Minnesota Groups Bind Together to Oppose Legal Cannabis

With Minnesota set to become the next front in the battle over cannabis legalization, a coalition of opponents is banding together to keep prohibition in place.

Under the straightforward name of “Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization,” the coalition “consists of the Minnesota Trucking Association, the state’s police and peace officers association and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, a policy arm of the Catholic Church of Minnesota, among others,” according to the Associated Press.

The group of likeminded, anti-pot groups is targeting a bill that passed the state House of Representatives last May. That bill would have legalized recreational pot use for adults in Minnesota, while also expunging previous low-level cannabis-related convictions.  

It also would have created “a responsible regulatory structure focused on developing micro-businesses and a craft market… fund[ed] public health awareness, youth access prevention and substance abuse treatment; provide[d] grants, loans, technical assistance and training for small businesses; require[d] testing and labeling of products; restrict[ed] packaging based on dosage size; and allow[ed] limited home grow abilities,” according to a press release last year from Minnesota Democrats.

But after passing the Democratic-controlled House, the legislation went nowhere in the state Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Ryan Hamilton of the Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the “marijuana bill that passed the Minnesota House last session wasn’t a justice bill, it was a marijuana commercialization bill.”

“As we’ve seen from other states that have opened the doors for the marijuana industry, the promises made to justify marijuana legalization rarely come true, particularly for communities of color,” Hamilton said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

The Minnesota legislative session is slated to convene on January 1, and as the Associated Press noted, the bill that passed the state House last May “is technically still alive, though it’s unclear whether Republicans in the Senate will take up the measure.”

The author of that bill, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, is one of the most vocal advocates of marijuana legalization among lawmakers in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“The failed criminalization of cannabis has resulted in a legacy of racial injustice that can no longer go unaddressed,” Winkler said in a statement after the bill was introduced last year. “Adults deserve the freedom to decide whether to use cannabis, and our state government should play an important role in addressing legitimate concerns around youth access, public health, and road safety. Veterans and Minnesotans with serious illnesses like PTSD deserve better access to our medical program, which is not working well for most people. It’s time to legalize, expunge, and regulate.”

According to the Associated Press, Winkler “told the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative at an event on Wednesday [that] his goal is to reexamine parts of the bill this session to improve the proposal and attempt to get senators on board,” but he acknowledged its outlook in the state Senate is “up in the air.”

After Winkler introduced his bill in the state House last year, Republicans in the legislature were dismissive. 

Paul Gazelka, the GOP leader in the state Senate at the time, said at the time that he “would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority.” 

Gazelka stepped down as majority leader in September and is now running to challenge Democratic Governor Tim Walz in this year’s gubernatorial race. It could set the stage for legalization to emerge as a dominant issue in the campaign, with Walz a full-throated supporter of ending pot prohibition. 

“I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes,” Walz said when he ran for governor in 2018.

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Is The Underground Cannabis Industry Over?

Cannabis legalization is on the rise and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As the market opens its arms to the world of cannabis, long-time users started wondering about dealers legitimizing their business. When people think about buying weed, images of dark alleyways and secret locations to avoid cops come to mind. Now fast forward […]

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Arizona Cannabis Generates Over $1B of Revenue in 2021

Cannabis is officially a billion dollar business in the state of Arizona.

Voters in the Grand Canyon State passed a measure at the ballot in 2020 that made recreational pot legal for adults ages 21 and older. Medical cannabis, meanwhile, has been legal in the state since 2010.

That made 2021 the first year with both markets open for business, and the results were lucrative for Arizona.

According to figures released by the state Department of Revenue, medical and recreational cannabis sales combined to generate more than $1.23 billion in revenue last year.

“Rarely does an industry produce over $1.2 billion in revenue in its first year. This number shows that the legalization of cannabis is something Arizonans believe strongly in and the many benefits it contributes to the state’s economy,” said Samuel Richard, the Executive Director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA), as quoted by azfamily.com.

The Department of Revenue provided a detailed breakdown of the sales data, revealing that recreational adult-use pot brought in $528,001,278 in revenue, while medical cannabis generated $703,803,194.

According to the figures, November brought in $60,299,191 in adult-use sales, making it the highest-grossing month for recreational pot. It was also the only month of the year in which recreational sales topped $60 million. 

