On Monday, January 22nd, Vermont made history becoming the first state to legalize adult use cannabis via the legislature. Governor Phil Scott signed the bill, H. 511, into law, which legalizes adult possession and cultivation of cannabis, eliminating penalties for possessing one ounce or less and up to two mature marijuana plants and up to four immature plants for people 21 and older, beginning on July 1.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, they have been lobbying Vermont’s legislature since 2003 and they plan on working with the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana and the state task force to implement sensible and effective regulations for the state’s new industry. This makes Vermont the ninth state to legalize cannabis.
On Thursday, January 4th, the Vermont House passed this bill, sending it to the Senate for concurrence. On January 10th. The state’s Senate also passed the vote, sending it to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk to sign. Now that he signed the bill into law, Vermont is officially the first state to legalize cannabis through their legislature.
“After more than 15 years of hard work by MPP and our allies in the state, adults in Vermont no longer need to fear being fined or criminalized for low-level marijuana possession and cultivation,” says Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is a great step forward for the state and the whole region. Responsible adults will soon have the freedom to enjoy a safer option legally, and law enforcement will be free to concentrate on serious crimes with actual victims. We are looking forward to working with lawmakers and state leaders to continue improving marijuana laws in the Green Mountain State.”
On Thursday, January 4th, the Vermont House passed this bill, sending it to the Senate for concurrence. Now that the Senate has passed the bill and Gov. Scott is expected to sign it into law, it is beginning to look like Vermont will be the first state to legalize recreational cannabis through the legislature, which is a monumental accomplishment.
This could also be an important milestone for the East Coast, as legislatures in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware are seriously eyeing legalization bills as well. New Hampshire lawmakers in the state’s House approved a similar bill recently.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, sees this as a massive win for the legalization movement. “Vermont is poised to make history by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana cultivation and possession legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative,” says Simon. “We applaud lawmakers for heeding the calls of their constituents and taking this important step toward treating marijuana more like alcohol.”
H. 511, the bill the Vermont Senate just approved, would eliminate penalties for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and remove penalties for having two mature plants and four immature plants. A task force appointed by the governor will work on a report to investigate how the state should tax and regulate sales by December of 2018.
Josh Drayton, deputy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, has an extensive career in local and state-level politics, with his origins in Humboldt County as a political organizer. As a coffee shop owner about ten years ago in Humboldt, he let city council candidates use his space for community engagement, which eventually steered him towards a career in politics. As a heavily involved resident of Northern California and an advocate in local and state matters, he came to understand cannabis as a strong economic driver for the region and beyond.
Drayton saw firsthand how local economies benefit from cannabis as a source of income, economic activity, and providing occupational opportunities for many families in Humboldt County. After running a handful of local campaigns in the Humboldt region, Drayton served as deputy director for a state senate campaign in Riverside.
Towards the end of his tenure with the Democratic Party in California, the state legislature began working on medical cannabis regulations. “As we saw those regulations moving through, cities and counties began to ban cannabis throughout the state, which was a very unintended consequence,” says Drayton. “The goal was to put regulations forward that would create a framework for the industry to survive and function under, but they were not very fond of cannabis at the time. It was clear that we had a lot of work to do.” Politicians shying away from cannabis issues and a lack of real representation in the legislature for those stakeholders drove him to leave the state’s senate for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA).
In January of 2016, he jumped on board with the CCIA as their deputy director. Ahead of the California Cannabis Business Conference, September 21-22 in Anaheim, we sit down with Drayton to hear his take on the future of California’s cannabis regulations.
CannabisIndustryJournal: Give us a quick update on the regulatory framework in California and the changes we should expect.
Josh Drayton: One of the biggest challenges that California has faced has been the reconciliation of medical regulations with adult use regulations. Although California had medical cannabis legalized in 1996, we did not get those regulations put forward until 2015. That was called the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. That was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor into law. It was created in the legislature. When Prop 64 passed, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in November of 2016, it was passed through by a voter initiative. Any time that a piece of legislation goes to the voters, it trumps any legislation or regulations written by the state legislature. The real work has been to reconcile these two pieces of legislation into one regulatory structure. With that being said, we saw the initial trailer bill, attempting to reconcile these regulatory structures. That trailer bill is meant to address the new framework. Currently, we are waiting for the second viewing of the updated trailer bill SB 94 with all current amendments. Then we are anticipating those in the next couple weeks and we will see the regulations that will affect all these changes by November.
