the ban on cultivation for personal use, there’s a risk that the law’s social equity provisions will be undermined.

That said, the law stands out from other legal cannabis systems in its strong focus on restorative justice and ensuring that the industry that emerges is equitable.

Individuals from areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war, or who have convictions on their records for offenses made legal under the law, will be able to apply for cannabis business licenses as social equity applicants, helping them to secure the licenses and entitling them to fee waivers.

Also, $30 million will be set aside for a low-interest loan program designed to empower members from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities hoping to participate in the industry.

While the law goes into effect at the start of 2020, licenses for new cannabis shops will be issued by May 1, 2019; licenses for processors, craft growers, and distributors will be issued by July 1, 2019.

Featured Image: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is applauded June 25, 2019, after he signed HB 1438 into law, making Illinois the 11th U.S. state to legalize adult-use marijuana. Pritzker signed the landmark bill — Illinois becomes the first state to legalize and regulate cannabis through its General Assembly, as opposed to voters approval — at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center in Chicago. (Associated Press/Amr Alfiky)

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here

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