April was the top month for medical cannabis, with $72,944,477 generated then. Complete sales figures for December were not provided.

Moreover, the state raked in $196,447,570 in taxes on the combined sales last year, and that does not include sales in December. 

According to the Arizona Department of Revenue, “there is a transaction privilege tax (TPT) rate and an excise tax (16 percent) on the retail sales” of adult use recreational cannabis in the state.

In 2020, 60 percent of Arizona voters approved Proposition 207, a ballot initiative that legalized recreational pot use in the state. (Arizona was one of four states that year where voters approved legalization measures at the ballot, joining Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey in moving to end prohibition.) 

In August, Arizona launched a social equity program for aspiring cannabis dispensary owners as part of Prop 207’s commitment 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.”

Through the program, the state’s Department of Health Services will award 26 dispensary licenses to applicants who come from communities most adversely affected by anti-drug policies.

“The social equity ownership program is intended to promote the ownership and operation of licensed Marijuana Establishments by individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws,” the Department of Health Services explained. “Social equity license holders will be required to comply with all statutes and rules that govern Adult-Use Marijuana Establishment licenses, including obtaining approval to operate before opening their retail location. Additionally, social equity license holders will be required to develop and implement policies to document how the Marijuana Establishment will provide a benefit to one or more communities disproportionately affected by the enforcement of Arizona’s previous marijuana laws.”

But that effort has also faced scrutiny, with a group of female investors filing a lawsuit in November targeting the program. The plaintiffs, a pair of organizations known as the Greater Phoenix Urban League and Acre 41, assert that the rules governing the program are inconsistent with the goals of Prop 207.

Defendants in the suit are the state of Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, the state Department of Health Services and Don Herrington, the director of the Department of Health Services.

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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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Mississippi Takes Another Step Toward Allowing Medical Cannabis

The long, drawn out back-and-forth surrounding a medical cannabis bill in Mississippi reached a potentially major breakthrough last week, with members of the state House overwhelmingly passing the legislation.

The bill passed out of the state House by a vote of 104-14, the Associated Press reported. Members of the state Senate passed the bill the previous week with a vote of 46-5, “but the House made some changes,” according to the Associated Press, and now it is down to senators to either accept those changes or bring the legislation to the negotiating table.

“This bill has been vetted probably more than any bill in my history for sure,” said Republican state House Representative Lee Yancey, as quoted by the Mississippi Clarion Ledger.

The Clarion Ledger said that Yancey, the chair of the state House Drug Policy Committee, worked closely with GOP state Senator Kevin Blackwell on the legislation throughout the summer months and into the fall.

Earlier this month, Blackwell filed a 445-page bill that was then referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee for review by Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann.

According to the Clarion Ledger, Yancey “made three changes” to the bill passed last Wednesday by the state House, with the most notable dealing with the amount of cannabis a patient can procure, a major area of disagreement between lawmakers and Mississippi’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves.

Blackwell’s bill permitted patients to purchase up to 3.5 grams of cannabis per day, but Yancey’s version allows for only three ounces to be purchased at a time.

According to the Clarion Ledger, a patient “can still purchase 3.5 grams of marijuana at a time, but only six times a week.”

It is unclear if that will be enough to placate Reeves, who has said that he would prefer the limit to be lowered to 2.7 grams.

The Clarion Ledger said that Yancey considers the number “just a starting point, and he expects the legislature to increase the amount of marijuana a person can purchase each month in future years.”

“This is an effort to start small and grow rather than start big and reduce,” Yancey said.

In another notable change, the House-passed bill “puts the entirety of the program under the Mississippi State Department of Health,” according to the Clarion Ledger, whereas the Senate version tasked the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to oversee “the licensing, inspection and oversight of cannabis cultivation facilities, processing facilities, transportation and cannabis disposal entities in the state.”

Nearly 70 percent of Mississippi voters passed a proposal at the ballot in 2020 to legalize medical cannabis for patients in the state suffering from a host of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. 

But the law’s path to enactment has been troubled. Last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the ballot initiative, citing a technicality that rendered it unconstitutional. 

In the wake of that ruling, state lawmakers sought to replace the nullified initiative with a new medical marijuana law, but that, too, has been hamstrung by delays.

