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Mississippi Senate passes medical marijuana bill; House vote is next

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The Mississippi state Senate on Thursday passed a medical marijuana law, sending it to the House of Representatives, where approval is less certain.

The legislative action came more than a year after voters soundly approved a legalization initiative at the ballot box, only to see the state Supreme Court void the measure on a technical issue.

Senate Bill 2095, the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act of 2022, is more restrictive than the business-friendly Initiative 65 passed by voters.

One major difference is that the legislation would allow municipalities to opt out of the industry.

House Speaker Philip Gunn has said legalization “is not a top issue for us,” according to Mississippi Today.

But Republican Rep. Lee Yancey, who is spearheading the effort in the House, expressed optimism to the newspaper about its chances of passage.

It’s also unclear whether the current version would be acceptable to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

Reeves wouldn’t call a special legislative session last year to pass a measure and most recently expressed concerns about the amount of marijuana that would be allowed to be purchased by MMJ patients.

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Here are some key business elements to the proposed bill, according to Mississippi Today:

  • Patients could purchase up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana a month. That’s slightly lower than the 5 ounces a month in the 2020 referendum.
  • Cultivation would be indoor only. There would be six cultivation tiers, ranging from a micro-cultivator capped at 1,000 square feet to a tier 6 grower of 100,000 square feet or more.
  • Roughly 25 patient conditions would qualify, including all 22 that were in Initiative 65.
  • A seed-to-sale tracking system would be created, and the proposed law calls for criminal penalties for violations.
  • A 5% excise tax would be imposed for cultivation in addition to the state sales tax (currently 7%) for retail sales.

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Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill

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A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.

The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”

“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.

The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”

“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.

At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.

Don’t miss out on the @NIDAnews, @NIAAAnews, & @NIMHgov-sponsored virtual Workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities, Jan. 12‒13, 2022. Learn more and register: https://t.co/S1zttkoYXq pic.twitter.com/C2Qrk6FN9a

— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) January 10, 2022

“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”

While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”

“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.

There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.

On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”

Tune in today and tomorrow for the @NIH workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics, which will examine findings on psychoplastogens for treating depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance and alcohol use disorders. https://t.co/Qzxte5xJt9

— Joshua A. Gordon (@NIMHDirector) January 12, 2022

“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”

Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.

But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”

But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.

The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.

Delaware Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill With Key Equity Revisions

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

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Lawmakers in Virginia Disagree on Cannabis Conviction Re-Sentencing

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Adult-use cannabis sales could begin next year in Virginia, but lawmakers in the commonwealth remain at loggerheads over what to do about individuals currently incarcerated on pot-related charges. 

The Virginia Mercury reported that a committee of state Senate and House members “tasked with making recommendations for the legislative session that begins Wednesday concluded its work this week with a proposal to begin recreational sales in 2023—a year earlier than initially planned,” but those lawmakers “said they ran out of time to reach an agreement” on the subject of re-sentencing for cannabis convictions.

The current state of play in Virginia looks quite different than it did last spring, when a Democratic-controlled general assembly passed a bill that made Virginia the first state in the south to legalize recreational pot. 

Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill into law, hailing it as a new day for criminal justice in the commonwealth.

“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or face penalties for simple possession that follow them and affect their lives,” Northam said at the time. “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and throughout this country have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color and low-income Virginians.”

Last week, as lawmakers convened in the capital city of Richmond, the GOP officially assumed control over one-half of the general assembly. And on Saturday, the Republican Glenn Youngkin was sworn in as the new governor of Virginia. 

The recommendation from the Cannabis Oversight Commission to begin cannabis sales next year came last week ahead of the opening of the legislative session.

Youngkin said in an interview earlier this month that he “will not seek to overturn the law on personal possession,” but the governor-elect—who defeated the Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November—balked on the subject of pot sales.

“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin told Virginia Business. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”

The subject of how to handle individuals currently serving time for cannabis didn’t come up in that interview, nor was it addressed by the legislative committee last week.

