Delaware lawmakers on Wednesday filed a newly revised marijuana legalization bill that has several changes from a previous version that passed a House committee last year but stalled ahead of a scheduled floor vote amid disagreements about equity provisions.
Rep. Ed Osienski (D) is sponsoring the legislation again. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, but it would not provide a home grow option.
A marijuana commissioner under the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would be responsible for regulating the cannabis market and issuing business licenses for retailers, cultivators, manufacturers and laboratories.
Equity is built into the licensing scheme. After 19 months of the bill’s enactment, regulators would have to approve 30 retailer licenses, half of which would go to people identified as social equity applicants who have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, for example.
There would also be a 15 percent excise tax on retail cannabis sales, which would not be applied to medical marijuana products. Seven percent of tax revenue from adult-use sales would go to a new Justice Reinvestment Fund, and the legislature would be tasked with appropriating the remaining revenue after administrative costs are covered.
The Justice Reinvestment Fund would support grants, services and other initiatives that focus on issues like jail diversion, workforce development and technical assistance for people in communities that are economically disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted by the drug war. The money would also be used to help facilitate expungements, according to a summary from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“We’re excited about the prospects for legalization in Delaware this year,” Olivia Naugle, a legislative analyst with MPP, told Marijuana Moment. “Delawareans have long supported ending prohibition, but it is up to the legislature to bring equitable legalization to Delaware. HB 305 is the vehicle to get it done this year.”
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When Osienski’s earlier bill was being considered last year, a similar equity fund provision was included, and the sponsor said he was caught off guard when he was informed that its inclusion meant the bill would require 75 percent of legislators in the chamber to approve it.
The lawmaker attempted to fix the problem with an amendment that was introduced shortly before the measure was expected to go to the floor, but that change was opposed by certain members of the Black Caucus, whose votes would be pivotal given the high threshold.
In the months since, Osienski has worked with the Black Caucus to build support and get passable legislation. And a clear sign of the progress is that Reps. Rae Moore (D) and Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D) are already signed on as cosponsors to this latest version after pulling their support in the 2021 session over equity concerns.
“We heard the input from members and advocates and spent the legislative break working on compromises wherever possible, striving to build the best possible law,” Osienski said in a press release. “It’s critical to note that support for adult recreational marijuana has been growing for years in Delaware and across the country. Other states have successfully enacted policies for safe and legal cannabis, and I believe we are more than capable of doing the same in the First State.”
“I’m looking forward to advancing this bill and making Delaware the next state to legalize adult recreational marijuana,” he said.
The newly revised bill will still require a supermajority threshold to pass, but a smaller one of 60 percent, according to House Democratic lawmakers.
Rep: Ed Osienski: “I’m looking forward to advancing this bill and making Delaware the next state to legalize adult recreational marijuana.”
Read more about HB 305 here: https://t.co/UmKCrEcd94
— DE House Democratic Caucus (@DEHouseDems) January 13, 2022
The bill, which has been referred to the House Health & Human Development Committee, would also establish a 15-member Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee that would be responsible for advising on regulatory issues, the impacts of legalization on the illicit market and promoting diversity in the industry.
Several more modest amendments that were filed when the earlier bill was being considered last year have been incorporated into the revised legislation. That includes provisions on related to quality control standardization, accreditation for marijuana testing facilities and packaging and labeling requirements.
Portions of the bill on expungements were also removed, as they were made redundant by the enactment of separate legislation last year.
Individual municipalities would be able to establish their own regulations for the market related to operating times for marijuana businesses, locations of operation—and they would also be able to outright ban cannabis companies from being in their jurisdiction.
“At least three other states have legalized recreational marijuana use by adults since House Bill 150 was first introduced and more than 145 million Americans now live in one of the 18 states that have successfully replaced an illegal market with a well-regulated and responsible industry that is creating thousands of good-paying jobs for their citizens,” Sen. Trey Paradee (D) said.
“The benefits of a thriving cannabis industry are clear, and I give Rep. Osienski a ton of credit for his willingness to work for legislators and stakeholders to make a great bill even better,” the senator said. “This legislation is sound economic policy, represents strong social justice reform and will create jobs throughout our state. It’s time for Delaware to catch up with the rest of the country and pass HB 305.”
A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but it failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass.
Gov. John Carney (D), for his part, is a rare type of Democratic governor who remains opposed to recreational cannabis legalization—another challenge for lawmakers during this year’s session.
Despite his wariness about adult-use legalization, Carney did sign two pieces of marijuana expungement legislation in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a state task force met to discuss issues related to legalization, and the governor hosted a series of roundtable meetings about cannabis.
Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.
Last year, Delaware activists mounted a boycott against four medical cannabis operators after representatives of those companies testified in opposition to the adult-use legalization bill during its March committee hearing.
An analysis from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) released last year found that Delaware could generate upwards of $43 million annually in revenue from regulating marijuana and imposing a 20 percent excise tax. The legal market could also create more than 1,000 new jobs over five years if the policy is enacted, according to the report.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
New York Expands Medical Marijuana Eligibility
This week, New York expanded eligibility for the state’s medical cannabis program to include more patients, according to an announcement from state regulators. New York’s Office of Cannabis Management said on Monday that the state had launched a new medical marijuana certification and registration system that is “easier to use and expands the eligibility criteria for patients who can benefit from medical cannabis.”