Lawmakers produced a draft of a bill in September, but Reeves had concerns with the proposal and never called a special session to debate and pass the legislation.

“I am confident we will have a special session of the Legislature if we get the specifics of a couple of items that are left outstanding,” Reeves said at a press conference in October. “Again, we have made great progress working with our legislative leaders.”

Now, with the regular session underway, the bill returns to the Senate––but the ball remains very much in Reeves’ court. 

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Austin Voters to Decide on Marijuana Decriminalization Measure

Voters in Austin, Texas will decide on a measure that would effectively decriminalize cannabis after city lawmakers this week approved the proposal for the ballot in an election to be held in May. The Austin City Council approved the measure, known as the Austin Freedom Act, for the ballot by a vote of 7-3 on Tuesday, January 18.

If the ballot measure succeeds at the polls in May, Austin police officers would be barred from arresting or ticketing people for minor marijuana-related offenses including possession of small amounts of cannabis or marijuana paraphernalia, unless a suspect is also accused of a more serious crime. The city would also not be permitted to pay for scientific testing of substances suspected to be marijuana, making prosecution for a cannabis-related crime difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, the proposal would prohibit law enforcement officers from performing no-knock warrants (the police practice of executing search warrants and entering homes without announcing themselves first) in the city.

The city council took its action in response to a petition circulated by the progressive political group Ground Game Texas, which is also sponsoring similar efforts in other parts of the state. Last month, activists working with the group submitted the petition with over 30,000 signatures to the Austin city clerk’s office. That’s 10,000 signatures more than the number required to qualify the measure for the May ballot. On January 17, the city clerk verified that the campaign had collected the required 20,000 signatures from registered voters.

Mike Siegel, the political director of Ground Game Texas, praised the efforts of activists after the city council voted to include the measure on the ballot for an election this spring.

“The City Council’s vote to schedule an election on the Austin Freedom Act is a testament to the incredible work of our organizers and volunteers who are fighting for progressive change in their community,” Siegel said in a press release from the group. “Thanks to their tireless efforts, voters will have the opportunity in May to end the criminalization of marijuana possession and the dangerous practice of no-knock police raids.”

The city council could have voted to enact the measure itself, but instead opted to let voters decide. If the ballot measure is approved, it would codify policy that has already been informally adopted in Austin, where police routinely decline to make arrests for cannabis possession and city funds are not spent on marijuana testing.

“The primary effect is that it would make the decriminalization that exists in Austin today actually long term and would put the force of law behind it,” Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition, told the Texas Tribune.

Austin Cops Would Rather Arrest People for Weed

As might be expected, Austin’s law enforcement community is against the notion of decriminalizing cannabis. When the city council voted to stop funding marijuana lab testing and asked police to stop arresting and issuing tickets for misdemeanor pot charges in 2020, Brian Manley, the chief of police at the time, said that the council did not have the authority to direct the department not to enforce state law. The police officers’ union is also against the policy change and has declined to support the ballot measure.

“We don’t support it just because we feel like you should follow state law,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. “They’re skirting state law. But the thing is, if this makes people in Austin happy, so be it.”

Ground Game Texas, which promotes the progressive issues of  “workers, wages and weed,” noted that 87% of Texans support legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational use, according to a poll conducted by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas. The group is collecting signatures for a similar ballot measure in San Marcos and plans cannabis decriminalization efforts for the cities of Killeen and Harker Heights, as well.

“In less than a year, Ground Game Texas has demonstrated the power of grassroots organizing to affect progressive change,” said Julie Oliver, the group’s executive director. “We will continue working with local groups and volunteers to launch efforts like these across Texas, bringing new voters into the fold and mobilizing them behind progressive policies for their community.”

On the same day that the Austin city clerk’s office verified the petition signatures, Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, suggested that he supports decriminalizing marijuana in the state. Abbott also indicated that cannabis decriminalization is supported by lawmakers, despite their failure to approve several reform proposals in recent years.

“One thing that I believe in, and I believe the state Legislature believes in, and that is prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others,” Abbott said on January 17 while campaigning for re-election in Edinburg, Texas. “Small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with.”

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Utah Lawmaker Files Bill To Explore Therapeutic Use of Psychedelics

A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to explore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and PTSD. The legislation, House Bill 167, was introduced on Tuesday by Utah state Representative Brady Brammer, who noted that the measure “doesn’t legalize anything.”

