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Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Guarantee Cannabis Insurance Services

Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Guarantee Cannabis Insurance Services

A bipartisan cannabis insurance bill has been introduced in the Senate

A bipartisan bill to guarantee insurance services within the cannabis industry was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate. The legislation, aptly named the Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act of 2021, is sponsored by Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Jeff Merkley (D).

According to a press release from Sen. Menendez’s office, the bill was introduced in response to the fact that only six states in the U.S. still lack some form of medical or adult-use cannabis law. However, due to cannabis’s designation as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, these otherwise legal businesses are not generally insurable.

Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives on Monday, her office announced in a press release.

The voters in New Jersey spoke loud and clear this November when they overwhelmingly approved of recreational marijuana use, the governor and state legislature have acted, and now it’s time for the federal government to take the shackles off of state-authorized cannabis businesses, allowing this burgeoning industry to thrive.” — Sen. Menendez, in a statement

The CLAIM Act would allow cannabis firms in states with adult or medical cannabis to obtain insurance products like workman’s compensation, property, casualty and title insurance, the press release says. The Act has both private and public stipulations designed to protect insurers as well as the insured.

“Current federal law prevents these small business owners from getting insurance coverage, and without it, they can’t protect their property, employees or customers,” said Sen. Menendez. “Our legislation simply levels the playing field for legal cannabis businesses, allowing them to fully operate just as any other legal small business would by permitting insurance companies to provide coverage to these enterprises without risk of federal prosecution or other unintended consequences.”

The proposal is particularly timely as the House and Senate are set to reconsider the widely popular SAFE Banking Act, which would legalize the cannabis industry’s access to traditional banking and other financial services.

SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced In Senate

SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced In Senate

SAFE Banking Act is soon to voted on in the Senate

A bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators has been reintroduced in the Senate—with nearly a third of the chamber as cosponsors. It’s a development that takes on a new light now that Democrats are back in control the chamber.

This comes days after the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was refiled in the House, where it passed with bipartisan support as a standalone bill in 2019 and also as part of two COVID-19 relief bills.

The Senate version is being sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), and it currently has 27 other cosponsors. In the House, the legislation has more than 100 members who’ve signed on as cosponsors.

The SAFE Banking Act would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

“No one working in a store or behind a register should have to worry about experiencing a traumatic robbery at any moment,” Merkley said in a press release. “That means we can’t keep forcing legal cannabis businesses to operate entirely in cash—a nonsensical rule that is an open invitation to robbery and money laundering. Let’s make 2021 the year that we get this bill signed into law so we can ensure that all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need to help keep their employees safe.”

Daines added that “Montana businesses shouldn’t have to operate in all cash—they should have a safe way to conduct business.”

Virginia Governor Approves Medical Cannabis Flower Bills

Virginia Governor Approves Medical Cannabis Flower Bills

medical cannabis flower was just legalized in Virginia

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation, House Bill 2218 and Senate Bill 1333, amending the state’s medical cannabis access law to allow for the production and dispensing of botanical cannabis products. The measure takes effect July 1, 2021 and products are anticipated to be available as early as September.

Under the state’s existing medical marijuana law, licensed cultivators were required to process cannabis into non-herbal formulations, such as oils and tinctures. The new measure expands the pool of legal products to include those composed either of “cannabis oil or botanical cannabis.”

NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director for Virginia NORML, praised the legislation. “Medical cannabis flower remains the most popular formulation among consumers and among older consumers in particular. Limiting patients’ options to extracted oral formulations is not in their best interests. Botanical cannabis contains more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, many of which act synergistically with one another, producing an effect many scientists believe is necessary in order for patients to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit.”

Medical cannabis dispensaries began operating in Virginia in the fall of 2020.  If the pending legislation is approved, dispensaries are anticipated to have medical cannabis flower available for registered patients as early as September 2021.

An operational improvements bill, House Bill 1988, was also signed by Governor Northam, to ensure patients in hospice and other residential facilities are able to access medical cannabis, and makes permanent improved telehealth allowances adopted during the public health crisis.

Separate legislation seeking to legalize the possession of marijuana by adults and license its retail sale awaits action by Governor Northam, who continues to offer his public support for the legislation, which is backed by 68 percent of Virginians.

New York Legal Cannabis on Verge of Passing

New York Legal Cannabis on Verge of Passing

new york legal cannabis could be legal soon

The Legislature is on the precipice of passing a measure legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in the Empire State, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Tuesday.

Lawmakers are likely to reach a cannabis consensus and act on a stand-alone bill as soon they address lingering concerns about traffic stops and safety, Stewart-Cousins acknowledged.

We are extremely close. We have reached a little bit of an impasse right now and it has to do with impaired driving,” the Yonkers Democrat said during a video news conference. “We’re trying to figure a way forward so there can be some understanding of safety.”

At issue is whether to continue to treat driving while impaired by marijuana as a misdemeanor or a traffic infraction.

Earlier in the day, Sandra Doorley, Monroe County District Attorney and president of the state’s district attorneys association, outlined some of the qualms coming from law enforcement.