Under the new eligibility criteria, practitioners will be allowed to issue medical marijuana certifications to any patient they believe may benefit from the medicinal use of cannabis. Previously, the use of medical cannabis was restricted to patients with one or more qualifying medical conditions. The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) noted that the change is consistent with the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) passed by lawmakers last year.
In addition to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and establishing a framework for adult-use cannabis sales, the MRTA shifted the regulation of New York’s medical marijuana program from the state Department of Health to the OCM. Tremaine Wright, the chair of the state Cannabis Control Board, applauded the progress made by state marijuana regulators.
“It is terrific to see the Medical Cannabis Program expand so vastly with the launch of the new certification and registration program and the ability of practitioners to determine qualifying conditions as included in the MRTA,” Wright said in a statement from the OCM.
Previously, the OCM announced additional changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, including allowing the sale of cannabis flower and a permanent waiver of registration fees for patients and caregivers. Regulators also expanded the list of caregivers qualified to certify patients for medical marijuana to include any practitioner who is licensed to prescribe controlled substances in New York, such as dentists, podiatrists and midwives.
Other changes to New York’s medical marijuana program made by the OCM include increasing the amount of cannabis that may be dispensed at one time from a 30-day supply to a 60-day supply and streamlining the approval for institutions such as hospitals, residential facilities and schools to become designated caregiver facilities to hold and dispense products for patients. Additionally, the state Cannabis Control Board has accepted public comments on proposed regulations to govern the home cultivation of cannabis by medical cannabis patients and is currently completing an assessment of the comments submitted for publication in the state register.
“The new cannabis industry is taking shape as we continue to implement the MRTA and provide greater access for New Yorkers to a medicine that we’re learning more about every day,” Wright said. “We’re continuing to move forward swiftly and today’s system launch follows our achievements that already include adding whole flower medical product sales, permanently waiving $50 patient fees, and advancing home cultivation regulations, among others.”
Patients certified through the new certification and registration system will be issued their certification from the OCM. Certifications previously issued by the Department of Health will continue to remain valid through their expiration date, when new certifications will be issued by the OCM.
Cannabis Community Applauds Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program
Dr. Rebecca Siegel, a clinical psychiatrist and the author of The Brain on Cannabis: What You Should Know About Recreational and Medical Marijuana, said that expanding access to medical cannabis is appropriate, because cannabis can be beneficial for a wide range of medical conditions.
“I think this gives practitioners in all types of medicine just one more tool to add to their belt in order to effectively treat patients,” Siegal wrote in an email to High Times. “Most importantly, I think this broadens the opportunity for more patients to have access to cannabis from their own personal trusted physicians who can better monitor their conditions and use of marijuana. This is way better than patients trying to manage it on their own.”
Sharon Ali, the Mid-Atlantic regional general manager for cannabis multi-state operator Acreage Holdings, said that expanding access to medical marijuana is a significant advancement for New York, where the company operates four The Botanist retail locations.
“New York has the opportunity to implement lessons learned from earlier adopters of legalization, and we’ve seen from other states that one of the most important foundations for a successful adult-use program is a robust medical program,” Ali wrote in an email, adding that it is “an exciting time for New York as the cannabis program continues to evolve in a positive direction.”
Mississippi Lawmakers Finally Agree on Medical Cannabis Bill
After more than a year of disagreement, back-and-forth and false dawns, Mississippi lawmakers may have finally produced a medical cannabis bill that will become law.
The Clarion Ledger reported that “members of the Mississippi House and Senate on Tuesday announced a final agreement on a bill to create a medical marijuana program in the state.”
Crucially, versions of the bill that passed out of both chambers did so with veto-proof majorities.
As expected, the central area of compromise centered “around how often and how much cannabis a medical marijuana patient can purchase,” according to the Clarion Ledger.
Under the bill that passed Tuesday, patients would be allowed “to purchase 3.5 grams of cannabis up to six times a week, or about 3 ounces a month,” the Clarion Ledger reported, which represents a “a decrease from the 3.5 ounces a month the Senate originally passed and the 5 ounces a month voters approved in November 2020.”
The purchasing limits represented the primary area of dispute between Mississippi lawmakers and the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, who had said that his preference was for the limit to be set at 2.7 grams.
Reeves has threatened to veto a bill he deems unsatisfactory, but he may have been dealt a checkmate by members of the GOP-dominated legislature.
As Misssissippi Today explained, should the bill be passed on to Reeves, he “could sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it become law without his signature—a symbolic move governors sometimes do to show they disagree with a measure but will not block it.”
“I think the governor is going to sign it,” Ken Newburger, director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, told Mississippi Today, adding that the bill will provide patients with a “better quality of life” and that the program will serve as an economic boon for the state as well.