“It asks our Huntsman Mental Health Institute and other experts in the field to review the science that’s out there, the research that’s out there, and make any recommendations that they have if they feel psychedelics can be safely administered through a prescription basis and under what circumstances,” Brammer said in a television news interview.

If passed, HB 167 would direct the state’s Health and Human Services Department to create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force. The group would “study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness,” according to the text of the legislation. The legislation specifies the makeup of the task force, which would include mental health professionals, researchers and patients.

Although the bill does not specifically mention psychedelics or any particular drug, the task force would be authorized to “provide evidence-based recommendations on any psychotherapy drug that the task force determines may enhance psychotherapy when treating a mental illness.” The legislation would empower the task force to study the research into psychedelic drugs, which has shown the potential to treat serious mental health conditions.

“We need effective tools to treat mental illness,” Brammer said in a statement to local media. “If psychedelics can be helpful and safely administered, we need them in our toolbox.”

Cannabis Activists Support Utah Psychedelics Bill

Brammer’s bill is supported by groups that campaigned for Proposition 2, the 2018 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Utah. Kylee Shumway, the medical director for the Utah Patients Coalition, said that psychedelics may be able to help residents of the state who are struggling with mental illness.

“We have higher rates of depression and anxiety than a lot of other states and even for people that are looking for help, there’s not enough psychiatrists; there’s not enough mental health professionals to help them,” said Shumway. “And a lot of the medications aren’t working.”

Research into psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine has shown that the drugs have potential therapeutic benefits, particularly for serious mental health conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. Research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2020 found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was an effective and quick-acting treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

“It’s very promising,” Shumway exclaimed. “There are some huge studies that have just been finished recently on psilocybin that put it head to head against SSRIs which are antidepressants and psilocybin performed better across the board.”

“Utah has some of the finest researchers in the areas of psychiatry and neurosciences at Huntsman Mental Health Institute,” said Brammer. “This bill seeks to leverage that expertise, along with other experts grappling with mental illness, to review the research results, and if appropriate, make recommendations on how to safely administer these therapeutics under the care of qualified physicians.”

Steve Urquhart, a former Republican Utah state senator, also supports Brammer’s bill to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

“Psychedelics changed my life,” he told local media. “It changed the way I see myself, the way I regard myself, and that allows me to see others and love others a lot more.”

Urquhart is the founder of The Divine Assembly, a Utah church that promotes religious and responsible use of psilocybin. 

“I’ve always been a bit of an activist at heart, and I decided I wanted to form a church where people can have these freedoms to worship with psychedelics,” Urquhart said. “I tell people, don’t get too lost on psychedelics; The Divine Assembly is about connection, and psychedelics can help with that.”

Urquhart believes that state lawmakers are likely to appreciate the cautious approach HB 167 takes to explore the benefits of psychedelics and may eventually support the legislation.

“Remember, this is Utah. Of course, we’re likely to take a slower approach to something like this,” he noted. “But on things like this, when the process runs, when it works, Utah can kind of come up with some magic. I’m optimistic about this.”

Brammer introduced HB 167 in the Utah House of Representatives on January 18. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

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South Dakota Governor Demands Cannabis Advocates Cover Legal Costs

Not content with triumphing in court, conservative South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem wants cannabis advocates to pick up the tab, too. 

A spokesperson for Noem said last week that organizers behind the nullified amendment to legalize cannabis in the Mount Rushmore State should have to cover the expenses stemming from the governor’s own legal challenge against the law.

In 2020, 54 percent of voters in South Dakota approved Amendment A, which would have legalized cannabis for adults ages 21 and older. However, things got very complicated very quickly. 

Noem was a vocal opponent of the amendment throughout the campaign and maintained her objections even after its passage. 

Two law enforcement officials brought a lawsuit on Noem’s behalf, challenging the constitutionality of Amendment A. In February of last year, a circuit court judge in South Dakota agreed, striking down the amendment.

The state Supreme Court took up the case in April and, in late November, upheld the lower court’s ruling, saying that Amendment A, which dealt with both medicinal and recreational pot, violated South Dakota’s “one subject” requirement for constitutional amendments.

