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Capitol Confidential: California dustup over cannabis unions

Capitol Confidential is a pop-up column tracking dozens of cannabis bills and initiatives across the nation. We’ll continue to offer a weekly roundup of political action through the end of the legislative season in June.

California trade association losing allies in Sacramento

Labor unions have accused the state’s largest cannabis industry association of distributing an anti-union document and are now asking Democratic lawmakers to “refrain from engaging with” the group, according to the Los Angeles Times. The paper reported last week that the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) told its roughly 500 member companies that a unionized workforce means “a cannabis employer will encounter decreased flexibility in operating their business.” Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), a frequent sponsor of cannabis-related legislation, said: “When I saw this white paper from CCIA, I was very disappointed and worried about what the future holds.”

The association says it has since retracted the document, but some labor leaders and political observers worry the incident could hinder efforts to pass key cannabis legislation this session, including bills on taxes, banking, and opening more of the state to retail sales. Political consultant Mike Madrid told the Times: “I think what you’re witnessing is [the industry’s] new understanding of how business is done in California, which is: you have to play by union rules, or you don’t exist.”

Maine to merge its medical and adult-use systems?

Maine lawmakers are going down a path familiar to newly legal adult-use cannabis states: trying to merge the rules for the new program with those for the state’s existing medical marijuana system. The state Office of Marijuana Policy introduced a bill that would have the two programs follow the same rules whenever possible. “The goal is to begin the process of aligning,” said Gabi Berube Pierce, policy director for the Office of Marijuana Policy.

It’s an alluring approach for lawmakers in many legal states, who often see adult-use legalization as an opportunity to impose far more strict regulations after largely keeping their distance from medical programs. But as the Associated Press has reported, the move often hits the most severely ill medical patients the hardest, with certain products becoming difficult or impossible to find, and prices going up due to taxes and consumer demand.

One particularly controversial piece of Maine’s proposal is that it would classify alcohol-based extraction as inherently hazardous, requiring an expensive laboratory to undertake. ““It’s almost like you want to run us caregivers out of business,” said Susan Meehan, an Augusta-based caregiver. As usual, it’s worth reading Portland Press-Herald reporter Penelope Overton’s full story.

Sorry your governor’s not more effective, New York

It’s increasingly unclear whether New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has any idea what he’s doing when it comes to cannabis. The governor has repeatedly said that passing an adult-use legalization law is a “top priority” for his administration this year, recently adding that he’d like to see it done by April 1. But with less than a month to go before that self-imposed deadline, Cuomo is only now preparing to embark on a multistate cannabis tour to observe legal programs in action.

It feels a bit late for a fact-finding mission, and it’s not evident that Cuomo even knows what to look for in the legal states he visits. He recently said he plans not to consume cannabis on the trip but instead to bring an “official taster” with him: “The proposal is to bring a person with me who will be the official taster, who has a lot of experience in cannabis and different formats of cannabis and edibles versus smoking cannabis,” he said on a recent conference call with reporters. Apparently he feels better using taxpayer money to pay someone else to consume cannabis than simply trying it himself?

All of this is starting to feel a lot like last year, when Cuomo tried and failed to shepherd his legalization proposal over the finish line.

Quick hits, state by state

Alabama: Keep your eyes peeled this week for cannabis news, Alabama. The full Senate could be considering a plan to legalize medical marijuana during a session on Thursday, Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman tweeted last week. The bill would prohibit smoking and vaping products, allowing only tablets, topicals, and certain edibles, which would be taxed at 9%. The Senate passed a similar bill last year before it failed in the House. The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), says Senate Bill 165 is an updated and more politically feasible version of last year’s bill.

Alaska: There hasn’t been much cannabis news recently out of Anchorage, so it’s worth reading a new in-depth report on the latest political fundraiser hosted by the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. The trade association has lately been organizing gatherings in support of “many notable Anchorage politicians,” the Anchorage Daily News reports: “By holding fundraisers and interacting with local and state leaders, Alaska’s marijuana industry is building its political capital, aiming to shape everything from rules restricting signage to how the industry is taxed.”