CIJ: How strong will local and municipal control be in the future?
Josh: It is incredibly strong and it is meant to be. I will say that California is like its own country. In Northern California, what they are willing to accept is very different in comparison to Southern California. Every city and county still has the ability to fully ban adult use and they can create and draft their own ordinances and regulations as long as it doesn’t go above state requirements. They can craft an ordinance to fit the needs of their city or county. Lets say you are in a rural area, delivery services might be important for patient access. Some areas might not allow brick and mortar dispensaries, and all that control lies in the cities and counties.
CIJ: Will there be a dosing limit for patients buying infused products? What about for adult use?
Josh: For adult use, there is going to be a limitation. Every edible has a maximum potency of 10mg of THC. For example, a chocolate bar can have a maximum of 100mg [of THC] but must be perforated in to 10mg pieces.
We have been advocating for, and what has been a priority for CCIA, is a lift of any sort of limits on medical infused products. Many patients have a higher threshold or tolerance and they may need 100mg and we don’t want them eating an entire chocolate bar to get that. We are anxiously awaiting the new trailer bill to see if we have been able to lift that concentration limit.
CIJ: Some have said the first draft of lab testing rules is extreme and overreaching. Can you speculate how those have been modified?
Josh: The lab testing is a huge educational issue for the industry and regulators. No state right now has been able to fully analyze the effects of different pesticide levels for a product that is smoked. We are basing all of our standards currently on food consumption. A lot of testing labs are concerned they are unable to test at the state’s threshold for some of these contaminants and pesticides; the detection limits seem very low. The testing portion will take years to work out, I am sure we will remove and add different pesticides and contaminants to the list. But again, the data and research isn’t fully there. There is a big push across the board that we will be able to do more research and testing so that the future of regulations can reflect reality, and ensure that consumer safety is priority.
CIJ: What do you think of the lack of residency requirement? When Oregon lifted it, outside investors flocked to the market. How might that impact local, California ownership and smaller businesses?
Josh: Well I do think that is a concern across the board. That is something that cities and counties have been adding to their requirements for the matrix of items needed to get a license. I think there is a very gray area when looking at investors opposed to operators. At what threshold does an investor become an owner? And if that person is from outside the state, how will that reflect on the evolution of the industry? It is a concern. Keeping limitations on the size of outdoor cultivation might help limit folks from outside the state coming into that arena. After living in Humboldt County for years, and living next to Mom and Pop growers for a long time, I don’t want to see them displaced by businesses coming from another area. We have been doing this a long time and I believe we have the best operators in the world.
CIJ: How is the CCIA helping businesses gear up for changing regulations?
Josh: Well one of our biggest areas of focus is education. Educating our own industry is one of the biggest parts in making sure the industry will be successful in this regulated market. Our legislative committee will take a position of support or opposition, which goes to our board, and those recommendations go to the state. The manufacturing committee has worked very closely with Lori Ajax [director of the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation] and her office, to educate on a variety of areas, guiding the way for state departments on how to properly regulate the industry. We have a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Retail/Delivery, Testing, Distribution and Agricultural committees; across the board our committees create white papers that we submit to the regulatory departments of the state. We take regulatory officials on tours of facilities to get a hands-on view of what they are regulating. They have been speaking with scientists and growers, who often have a better understanding of current industry standards. We see these tours as very helpful. We have brought groups of regulators from LA County, Long Beach, Napa, Alameda and many others on tours of Bay Area commercial manufacturing facilities, dispensaries and nurseries. They have a lot of questions and we want to make sure we are a resource for them. Putting folks in touch with the right people and, in moving forward with this process, in an educated manner. Cannabis is a foreign language to many people and I get that.
CIJ: If you have one recommendation for regulators, what would that be?
Josh: My recommendation to regulators: do not over-tax this industry. Do not make taxation the priority for regulation. Over-taxation will strengthen the illicit market and that is not the goal. We need to make sure the taxes are reasonable to encourage businesses to operate in this market, not in the illegal one. If cities decide to ban, they need to know they can be hubs for illicit activity. Cities with bans might draw the illicit market because illegal operators won’t have to pay taxes or license fees. It is a long play, but responsible taxation is the best path to draw people out of this illicit market. We want to help protect public safety and health, safe medicine, safe products and keep cannabis out of the hands of children.
On Election Day last year, voters in Massachusetts approved a measure to legalize recreational cannabis. With recreational sales beginning in July of 2018, lawmakers have tried to get a bill through the state legislature to settle on, among other things, a tax rate and regulatory framework.