Noem, widely seen as a potential 2022 Republican presidential contender, celebrated the ruling.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” the governor said in a statement at the time. “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.” 

A poll last month found that more than 50 percent of South Dakotans disapprove of Noem’s handling, the only policy area in which she received low marks. (The same poll found that her overall approval rating stands at 61 percent.)

An attorneys group in Sioux Falls, South Dakota “received $142,000 in December for successfully arguing that Amendment A violated the state Constitution,” according to the Argus Leader newspaper.

Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem’s office, said that expense should be paid by the individuals who brought Amendment A to the ballot.

“The proponents of Amendment A submitted an unconstitutional amendment and should reimburse South Dakota taxpayers for the costs associated with their drafting errors,” Fury told the Argus Leader.

The group behind the amendment, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said simply, “That will not happen.”

“South Dakota cannabis reform advocates have no obligation to pay for Governor Noem’s political crusade to overturn the will of the people. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous,” said Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. 

“Amendment A was a sensible and well-drafted initiative approved by a majority of South Dakota voters at the ballot box, and it was only repealed due to a deeply flawed court ruling that relied on a far-fetched legal theory lacking evidentiary support. Driven by her desire to deprive South Dakotans of personal freedom on cannabis, Governor Noem went out of her way to create an unnecessary legal battle over Amendment A and used taxpayer money to do it. As a result of her actions, South Dakotans paid to have their own votes reversed.”

South Dakota voters approved a separate measure at the ballot in 2020 that specifically legalized medical cannabis and, in November, qualifying patients there began applying for cards.

Meanwhile, lawmakers there have prepared dozens of bills aimed at reforming the state’s marijuana laws during this year’s legislative session.

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Kentucky Addresses Cannabis Reform Through New Legislation

Lawmakers and activists convened in Kentucky this week to discuss a pair of proposals that would dramatically change how cannabis is treated in the state, but there remains a divide over how far the reform effort should go.

The biggest question of the moment remains: Will they legalize recreational cannabis, or just medicinal? 

Local television station WDRB reported that “state representatives and members of the Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Coalition, ACLU and NAACP met Tuesday in support of legalization” in the capital city of Frankfort, with the focus primarily aimed at two bills brought by Democratic state House Representative Nima Kulkarni. 

In November, Kulkarni pre-filed two pieces of legislation. One was a proposed constitutional amendment to allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, use and sell as much as an ounce of cannabis (or up to five personal plants) without legal repercussions. If the amendment were to pass, “the question would be added to the November ballot,” according to local television station WLKY.

Kulkarni’s other bill would decriminalize cannabis in the state while also expunging the records of those previously convicted of pot charges.

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” Kulkarni said in a statement after the bills were filed late last year. “First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine.

“Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes by a single cent. And, finally, polls have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Democratic state House Representative Attica Scott, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told WLKY that legislators in the Bluegrass State “have the opportunity to take the question to the voters in Kentucky and ask them, not politicians who want to be obstructionist, but the people who can benefit most from the legalization and decriminalization.”

Scott said that, for her, the two bills are a package deal.

“You can’t have one without the other, and I have been very clear that I am not going to sign onto legalization legislation if we don’t include decriminalization,” Scott said, as quoted by WLKY.

But other lawmakers in Kentucky are in favor of a different approach to cannabis reform, one that begins with a focus on medicinal cannabis.

WDRB said that lawmakers there expect the debate of this year’s legislative session “to revolve around medical marijuana, and some hope with the changes they’ve made to the bill, it will get through the Senate.”

Republican state House Representative Jason Nemes, who has previously pushed for medical marijuana in Kentucky, said that it’s an area with clear support from both voters and lawmakers.

“That’s the place where we have the votes, and we’re fine-tuning some things to try to make sure that we get a vote in the Senate,” Nemes told WDRB.

“Thirty-six states already have it,” he added. “There’s a lot of people who it would help, so I think medical marijuana is the step that Kentucky needs to take.”

A poll in 2020 found that nearly 60 percent of Kentuckians support legalizing pot for any use, while 90 percent said they backed medicinal cannabis. 

In 2012, the same poll found that less than 40 percent favored cannabis for any use.