The Virginia Mercury reported that the “Virginia Department of Corrections says 10 people are currently serving sentences in which the most serious offense was marijuana,” and that in “all of the cases, the people were convicted of transporting five or more pounds of marijuana into the state.”

“All 10 are expected to be released in the next six years, according to the department, which presented the data Monday to the assembly’s Cannabis Oversight Commission,” according to the report. “Another 560 people are serving sentences partially related to a marijuana offense but have also been found guilty of more serious offenses.”

In the interview with Virginia Business earlier this month, Youngkin did discuss the potential economic windfall from legalization, particularly for minority communities.

“I am all for opportunities for minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses [and] military-owned businesses,” he said. “We also have to make sure that they have the capabilities to compete and thrive in the industry. So, I think there’s work to be done. All of that will be on the table. Again, I don’t look to overturn the bill, but I think we need to make sure that it works.”

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Colorado Hits New Record with $423 Million in Annual Revenue From 2021

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The state of Colorado is reporting a new record amount of revenue collected during 2021, including update sales data in overall tax and fee revenue collected since 2014 when legal sales began.

The Colorado Department of Revenue (DoR) announced on January 11 that the state has made a new record with total annual cannabis sales. “New record alert! In 2021, Colorado collected over $423 million in revenue from marijuana sales (compared to the previous record of over $387 million in 2020). Colorado also surpassed $2B in tax and fee revenue and $12B in marijuana sales to date,” the agency wrote on its social media pages.

A detailed press release shared that monthly data for December 2021 reached $30,609,563 in tax and fee revenue (with a total of $423,486,053 between January and December 2021) and $2,018,933,005 since February 2014.

Similar in cannabis sales, the latest data revealed $158,462,549 was collected in November (with a total of $2,060,952,959 collected between January and November 2021) and a massive total of $12,039,747,032 collected since legal sales began in January 2014.

These figures are based off of the state sales tax (2.9 percent), cannabis retail sales tax (15 percent) and retail cannabis excise tax (15 percent). The DoR notes that for cannabis sales data, the official sales figures won’t be released until sometime in February 2022.

Sales data from October, November and December were reported to have decreased, with both cannabis sales and prices dropping below the usual rate. The price of smokeable flower per pound in the last three months of 2021 dropped by 28 percent ($1,316 to $948, according to Westword) in reference to the average market rate (AMR). In comparison, the AMR for the end of 2020 reported $1,721 in price per pound.

The states of Washington and California, however, have collected $3 billion and $3.1 billion in tax revenue, compared to Colorado’s newly achieved $2 billion. Of course, Washington’s sales tax is up to 46 percent in certain regions, and California’s sales tax reaches up to 38 percent. Colorado’s tax percent is the third highest in the country.

According to Marijuana Policy Project Policy Director Karen O’Keefe, Colorado’s cannabis industry is more consistent, which leads to steady flow of funds for the state. “When you have that kind of funding, economists say you have what’s called a multiplier effect, where you not only have the initial investment in the stores, the jobs and the tax revenue, but then that money is in people’s pockets who spend it again,” O’Keefe told Westword. “So it’s as if each dollar is two or three dollars, which is the way economists usually look at it.” She also notes that this long-term investing has led to the creation of 40,000 jobs and over 1,000 Colorado businesses.

“Some of the more recently taxed states are focusing on specifically investing a good chunk of the revenue in communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition and that have had disproportionate marijuana arrests,” O’Keefe continued. “You’ll just continue to see more tax revenue, more people working in the cannabis industry, operating cannabis businesses.”

Colorado’s cannabis industry is thriving in many other ways overall as well. At the beginning of the year, Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order to pardon 1,351 cases relating to cannabis possession convictions of two ounces or less. Psychedelic decriminalization is also ramping up in Colorado, with two potential ballot measures being proposed through New Approach PAC. One bill proposes legalization of multiple different psychedelic substances such as ibogaine, DMT, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocin, whereas the other bill focuses just on psilocybin and psilocin.

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