On Wednesday, multiple news outlets reported that the legislature has reached a compromise on a bill that would change the measure that voters passed to allow for lawmakers to implement higher taxes, a strategy on local bans and a regulatory framework, reports The Boston Globe.
In a statement to supporters, Matt Schweich, director of state campaigns at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the biggest changes are in local control and taxation. “After weeks of persistent advocacy from Massachusetts residents, the Senate and House have reached a compromise that largely respects the will of the people,” says Schweich. “The legislation adjusts the local control policy, allowing local government officials in towns that voted “no” on the 2016 ballot initiative to ban marijuana businesses until December 2019. For towns that voted “yes” in 2016, any bans must be placed on a local ballot for voters to approve.” Therefore if a town wants to ban cannabis sales, they need to bring it to a vote for the people to decide. 72% of the population voted in favor of the ballot initiative. “The maximum tax rate — which depends on whether towns adopt optional local taxes — will increase from 12% to 20%,” says Schweich. “Under the bill, the state tax will be 17%, and the local option will be 3%.” A major push behind increasing the tax rates concerned lawmakers’ worries that the original 12% tax rate would not cover regulatory costs and government expenditures on the industry.
The ballot initiative created the Cannabis Control Commission, the regulatory body overseeing the industry, with three board members. That agency will remain in the new bill, just with five board members that will write the rules on things like marketing, safety, fines and penalties and fair business practices.
Schweich says the MPP helped orchestrate over 1,000 calls to legislators, urging them to reject the House’s version of the bill, which some have called draconian. “The bill isn’t perfect, and we preferred the original language of the ballot initiative,” says Schweich. “However, given how problematic the House bill was, we are satisfied with the final compromise.”
The bill is expected to pass votes in both the House and Senate on Thursday and Governor Charlie Baker is expected to sign the bill that same day.
Voters in Florida passed Amendment 2 last year with an overwhelming majority of over 70%. The constitutional amendment went into effect on January 3rd this year and regulators have until July 3rd to promulgate the rules.
The Florida Department of Health set up the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) in July of 2014 after the passing of the so-called Charlotte’s Web measure (HB 843). That bill allows use of low THC/high CBD cannabis for treating seizures. The OCU is charged with the task of writing and implementing medical cannabis rules. Ongoing public hearings and workshops at the Department of Health (DOH) are meant to give stakeholders the opportunity to chime in on the proposed rules.
On January 17th, the DOH published proposed rules and announced public hearings, seeking input from the public on the matter. The OCU is required to implement rules consistent with Amendment 2, but they would defer to the legislature if a bill were passed, promulgating rules consistent with Amendment 2 and the bill.
After the passing of Amendment 2, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed SB614, a bill that establishes four license categories instead of the currently required vertically integrated business model. Notably, Sen. Brandes’ bill requires laboratory batch testing, whereas other proposed rules do not include such a measure. Sen. Brandes sees the DOH’s proposed rules as more of the same from the current medical program, according to a quote from FloridaPolitics.com. “Any proposal which seeks to mold the spirit of Amendment 2 into the narrow and flawed law on the books today should be rejected, and a more comprehensive strategy must take priority,” says Sen. Brandes. “I will support no bill, nor any rule, that maintains the established state sanctioned cartel system we have today, and I urge my colleagues to join me in proposing a free market solution for Florida.” He is referring to the seven licensed nurseries from the low THC/high CBD medical program, all of which are vertically integrated.
According to Matthew Ginder, senior counsel in the cannabis law practice at Greenspoon Marder, the biggest question for the legislature is how many licenses will they issue and what kind of structures are required for the licensees. Another big issue is the process by which patients access medical cannabis through their physicians. “The current program requires physicians to register as the orderer of medical cannabis, specify dosing and order medical devices, which is highly uncommon in other state programs,” says Ginder. “Sen. Brandes’ bill removes these requirements and is more consistent with other states by requiring a physician’s recommendation.” He says that bill would create four licenses: cultivation, processing transportation and retail.
Sen. Robert Bradley (R-5th District) also filed legislation (SB 406) to implement Amendment 2, but this bill is very different from Sen. Brandes’ bill. “Bradley’s bill is built upon the statutory framework that is already in place,” says Ginder. “Bradley’s is keeping vertical integration intact, seeking to also limit the amount of vertically integrated license based on a patient ratio of about 20,000 registered patients per license issued.” Bradley’s bill does not provide for independent lab testing requirements. Some might characterize Bradley’s bill as more of the same, allowing for the consolidation of existing monopolies.
