Cannabis was big news in November, from states voting to legalize the substance to governors announcing that they are following in the footsteps of President Joe Biden.
Attitudes about recreational marijuana are changing, and states are trying to keep pace with public sentiment. They are also trying to navigate the labyrinth of confusing and often-conflicting state and federal regulations.
The November cannabis roundup is here, and for marijuana enthusiasts, there is a lot to be thankful for this year.
Oregon Governor Makes Bold Move
In October, President Joe Biden released a statement announcing that he was pardoning eligible individuals convicted of federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. In his announcement, he urged governors to do the same, noting that a person’s life shouldn’t be upended because of marijuana possession. Oregon Governor Kate Brown is taking Biden’s call to action seriously, announcing in November that action will be taken to pardon over 45,000 people with convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The state will also forgive more than $14 million in unpaid fines and fees.
Governor Brown calls the move a step in the right direction to adjust the flawed and inequitable criminal justice system. The move gives thousands of Oregon residents convicted of marijuana possession a second chance, removing the barriers to housing, educational, and employment opportunities. The hope is the pardons will relieve some of the “collateral consequences” a marijuana conviction can inflict on an individual’s personal and professional life.
South Dakota Votes Down Legalization but Upholds Gun Rights
At the polls, South Dakota voters rejected a ballot measure legalizing marijuana in the state. The move comes two short years after voters passed a reform measure to legalize recreational marijuana use. However, the will of the voters was promptly overturned by South Dakota courts. Once it became apparent that voters would reject the new push for legalization, speculation mounted on whether medical marijuana patients would be denied hunting licenses in the conservative state.
Federal law prohibits habitual marijuana users from gun ownership. Some medical marijuana enthusiasts hoped legalizing cannabis in the state would prevent them from having to apply for medical marijuana cards, thereby putting their names on a state-wide list. Medical marijuana advocates worry these records could eventually be cross-referenced by federal authorities like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, preventing them from owning guns or applying for hunting licenses.
The state claims the only thing that may disqualify an individual from receiving a hunting license is having a felony conviction on their criminal record. However, the disconnect between state and federal laws makes for murky water on marijuana use and gun rights.
Recreational Cannabis Sales Begin in Rhode Island
In November, state regulators in Rhode Island paved the way for recreational cannabis sales to begin on December 1st. Recreational cannabis became legal in May, but only now will five licensed medical marijuana centers be able to sell recreational cannabis. The five sites had to apply for a hybrid license. Regulators say the move ensures that the state’s entry into the recreational cannabis market is controlled and safe.
Rhode Island has six licensed compassion centers in the state. Five of those facilities applied for the hybrid license, which would allow them to sell medical and recreational cannabis.
New York Issues First Recreational Marijuana Licenses
New York is also taking steps toward establishing a safe and effective recreational marijuana marketplace. In November, the state issued its first 36 recreational cannabis dispensary licenses. The selected pool of 36 recreational outlets came from more than 900 applicants. New York legalized recreational marijuana use in March of 2021. However, the process of regulating and licensing the sale of cannabis has been challenging. New York regulators have said that they want to focus on product quality and public health.
The state’s response has been seen as slow by those eagerly anticipating the start of recreational sales. Unauthorized pot shops popping up in New York may create an unfair advantage, stifling those going through the proper channels. For their part, New York’s cannabis office claims it is working with law enforcement to crack down on illegal operations.
Cannabis regulators are hopeful that the first retail locations will be operational by year’s end. They say they want to make more resources available to help train cannabis entrepreneurs and workers. Regulators hope their abundance of caution will lead to higher-quality products in the marketplace. They also want to see the additional resources and training help prevent cannabis from being sold to those under 21.
Cannabis Legislation the Right Way?
New York officials claim they are on the right track with their legalization efforts because they are waiting to see how recreational legalization plays out in other states. As New York grants entrepreneurs the state’s first retail cannabis licenses, officials claim they are going about the process correctly and safely. By waiting to see how legalization plays out in other areas of the country, New York officials could use the trials and tribulations of others to blaze their own trail. Regulators claim they have avoided some of the pitfalls other states experienced and enhanced their measures to make recreational cannabis safe and accessible.
The recreational cannabis movement continues to gain steam across the country. Although states still grapple with looming questions, many are forging ahead with their plans for turning cannabis into a cash crop. Significant strides continue in the industry. States are looking to make the cannabis marketplace safe and give cannabis entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed.
Marijuana users may also feel a new hope: that a former marijuana conviction is not a barrier to progress. Minor marijuana convictions don’t just result in social stigma.
Marijuana convictions can change a person’s life and impact their financial security and future opportunities. November’s roundup shows that in some areas of the country, attitudes toward recreational marijuana use are changing, and state officials are attempting to catch up.