Arizona: The fight to limit Arizona’s medical marijuana to just 2% THC continued last week in Phoenix, with the House Rules Committee voting overwhelmingly to pass HRC 2045. The predominantly Republican-supported bill has the support of the director of Arizona’s Department of Public Safety, Frank Milstead, who has said cannabis extract “looks like motor oil” and claimed that “all [retailers] want to do is get you or your kids addicted to this so you keep buying it.” A separate bill to allow surprise inspections of state-licensed medical marijuana facilities passed the Senate Thursday on a 30-0 vote.

Colorado: Anti-cannabis organizations are coalescing behind an effort to limit THC in state-legal cannabis products, and Colorado could be among the next states they target. That’s according to an last Thursday from Westword, which reports that “the topic has been broached by anti-marijuana organizations during both public and closed-door meetings.”

So far no such bill is expected this session. “I would call it murmurs without a bill this year,” Rep. Jonathan Singer (D) told Westword. But local advocates have been lobbying both state and federal lawmakers, recently supporting a proposal in federal banking bill to limit THC in state-legal cannabis to 2% THC. Other states, including Arizona, Florida, Washington, and Oregon have seen similar pushes to restrict cannabis potency.

Connecticut: Despite a 108-page cannabis legalization bill introduced earlier this month by Gov. Ned Lamont, one of the Legislature’s biggest legalization proponents is predicting the effort will fail this year—just as a similar bill did last year. “Why would we think the votes would be there this year? Whose mind has been changed?” asked Rep. Josh Elliott (D-Hamden) in an interview with the Hartford Courant. “You still need the numbers, and some people want to be a ‘no’ indefinitely.”

Florida: Rumblings from House Speaker José Olivia that he’d like to see the state’s medical marijuana potency capped at 10% THC are still rumblings for now. Patients are pushing back on the proposal. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), who served in Iraq, warned last week that the proposal would be a step backward: “Limiting THC would reduce the amount of medical effectiveness of cannabis and would cause many veterans to rely on unsafe, untested options, including moving to the illicit market to manage their needs,” he told reporters.

Georgia: A Georgia lawmaker wants a committee to study the possibility of financing low-interest loans for medical marijuana dispensaries owned by people of color, women, and military veterans. Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) told the House Special Rules Committee last week that the measure could help ensure “those three groups are able to participate in the market.”

Hawaii: Medical marijuana patients couldn’t be fired or discriminated against in job applications under a bill being considered in Honolulu. The measure, which passed through two committees earlier this month, would allow employers to conduct fit-for-duty tests for state-licensed patients who work in potentially dangerous jobs. A similar push last year failed to gain traction with lawmakers.

Idaho: Idaho is on its way to joining the 47 other U.S. states with legal hemp programs. The Senate last Thursday voted 27-5 to legalize industrial hemp, although CBD oil would remain illegal. The measure would not remove hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances, but it would establish a program to oversee permitting, testing, and transportation of the crop.

Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds weighed in publicly on the state’s ongoing discussion over THC limits in medical marijuana, saying she’s “comfortable” with a plan to limit total THC purchases to 4.5 grams over 90 days. That limit, which has the support of the House and the state Medical Cannabidiol Board, is the lower of two competing proposals. A Senate version of the legalization bill allows the purchase of up to 25 grams of THC over a 90-day period, but Reynolds vetoed a bill with that limit last year. The two legislative chambers are currently negotiating how to proceed.

Kansas: A bill that would have reduced third-time cannabis possession from a felony to a misdemeanor has died in committee. Lawmakers rejected it on a 7-4 vote last week. “I thought this was mild enough that it might get through,” said Rep. Boog Highberger, (D-Lawrence). “I can’t explain it.” Republican Rep. Stephen Owens explained it thus: “I still don’t believe that marijuana should be legalized,” he said. “I believe this was a step in that direction.”

