Kimberly Delmonico, OCBMAGONLINE.COM contributor
Across the nation the cannabis movement is gaining momentum.
Michigan voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and Utah and Missouri legalized it for medical purposes.
Medical cannabis is now legal in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Fourteen other states allow the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis. The recreational use of cannabis is now legal in 10 states. An additional 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use.
The latest polls show that almost two-thirds of Americans are pro-legalization.
What is in store for cannabis in 2019? Let’s take a look at some of the upcoming developments in the cannabis industry around the United States.
Ohio Adult Use Recreational Vote
In May 2018, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified the petition wording for a statewide vote on the legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use. The proposed constitutional amendment calls for allowing adults age 21 or older to possess, grow, use, transport, sell, share, and purchase cannabis. The Ohio General Assembly will have the authority to write laws governing impairment, the use of cannabis in public, and restrictions for minors. There will also be protective measures for landlords and employers who want to restrict cannabis use on their properties.
The proposed constitutional amendment received approval from the Ohio Ballot Board. Advocates are now collecting the required valid voter signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot. In order for the issue to be placed on the ballot, supporters must gather a minimum of 305,591 signatures from registered Ohio voters. Supporters hope that the proposed amendment will be on the 2019 ballot.
In Colorado, governor-elect Jared Polis, describes himself as “the only candidate” who helped to pass marijuana legalization. The state legislature is becoming more Democratic, which means an increase in cannabis advocates.
The proposals that Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed in 2018 are likely to return in 2019. The proposed measures included: a bill that would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in and own cannabis businesses; allowing medical marijuana for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder; a pilot program for marijuana delivery in some cities; and reworking and revising state’s medical and retail marijuana programs that are scheduled to expire in 2019.
In California, the state has been experiencing growing pains as cannabis became legal for recreational use, but regulations were still uncertain.
In December, the state’s three cannabis licensing authorities announced the release of the proposed cannabis regulations that are currently under review by the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL). If approved, these regulations would likely go into effect in 2019.
The state’s top cannabis regulator, Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax, said her goal in 2019 is to get more licensed businesses in the marketplace, while increasing enforcement against illegal operators.
In Washington, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board adopted new rules regarding packing and labeling of marijuana infused products. To lessen the impact to licensees, a phase-in approach was used, which gave licensees until January 1, 2019 to become compliant. The Board amended the interim policy date for full compliance to June 1, 2019 based on feedback.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LACB) also announced in early October that cannabis-infused gummies, hard candies, and frosted cookies would be prohibited starting in April 2019. The board reasoned that these products appeal to children who may unknowingly ingest them. All cannabis-infused cookies and candies—as well as their labels—must be resubmitted for approval, and all dispensaries must sell out of their existing inventory by April 3, 2019.
Edible marijuana products currently make up about 9 percent of the overall cannabis market in Washington. LACB says the change is necessary to address concerns that previously approved gummies and candies would “meet the definition of ‘especially appealing to children.’”
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has planned to make marijuana legalization a top priority in 2019. In an address to the New York State Bar Association on December 17, Cuomo said that it was time to legalize the recreational use of marijuana “once and for all.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also shown support for legalization by releasing a task force report that endorses a legal framework for marijuana sales in the city. The report recommended the taxation of marijuana sales in New York City, the restriction of purchase and possession to those aged 21 and older and the expungement of marijuana-related convictions. In a letter attached to the report, de Blasis said, “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers…Legal cannabis is coming to New York State.”
In Massachusetts, dispensaries rang up $9.3 million in recreational marijuana sales during their first four weeks of operation. As of December 16, 2018, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission had received a total of 224 complete applications. So far, 13 of those businesses have received their final licenses and 11 have begun to operate. In 2019, we will see more cannabis businesses receiving their final licenses and opening. Massachusetts has allowed for unlimited recreational business; however, licensing priority is given to experienced medical dispensaries.
On December 31, 2018, Michigan regulators shut down more than 70 marijuana dispensaries across the state that had failed to obtain permanent state licenses. Some of the businesses that were shut down were operating under temporary permits that were issued at the local level but without permanent state licenses. Some of the dispensaries that were closed had pending applications before the state licensing board, other dispensaries submitted applications that were denied.
At least 60 of Michigan’s municipalities have opted out of allowing recreational marijuana sales, according to Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The communities that have opted out of sales may decide to allow sales in the future. Monroe City Manager Vince Pastue explained the city’s decision to opt out in a memo, “Given the potential this legislation has to fundamentally alter the community, city administration cannot stress enough the importance of careful analysis, as to potential impacts on land use considerations and the need for thoughtful deliberation, as the community moves forward.”
It is expected to be another year before Michigan is ready to begin licensing commercial recreational retail operations. However, given the potential market worth $1.5 billion, investors are beginning to look at opportunities for investment. 2019 is expected to be a busy year for businesses who are looking to invest in Michigan’s yet-to-be-regulated recreational marijuana industry.
In Vermont, legislators have already legalized the possession and home cultivation of marijuana. In 2019, supporters believe that the legislature is likely to create legislation that also adds legal cannabis commerce.
McConnell Hemp Bill
In December, President Trump signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill). This legislation contains the legislation that was authored and championed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell known as the McConnell Hemp Bill. The measure empowers farmers to expand the cultivation of industrial hemp by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. The bill also allows states to become the primary regulators of hemp, makes hemp eligible for crop insurance, and allows hemp researchers to apply fro competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Senator McConnell said, “With the stroke of his pen, President Trump has made it official. My bill legalizing industrial hemp is law. Now that the President has signed it, Kentucky‘s farmers can continue to lead the nation in the growing, processing and manufacturing of industrial hemp…I am confident the ingenuity of Kentucky’s farmers and producers will find new and creative uses for this exciting crop. We are at the beginning of a new era, and I cannot wait to see what comes next. As Senate Majority Leader, I was proud to do my part to bring hemp back to Kentucky, and I look forward to continuing to support its bright future in the Bluegrass State.”
