Cannabis in the States: September Roundup
Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high in the United States. As of September 2022, cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in 19 states, Washington D.C., the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Marijuana has also been decriminalized in 12 other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is also legal to distribute marijuana in every jurisdiction where cannabis possession is lawful except Washington, D.C. The vast majority of states where cannabis is legal also allow personal cultivation.
Marijuana continues to be criminalized by federal law, although Senate Democrats introduced legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide in July. The bill would remove the federal ban on marijuana possession and allow states to decide how to regulate the drug.
As the push for federal legalization continues, states across the country are currently considering a range of cannabis-related bills, from legislation that would expand the rights of medical cannabis patients to measures that would pardon people convicted of certain nonviolent marijuana charges.
California legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996 and recreational use in 2016. The state has worked to expand access to cannabis and grow the legal market ever since. On September 6, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 1954, which states that medical providers may not deny treatments or medications to patients just because they consume medical marijuana or because they tested positive for THC during a drug test.
This anti-discriminatory legislation is one of more than a dozen bills that have recently landed on Governor Newsom’s desk. One of those bills aims to ensure that medical cannabis patients have access to delivery services in localities that currently prohibit marijuana delivery. Another bill that was adopted by the legislature allows for interstate commerce with other states where cannabis is legal, while a third proposed bill protects most employees from being fired for using THC when they aren’t on the job.
On September 14, a judge in Nevada ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Nevada Board of Pharmacy to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. In the spring of 2022, the ACLU of Nevada filed a lawsuit alleging that Nevada police had used the Board of Pharmacy’s classification of the drug to continue making marijuana arrests, even though Nevada voters had voted to legalize marijuana in 2016. The ACLU argued that the Board of Pharmacy’s refusal to remove the drug from its list of Schedule 1 controlled substances has generated a legal loophole that police have exploited, violating the constitutional rights of medical cannabis patients. The Board previously attempted to have the lawsuit tossed out, but that motion was rejected in July.
The ACLU argued that the state Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB), not the Board of Pharmacy, has the legal authority to regulate cannabis in Nevada. But because the Board of Pharmacy would not deschedule cannabis, some individuals have been wrongfully prosecuted on marijuana charges.
In another marijuana-related development that same day, the CCB approved regulations for cannabis consumption lounges, which could help grow the state’s tourism industry while Nevada’s legal marijuana market is thriving. The CCB established requirements for applicants and said that they would begin accepting applications on October 14.
In Montana, where recreational and medical marijuana use are both legal, a legislative committee is currently considering a bill that would significantly alter the state’s current recreational cannabis plan, according to KTVH. A new bill proposed by the Economic Affairs Interim Committee would prevent adult-use dispensaries from setting up shop in Montana for two more years. This would prevent new cannabis businesses from obtaining licenses to operate in Montana through June 30, 2025. The current moratorium is set to expire on June 30, 2023.
Since recreational cannabis was legalized in January, only medical marijuana businesses that were operating in Montana before Initiative 190, which was passed in November 2020, have been allowed to renew their licenses. The Republican state senator who proposed the measure, Jason Ellsworth, justified the proposed extension by stating that the state needed more time to gauge how the system was working before allowing more businesses to obtain licenses. Other committee members expressed concerns about how a large influx of new businesses could impact the market, even though marijuana sales have continued to rise over the past year.
The governor and the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania recently announced that they will be offering pardons to certain Pennsylvania residents who have been convicted of minor, nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. Individuals who receive a pardon will still have to petition the court to have their conviction expunged.
Both Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) have been vocal in their support for marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, though the Republican-run legislature has yet to act on these calls. Fetterman, who is in the running for a U.S. Senate seat this November, has also advocated for cannabis to be descheduled at the federal level and has called on President Joe Biden (D) to use his executive authority to decriminalize the drug.
Cannabis was recently legalized for medical use in Mississippi, and the state began issuing licenses through the Department of Revenue and Health in July. According to Ken Newburger, the executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, more than 100 dispensaries across the state have received licenses to operate thus far. Newburger told ABC-affiliate WTOK that the market should see significant growth by the end of this year or early next year and that businesses are currently focused on cultivating marijuana plants.
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