Kentucky: A week after the state House approved a landmark bill to legalize medical marijuana, opponents have introduced a competing measure that instead calls for more research into the medical uses of cannabis. A Senate panel last Wednesday approved the research bill, sending it on to the full Senate floor. Advocates have acknowledged the legalization bill faces a difficult path in the Senate despite nine out of 10 surveyed Kentuckians saying they support medical marijuana.

Louisiana: A bill to lift Louisiana’s restriction on medical marijuana “in raw or crude form” has been introduced in the Legislature. HB 385, introduced last Thursday, would also lift the state’s ban on cannabis products “for inhalation,” allowing for what the bill calls metered-dose inhalers.

Massachusetts: After a Boston Globe report that raised questions about where $67 million in marijuana excises taxes and fees were going, a Republican state lawmaker is asking Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to detail how the state has spent the tax money. “My hope is that the money goes to new programming/ initiatives directly tied to the categories we outlined in the law,” Rep. Hannah Kane (Shrewsbury) said in an email to the Globe last week.

Under Massachusetts law, tax money left over after covering the cost of cannabis regulation must go to five causes: public health, public safety, municipal police training, illness prevention, and assistance for communities with high cannabis arrests rates. The Globe reports that “none of those causes besides public health has received any marijuana money — and aren’t slated to receive any this year or next year.”

Michigan: Federal bankruptcy laws are a poor fit for cannabis businesses, which are still illegal under US law. A pair of Michigan bills approved in committee last week would attempt to provide a state-level solution by tasking the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency with finding a way to appoint a receiver to operate insolvent cannabis businesses without resorting to federal bankruptcy court. The measures now go to the full House with a recommendation for their passage.

Mississippi: Lawmakers in Mississippi appear to be trying to turn legalization into a shell game. In recent weeks, state legislators have introduced a number of alternative ballot proposals that would compete with an activist-led effort to legalize medical marijuana. “If these other alternatives—which are more vague and open to interpretation—make the ballot, that could split votes,” Marijuana Moment reports. “And should one of the legislature’s versions pass over the activist-backed initiative, lawmakers could enact a medical marijuana program that is significantly more restrictive.” Jaime Grantham, communications director for the citizen-led Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the Legislature’s proposals are designed to confused voters: “The only reason to do that is that it’s very convoluted and confuses the process for voters and ultimately kills it. That’s really where we’re at now.”

Missouri: A proposal in Missouri attempts to rein in what some lawmakers worry is too lax a system for issuing medical marijuana recommendations in the state. House Bill 1896 would, among other things, require medical marijuana applicants to meet with a doctor in person,  rather than online or over the phone, in order to get their recommendation. “If you are doing the certifications online, over the phone, then the strength of that certification is really diminished,” said Rep. Jonathan Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit), who introduced the amendment.

Nebraska: Like vaping? You might want to keep an eye on LB 840, which would ban vaping in public buildings and impose other restrictions. Nebraska lawmakers advanced the measure last Thursday. Licensed retailers of vape products would be exempt in order to allow customers to sample products inside stores.

Ohio: Ohio legalization advocates are hoping to put an adult-use cannabis question on the state’s November ballot. The proposed initiative, a copy of which was obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis from state-licensed retailers. Adults could also grow up to six plants at home for personal use.

Oklahoma: Last week the Oklahoma Senate approved a bill aimed at protecting Second Amendment rights of state-licensed medical marijuana patients. Current state law bars people from obtaining a handgun license if they have any record of illegal drug use or possession. Senate Bill 959 would change that by clarifying that “this prohibition does not apply for applicants or licensees in possession of a medical marijuana card.” The measure does, however, make it illegal to carry or discharge a firearm while under the influence of medical cannabis.