States Ready for Legalization
In 2019, there are numerous states that are likely to legalize cannabis. These include: Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
In Connecticut, Governor-elect Ned Lamont campaigned on the basis that marijuana legalization is “an idea whose time has come. Following his election, Lamont said that moving toward cannabis legalization would be one of his priorities in 2019. Connecticut’s Senate president, who sponsored a legalization bill that didn’t pass under the current outgoing governor, says that passing a bill is “a significant revenue item” for the state.
In Illinois, the incoming billionaire Governor J.B. Pritzker made supporting the legalization of marijuana a centerpiece of his campaign. Following his election, Pritzker confirmed that he wants to pursue legalization “nearly right away.” Pritzker’s website states, “The path forward for Illinois is clear…we need to legalize marijuana. As governor, I am ready to stand with leaders, communities, and families across our state to legalize marijuana and move our state forward.” Pritzker’s plans have the support of the state House speaker.
In Minnesota, the incoming Governor Tim Walz has pledged to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.” Walz has publicly supported cannabis legislation in the past, authoring the first standalone cannabis bill to pass a congressional committee.
In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession in 2017. He has said that he will veto any legalization legislation, but now that the Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, the incoming House speaker has said that he thinks there is enough support to potentially override the expected Sununu veto. The bill is expected to be formally introduced next month when the 2019 legislative session begins.
In New Jersey, the Senate and Assembly committees have already approved marijuana legalization legislation titled “Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act.” Lawmakers are currently working out the details of legalization such as tax rates and regulatory structures. A bill is expected to make it to Governor Phil Murphy, who campaigned on the support of marijuana legalization.
In New Mexico, incoming Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has said that the legalization of cannabis would bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.” In the past, Grisham has supported cannabis reform measures as a member of Congress.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that it is time to “legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.” Cuomo has created a task force to draft legal cannabis legislation and directed the Health Department to study legalization. The Health Department concluded that the “positive effects” of ending the prohibition of cannabis “outweigh the potential negative impacts.” According to a Quinnipiac University survey from early 2018, 63 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marijuana for personal use.
In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf has said that he supports decriminalizing marijuana and thinks that the state should take a look at legalization. He said, “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, and we need to keep learning from their efforts. Any change would take legislation. But I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”
In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo has said, “I’m not sure at this point it is practical to say we’re not going to legalize and regulate.” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has also noted that he is mindful that the neighboring state of Massachusetts has legalized it and Connecticut is going to legalize it. He said, “I think we’re probably going to end up with more social costs without the revenues and that would probably be the worst situation of all.”
States Ready for Medical Legalization
There are additional states that are ready to legalize cannabis for medical purposes.
In Kansas, Governor-elect Laura Kelly supports the legalization of medical cannabis. In Texas, recently reelected Governor Greg Abbott indicated that he is open to some form of marijuana decriminalization and advocates are pushing lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis. South Carolina cannabis advocates are also calling for lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis. Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota are also states where medical cannabis legislation is a big possibility in the near future.
President Trump’s Policies on Cannabis
President Trump formally announced during his campaign that he believed that states should have the right to manage their own policies with regard to medical and recreational marijuana. Following his election, he stated that medical marijuana should be allowed but reversed his position on recreational marijuana. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the United States Department of Justice may seek greater enforcement of marijuana legislation at the federal level.
On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded three Obama-era memos that had adopted a policy of non-interference with states that have legalized recreational marijuana. On April 13, 2018, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner stated that President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to upholding the rights of states to set their own cannabis policies. Following AG Sessions’ forced resignation, President Trump announced that he plans to nominate William Barr to replace Sessions. While Barr had a reputation for being anti-drug when he held the role in George H.W. Bush’s administration, the political landscape has changed a great deal since that time. It remains to be seen how Barr will stand on the cannabis issue.
President Trump recently announced that Mick Mulvaney will serve as his acting White House chief of staff. Mulvany was previously a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he consistently voted to support marijuana reform amendments and cosponsored cannabis bills. Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, has said, “Mulvaney’s history of opposing wasteful government spending and support for states’ rights, specifically when it comes to marijuana, makes him our strongest ally in the White House.”
In October 2018, the Trump Administration sought public comments on Marijuana Reclassification. This may indicate that President Trump intends to make this an issue in his reelection campaign.
Cannabis is not just becoming more popular in the United States, countries around the world are passing legislation to legalize its use. Luxembourg is set to become the first European country to legalize recreational marijuana. South Africa is also making movements toward legalizing marijuana. Thailand legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. South Korea legalized cannabidiol (CBD).
In Canada, the Canadian Cannabis Act that went into effect on October 17, 2018 legalized the recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana and cultivation for personal, adult consumption.
In 2019, the expected amendments to The Cannabis Act will allow edibles, extracts, and topicals to enter the markets. The first draft of regulations outline restrictions on infused foods, beverages, edible extracts, inhalable extracts, THC concentrates, and topical. The proposed regulations would impose limits on the amount of THC that can be in each product and specify exact standards for labelling, packaging, and marketing.
In an interview with the Canadian Press in December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his disappointment with the cannabis shortages that have been happening since legalization. Trudeau predicted that the shortages would be resolved “during the coming months and perhaps the coming year.”