The announcement of the agreement came from the two lawmakers who have taken the lead on the effort to get medical cannabis over the line in Mississippi, who are state Senator Kevin Blackwell and state House Representative Lee Yancey, both Republicans.
“This has been a long journey,” Yancey said at a Tuesday press conference, as quoted by Mississippi Today. “It looks like we will finally be able to provide relief for the chronically ill patients who suffer so badly and need this alternative. I congratulate Sen. Blackwell—he’s carried this bill most of the way by himself.”
Yancey’s bill easily passed the state House last week, a week after the state Senate passed its own version, setting the stage for lawmakers from both chambers to negotiate a compromise.
An overwhelming majority of Mississippi voters approved a ballot initiative in 2020 to legalize medical cannabis, but that triumph quickly gave way to a long series of setbacks for advocates in the state.
The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the ballot initiative last year, citing a technicality that rendered it in violation of the state constitution. The decision by the court prompted lawmakers to begin work on drafting a bill to replace the defunct law.
They offered up a bill in the fall, when the legislature was out of session, but Reeves continually balked at calling a special session.
“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.”
Reeves was against the ballot initiative, but he said last year that he supports “the will of voters” and encouraged lawmakers to produce a bill to replace the one struck down by the Supreme Court.
Colorado Springs Group Launches Bid to Legalize Recreational Pot Sales
A group of business and community leaders in Colorado Springs, Colorado has launched a bid to legalize sales of recreational cannabis in the city, arguing that tax revenue generated by purchases of legal cannabis by local residents should stay in the community.
Colorado voters legalized sales of recreational cannabis with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, and regulated sales began in the state two years later. But Colorado Springs banned recreational cannabis sales in 2013, although the city is home to more than 100 medical cannabis dispensaries.
Colorado Springs Ballot Measure Filed
On Monday, the group Your Choice Colorado Springs filed ballot language for a proposed voter initiative that would allow the city’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for licenses to sell adult-use cannabis. In a statement from the group, the coalition of community and business leaders said that Colorado Springs residents are forced to travel to nearby cities that allow recreational sales. As a result, the city is leaving millions of dollars in potential sales tax revenue on the table, according to Your Choice Colorado Springs.
“It’s hard to believe just how much tax revenue politicians have robbed our city of over the past decade,” said Cliff Black, an attorney and the lead elector petitioning the city for adult-use cannabis sales. “Recreational marijuana is 100 percent legal for every single adult living in the city. Yet the city gets none of the benefits. Instead, residents drive and spend their hard-earned money in Manitou, Pueblo, and even Denver, and then bring their marijuana right back home to Colorado Springs. With this initiative, we are asking voters if they want to keep their tax dollars local.”
The group noted that Manitou Springs is the only city in El Paso County that permits recreational cannabis sales. Thanks to limited competition and high local demand, the two dispensaries in Manitou Springs are among the most profitable in the state.
Voters in Colorado Springs approved Amendment 64 by a margin of about 3,000 votes, according to Westword. Activists have made previous bids to legalize recreational cannabis sales, but have failed to gain the support of a majority of the city council. Additionally, Colorado Springs Mayor Mayor John Suthers, who once served as state attorney general, has been a vocal opponent of recreational marijuana sales since taking office in 2015.
“When Colorado began adult-use sales of cannabis in 2014, we anticipated that our local officials would respect the will of the voters and craft a regulatory structure allowing recreational sales,” said Karlie Van Arnam, a mother, small business owner and former candidate for city council. “But instead, year after year, politicians have declined to provide a regulatory structure to collect precious tax revenue for our city. Today, Colorado Springs residents are taking this decision back into our own hands to finally give ourselves the choice to vote on allowing recreational sales in our community.”
Organizers Hope for November 2022 Vote
If the proposed ballot language submitted this week by Your Choice Colorado Springs is approved by the City Initiative Review Committee, the group will have 90 days to collect the approximately 33,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the ballot for the November 2022 general election.
To comply with the city’s cap on retailers, the ballot measure would only permit existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis with state approval. The proposal would not allow new cannabis dispensaries to open in Colorado Springs.
Sales tax revenue generated by recreational cannabis sales in Colorado Springs would help fund public safety improvements, an expansion of mental health services and support for military veterans, according to the Your Choice Colorado Springs website. Recreational cannabis revenue would be subject to an annual audit by a citizen committee “to ensure that money is being spent where voters approved,” according to the group.
“It’s time for Colorado Springs to catch up with the times and make sure we’re keeping the tax revenues that rightfully belong to the people of Colorado Springs,” Jimmy Garrison, a veteran and founder of a PTSD retreat and camp for veterans Lost Creek Ranch said in a statement for Your Choice Colorado Springs. “As a veteran, I’m thrilled to see that a portion of these tax revenues will support our American heroes and my fellow veterans who paid a price for their service and now struggle with PTSD.”
An informal survey conducted by a local television news station last year found that a majority of respondents favored legalizing recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs. And Black said that organizers of the ballot initiative have also collected data that shows support for the issue.
“We’ve done the polling, and believe the voters are in favor of allowing recreational sales in Colorado Springs,” he said.
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