“The classification of driving under the influence of cannabis as a traffic infraction would send the message to the driving public that driving while impaired is no big deal and will be treated the same as a speeding ticket,” Doorley said. “Further, driving while impaired by marijuana obviously endangers all of our residents and visitors.”

Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly dropped marijuana from their budget proposals this week, an indication that lawmakers are nearing a deal on long-stalled efforts to allow New Yorkers to legally spark up.

Past attempts to approve pot have repeatedly gone up in smoke due to discrepancies over revenue, local opt-ins and expungement of past pot arrests. While Gov. Cuomo has included legal marijuana in his own budget proposals the past two years, he and lawmakers have failed to see eye to eye on equity and the allocation of revenue.

Lawmakers have sought to spend a lion’s share of the tax revenue on minority communities where the state’s drug laws have been disproportionately enforced, while Cuomo has sought greater state control of the funds.

 
New Massachusetts bill would legalize cannabis lounges

New Massachusetts bill would legalize cannabis lounges

Cannabis lounges could be legal as soon as 2022 in Massachusetts

Buying legal marijuana has become a convenient reality in Massachusetts but finding someplace to legally smoke it is a different story.

A bill aims to address that predicament by authorizing licensed cannabis lounges.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents the Cape and Islands, proposed the bill that he believes is a practical concept.

Cyr told Boston 25 News the current situation is comparable to the state allowing liquor stores but banning bars. He said it makes sense for the state to come up with a solution that would give marijuana users designated places to legally smoke or consume cannabis.

“If we don’t address it, it’s going to become a really big headache for law enforcement and for business owners in places like Provincetown or near Fenway,” Cyr said.

Cyr said the concept particularly applies in areas that attract a lot of visitors. His district includes Provincetown. The tourist destination on the tip of Massachusetts is home to three dispensaries, and more are set to open there soon.

“I think of folks getting off the ferry, going to a dispensary and then really being faced with a conundrum that they’re not able to use the substance anyplace legally,” Cyr explained. “So, you got a problem of people ducking into alleyways, going to the beach, really creating a nuisance.”

If the bill passes, it would start as a pilot program. Licensed cannabis lounges would only be authorized in a maximum of six communities. The state would potentially consider expanding it further based on feedback from local leaders, residents and businesses.

“In those communities, I think it benefits everyone to have a place where people can gather and consume cannabis,” said Mike Ross, former Boston city councilor and attorney. “I think people have to start thinking of it and get ahead of it.”

Communities in several other states, including Colorado and California, have already moved forward with permitting social consumption venues.

It’s unclear how long it will take for the bill proposed by Cyr to move through the Massachusetts legislature. He predicts the earliest it will see traction is in the second year of the legislative session in 2022.

Areas With More Marijuana Dispensaries Have Fewer Opioid Deaths

Areas With More Marijuana Dispensaries Have Fewer Opioid Deaths

States with legal cannabis have seen decreases in opioid related deaths

Increasing access to marijuana dispensaries is associated with a significant reduction in opioid-related deaths, according to a new study.

“Higher medical and recreational storefront dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid related death rates, particularly deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl,” the paper, published on Wednesday in the British Medical Association journal’s BMJ, concluded.

It’s a finding that “holds for both medical and recreational dispensaries,” the study says.

Researchers looked at opioid mortality and cannabis dispensary prevalence in 23 U.S.states from 2014 to 2018 and found that, overall, counties where the number of legal marijuana shops increased from one to two experienced a 17 percent reduction in opioid-related fatalities.

Increasing the dispensary count from two to three was linked to an additional 8.5 percent decrease in opioid deaths.

Further, the study found that this trend “appeared particularly strong for deaths associated with synthetic opioids other than methadone, with an estimated 21 percent reduction in mortality rates associated with an increase from one to two dispensaries.”

“If consumers use cannabis and opioids for pain management, increasing the supply of legal cannabis might have implications for fentanyl demand and opioid related mortality rates overall.”

“While the associations documented cannot be assumed to be causal, they suggest a potential association between increased prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid related mortality rates,” the researchers wrote. “This study highlights the importance of considering the complex supply side of related drug markets and how this shapes opioid use and misuse.”

This is far from the first piece of research to draw a connection between legal cannabis access and reduced harms from opioids. Multiple studies have found that marijuana effectively treats conditions like chronic pain for which opioids are regularly prescribed, and surveys show that many patients have substituted addictive painkillers with cannabis.

“Cannabis is generally thought to be a less addictive substance than opioids,” the new study says. “Cannabis can potentially be used medically for pain management and has considerable public support.”

“Our findings suggest that increasing availability of legal cannabis (modeled through the presence of medical and recreational dispensary operations) is associated with a decrease in deaths associated with the T40.4 class of opioids, which include the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl,” it continues. “This finding is especially important because fentanyl related deaths have become the most common opioid related cause of death.”

Earlier this month, a separate study determined that medical cannabis use is associated with significant reductions in dependence on opioids and other prescription drugs, as well as an increase in quality of life.

Read the full story from Marijuana Moment

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