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New Mexico Ups Cannabis Production Limits As Adult-Use Sales Loom

Less than three months before legal sales of recreational cannabis begin in New Mexico, state regulators have increased production limits placed on adult-use cannabis cultivators. Under emergency regulations that went into effect last week, most licensed cannabis producers will be permitted to grow twice as many plants as previously allowed.

Kristen Thomson, director of New Mexico’s Cannabis Control Division, said that the rule change is designed to help spur the launch of the state’s newly regulated adult-use cannabis industry, which is slated to begin sales of recreational marijuana by April 1.

“We have been listening to producers, consumers and patients who are as committed as the Cannabis Control Division is to supporting a thriving cannabis industry in New Mexico,” Thomson said on Monday in a statement quoted by NM Political Report. “Doubling the plant count for licensed producers makes sense to ensure that everyone can maximize the benefits of a thriving cannabis industry.”

Under the emergency rules, which will remain in effect until July, cannabis cultivators with a Level 4 license will be permitted to grow between 12,001 and 16,000 cannabis plants, while Level 3 license holders will be allowed 6,001 to 12,000 plants. Level 2 growers will be permitted to cultivate 2,001 to 6,000 plants, and Level 1 growers will be able to maintain 401 to 2,000 marijuana plants. Thomson explained the rule change in documents filed with the state’s Commission of Public Records.

“The Division has considered demand estimates provided by applicants and licensees in the cannabis industry,” Thomson wrote. “Projected market demand shows that the demand for regulated cannabis will increase year-to-year as more cannabis consumers move from the illicit market to the regulated market. The supply of medical cannabis will become increasingly threatened without an adequate supply of plants.”

Plant limits for micro-producers, however, will not be increased by the emergency rules. Operations of such small growers will still be limited to 200 plants, a cap set by state law that regulators are not authorized to override. The director said the department would seek a legislative fix that would allow micro-producers a similar increase in production limits.

“Equity and fairness are foundational principles of New Mexico’s vision for the state’s cannabis industry,” Thomson said. “We will work with legislators and the governor to ensure those values are upheld and that micro-producers see increased plant count limits as soon as possible.”

Caps Put in Place to Prevent Overproduction in New Mexico

The plant limits on cultivators were included in New Mexico’s cannabis regulations to prevent overproduction. Regulators feared a glut of cannabis that would cause prices to drop dramatically, a scenario that might challenge small operators trying to gain a foothold in the nascent industry.

But last summer, Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the Cannabis Control Division, warned that supplies of recreational marijuana would be tight once adult-use sales begin in the state.

“It’s highly likely we will run out of cannabis in the first week, if not the first two weeks,” she said at a meeting of the legislature’s Economic Development and Policy Committee on July 26. Trujillo told lawmakers that her prediction is based on the experience of other states as they launched adult-use cannabis sales.

Limits on cannabis production were first put in place under New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. Ultra Health, one of the state’s largest producers of medicinal cannabis, has sued the state over the caps, arguing that they are too low to serve New Mexico’s patient population. On Monday, the company said that the production limits on adult-use cannabis are also insufficient.

“Unfortunately, this increase may be too little, too late,” a spokeswoman for Ultra Health wrote in a statement to local media. “Sales to adults will commence in 74 days, and it takes twice as long, five months, for cannabis to be fully prepared from seed to sale. We are running on a deficit to support 130,000 patients today, so to think this new rule would somehow alter the biological processes required to grow cannabis is naive, at best.”

Ben Lewinger, the executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, applauded state regulators for considering potential shortages that would negatively impact those relying on steady supplies of medical cannabis.

“Protecting patients and patient supply is absolutely critical and has been a first-order priority through recent legislative and rulemaking processes, and we’re grateful that the Cannabis Control Division is working to ensure that medical cannabis patients aren’t neglected as the state shifts to legalized cannabis for adults,” he said.

But Lewinger questioned the rule change, saying that doubling the cap on plants only weeks before legal sales begin “undermines the work of legislators and advocates” who advocated for production limits to allow equitable access to participation in the new recreational cannabis economy. 

“Building the infrastructure to double plant count could take months to years for most operators, and plants put in the ground today won’t be ready in April,” Lewinger said. “Increasing the plant count now will only help the very biggest and well-resourced producers—it won’t help medical cannabis patients and it won’t help new businesses trying to break into the industry.”

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