South Carolina: As lawmakers weigh a bill to legalize medical marijuana in South Carolina, state voters said in a poll last week that they overwhelmingly support an end to cannabis prohibition. Only 13.7% of voters support current laws outlawing cannabis. Decriminalization had the support of 17% of voters, medical-only legalization had 28.9%, and full legalization had 40.4% support.

South Dakota: The state Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would legalize the growth and production of hemp in South Dakota. The state is one of only three that have not yet submitted a formal hemp plan to federal regulators after Congress lifted the federal prohibition on hemp in 2018. The bill, HB 1008, has already passed the state House and, earlier last week, won unanimous approval from the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Tennessee: Two companion bills filed in the state Legislature last week would end state-level cannabis prohibition and allow local jurisdiction to decide whether to allow the cultivation, processing, and sale of commercial cannabis products. The bills, HB 1610 and SB 1898, say that “a person or entity is authorized to grow, process, manufacture, deliver, sell, or possess marijuana with the intent to grow, process, manufacture, deliver, or sell marijuana in any county in this state that has approved, in accordance with this section, the growing, processing, manufacture, delivery, and sale of marijuana within the county.” The bills would also decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana across the state.

Utah: With the state’s medical cannabis system set to launch this week, state lawmakers last Thursday approved a package of last-minute legislative changes. The Legislature passed SB 121, which now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk. The measure would offer a path for patients to expunge old cannabis convictions, increase the number of recommendations doctors can make, and eliminate a restrictive packaging requirement for raw cannabis flower. With the governor’s signature, the measure would take effect immediately. Connor Boyack, a cannabis advocate and president of the libertarian Libertas Institute, told the Salt Lake Tribune that “many aspects to the new law will be even better than Prop 2,” the medical marijuana initiative approved by state voters in 2018.

Vermont: A plan to allow commercial cannabis sales in Vermont is in its final stages in the Legislature, but Republican Gov. Phil Scott says he’s unhappy with a provision in the House bill that would require police to obtain a warrant before conducting tests on individuals believed to be driving under the influence of THC. “I view this as the same as a breathalyzer,” Scott has said.

Advocate Dave Silberman, speaking to Marijuana Moment last week, said the House “has bent over backwards to address the various issues that Gov. Scott has raised” already, saying the roadside testing proposal “would blatantly violate the people’s rights enshrined in [the] Vermont Constitution.”

Vermont legalized the personal growth and possession of adult-use cannabis in early 2018, but there’s no legal way to purchase cannabis products.

Virginia: Smokable CBD could soon be available legally in Virginia. Lawmakers last week signed off on HB 962, which would legalize hemp products intended for smoking. Products would be legal only for adults 21 and older. Legislators also approved a separate resolution to require a joint legislative commission to officially study how adult-use cannabis legalization would affect the state.

Washington: The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee last week advanced two cannabis-related proposals, one to allow the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to regulate cannabis vapor products, and another that would create a group to study how state licensing rules might be changed in order address racial inequity in the state’s five-year-old legal cannabis industry. The vapor bill headed to the House Ways and Means Committee, while the equity-focused bill awaits a full vote on the Senate floor that could happen at any time.

West Virginia: West Virginia’s full Senate last week approved a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, allowing for a wider range of qualifying conditions and increasing the number of licensed dispensaries in the state. Senate Bill 752 now heads to the House for a committee review.

Wyoming: Wyoming’s legal hemp system is nearing its launch. Gov. Mark Gordon last week signed emergency rules to allow a 2020 growing season while regulators hammer out final rules. The state had previously submitted a formal plan to federal regulators at the US Department of Agriculture, which the agency has approved. Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director Doug Miyamoto said he’s happy to have helped open the door to another crop for the state’s farmers and processors. “Now that we have delegated authority from the USDA,” he said, “the next step for the WDA is to implement emergency rules in order to initiate our program in Wyoming.”

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Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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