Ginder says these are just two bills from the Senate, the House still has not proposed any bills. “We will most likely see more bills,” says Ginder. “We still don’t know what iteration of the bill or what language might be adopted and you can expect them to change as it moves through the committees.” With the legislative session beginning on March 7th, we can expect to see these bills debated on the floor and likely the filing of other legislation.
On February 1st, Greenspoon Marder announced the launch of their Organization for Safe Cannabis Regulation (OSCR) in Florida. By hiring lobbyists and making contributions to certain political candidates, the OSCR aims to advocate for a broad and fair marketplace, specifically “advocating for laws that create independently “registered” entities that perform specific functions along the production and distribution chain.”
On Election Day in November, two major states in the Northeast legalized recreational cannabis: Maine and Massachusetts. It seems that a handful of other states in the region are looking to legalize recreational cannabis now that their neighbors have done so.
In New Hampshire, a bipartisan bill was introduced on January 4th to establish “a commission to study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana.” The commission formed by House Bill 215 aims to “study the experiences of states that have or are in the process of legalizing and regulating the recreational use of marijuana by adults, with particular attention to be given to the ways the changes in marijuana laws in Maine and Massachusetts, as well as Canada, impact our state,” the bill states. Notably, the bill provides for a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project to be a member of the committee.
New Hampshire Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn (D) says he plans to sponsor a recreational legalization bill separate from House Bill 215. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Woodburn would work with lawmakers and stakeholders to set a timeline and regulatory framework.
In Connecticut, a number of lawmakers have sponsored bills this session that would legalize recreational cannabis. Senate President Martin Looney (D) filed a bill that would legalize, regulate and tax cannabis, with the tax revenue going to the state’s general fund, according to the New Haven Register. State Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R) introduced a piece of legislation that would legalize adult use over the age of 21. Lawmakers are optimistic that with Massachusetts legalizing it, perhaps the outcome will be different than previous failed attempts to push cannabis legalization.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island told reporters they want to be the first state to legalize recreational cannabis via the state legislature, rather than a ballot initiative, the most common path to legalization for other states. Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Scott Slater of Rhode Island, both Democrats, plan to introduce a legalization bill, the seventh year in a row that such a bill has been introduced in the state. They are also hopeful that after Massachusetts’ legalized it in November, they will have more success this time around. “Our constituents think it is time for lawmakers to pass this legislation, and we should listen to them,” says Miller. “If we fail to pass the bill this year, we will lose significant ground to Massachusetts.” Their bill would tack on a 23% tax on cannabis sales.
In each state’s case, lawmakers are keeping a close eye on Massachusetts and Maine’s regulations and tracking their progress. While the bills in the state legislatures are nascent in their journey to becoming law, the important takeaway is that geographic proximity to states with legalized cannabis is a catalyst for reform in New England.
SACRAMENTO, CA- Lawmakers in California voted to pass Assembly Bill 21 this morning, a bill aimed at slowing local municipalities from placing bans on cultivating cannabis. Earlier this week, the California Senate passed the bill in an overwhelming 35 to 5 vote, sending it to the Assembly.
The bill, AB 21, won unanimously in a 65 to 0 vote this morning, according to a lobbyist on behalf of CalCann Holdings. The bill now heads to Governor Brown’s desk to sign it before it becomes a law. The governor has twelve days to sign it into law because of an urgency clause.
“Over the past several months, local governments throughout the state have been banning marijuana cultivation and dispensaries right and left,” says Aaron Herzberg, attorney and partner at CalCann Holdings. CalCann Holdings is a California-based medical marijuana holding company building a portfolio of licensed MMJ businesses and properties.
“Assuming Governor Brown chooses to sign this bill into law, cities will have the time to take a more reasonable approach to this issue and, ideally, allow licensed marijuana to be cultivated and distributed throughout the state,” adds Herzberg. “This is a vitally important piece of legislation that fixes a serious drafting error, and the sooner it can be signed into law, the better.”
The bill fixes an important mistake in the regulations that previously allowed the state to license growers operating in municipalities without written laws in place yet by March. Because of that deadline, cities were rushing to ban growers and dispensaries before they lost autonomy to regulate them. Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill into law, which would curb municipalities from shutting down cannabis businesses.