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Virginia recreational cannabis could be going up in smoke

Virginia recreational cannabis could be going up in smoke

Virginia recreational cannabis dispensaries

When Glen Youngkin was elected Governor of Virginia after a heated race in 2021, many cannabis advocates began to question the future of Virginia recreational cannabis. Despite legalizing cannabis for recreational use earlier in the year, the state has yet to get the industry rolling in any real way.

It isn’t uncommon for a state to take more than a year or two to establish their regulatory framework and begin adult-use sales. However in Virginia’s case, cannabis was legalized by a Democrat governor, who was soon replaced by a Republican.

Youngkin holds a different view on cannabis compared to his predecessor, and now those views have begun impacting the future prospects of a recreational cannabis industry in Virginia.

On April 7, 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to begin the process of legalizing adult-use cannabis. HB2312 (Herring) and SB1406 (Ebbin; Lucas), introduced by Governor Northam and passed by the 2021 General Assembly, lay out a three year process to legalize cannabis and create a regulatory framework for the sale of the product.

However while a recent General Assembly session saw lawmakers increase accessibility for medical cannabis patients, it failed to expedite Virginia recreational cannabis sales, and added new penalties for cannabis possession. So what happened?

The original bill as previously mentioned included a three-year timeline to implement regulations and framework for a recreational cannabis industry. The latest General Assembly session was voting on whether to shorten this timeframe, which would have expedited retail cannabis sales to this September.

However with the latest amendments to the original bills, it is unlikely that a Virginia recreational cannabis industry will be open by the original 2024 deadline.

Lobbyists influenced Virginia legislators into believing that it is safer for several large corporations to produce the products rather than having hundreds of small batch operations, according to Happy Trees co-founder Josiah Ickes. Happy Trees is a garden store supplying cannabis growers in the state.

“We have all these small breweries in Richmond,” Ickes said. “It would be kinda like if we said: ‘Oh, well look at all these small breweries, they need to go away because we don’t know if they’re creating safe beer.’”

Virginians will still be able to possess up to two ounces of cannabis flower for personal use without penalty. For comparison, in Colorado where cannabis has been legal since 2012, consumers are only allowed one ounce in their possession at a time.

Those who aren’t waiting for a legal cannabis industry to open up also have the option to grow their own cannabis. With the current framework and delay of a recreational industry, it is likely that a gift/donation industry will begin to develop in Virginia.

Coincidentally Virginia borders Washington, D.C., where cannabis is also legal but has no established industry. DC now has a thriving gift/donation industry where consumers will donate a certain amount in exchange for a gift (in the form of cannabis), creating a loophole where technically there isn’t a “sale” of cannabis happening.

There have been plenty of efforts to shut down this grey area industry, but efforts thus far have failed. With a successful market right next door, Virginians are likely to replicate these practices so people can still buy and sell their cannabis without technically breaking the law.

One of the positives to come out of the latest General Assembly meeting was regarding medical cannabis patients and their access to the products they need. Governor Youngkin recently signed new legislation which eliminated the requirement to register with the state Board of Pharmacy before being approved to purchase medical cannabis products.

Would be Virginia medical cannabis patients already have to get a referral from a medical provider in order to get access to cannabis. The latest amendment would appear to be simply removing an unnecessary step for patients.

When lawmakers originally approved the sale of low-concentration THC oil for medical patients in 2019, the Board of Pharmacy issued just 1,377 medical cannabis cards. That number grew to 7,135 in 2020, and ballooned to over 33,000 in 2021. The Board has issued over 10,000 cards from January to April 2022 already.

Brandy, a resident of Richmond, VA began smoking cannabis at age 15. Now 37, she grows plants in her home. Citizens can grow up to four plants legally per household.

Brandy has a state-approved prescription for cannabis to treat anxiety and bipolar disorder, but said she prefers growing cannabis as opposed to going to a dispensary, because it’s cheaper. Health insurance does not cover medical cannabis.

“In Virginia, it really sucks,” Brandy said. “You go in and they have the little half gram carts, and it’s $65.”

With a retail market still not established, Brandy said she prefers growing her own supply versus buying illegally from a dealer.

“This way I know exactly what goes in it,” Brandy said. “It’s all organic product, there isn’t chemicals in it.”

Currently there are only four state-licensed medical cannabis companies that can provide cannabis to patients in five health districts across Virginia. There are still several health districts that don’t have a single dispensary, making patients have to travel long distances to get their medicine.

Limited access, expensive pricing and the lack of a legal industry has put Virginia on a path that is leaving many unsure of the future of Virginia recreational cannabis. One can safely assume that there won’t a regulated, adult-use cannabis industry in the state until at least 2024.

However one can also expect to start seeing some semblance of an underground, grey market cannabis industry develop as consumers find ways to sell and purchase recreational cannabis without breaking the specific rules of the law.

Interstate cannabis commerce bill introduced in California

Interstate cannabis commerce bill introduced in California

California interstate cannabis commerce bill introduced

California has always been at the forefront of cannabis legalization. As one of the first states to legalize medical and recreational cannabis, other states looked to California for the outline of legal cannabis.

But despite its progressive policies regarding cannabis, California has not been able to develop and maintain a strong legal cannabis industry. This is for a wide range of reasons, from strict and expansive regulations to exorbitant application and licensing fees. Not to mention the massive illicit market that still operates within the state, in part due to the current barriers to entry into the legal market.

Some would argue that the solution to California’s cannabis industry woes is to simplify the application process, lessen the cost of licensing and give cultivators and retail owners the resources they need to stay within regulation. However the state is taking a different approach to profiting off an industry with an oversupply of cannabis.

SB1326 has been introduced to approve interstate commercial transactions for cannabis products. This means that if passed, California would be able to import and export cannabis products from other legal cannabis states. For example a state that recently legalized cannabis but does not yet have enough supply to meet demand could import products from California to fill the gaps.

If this bill sounds familiar, it may be because Oregon passed something similar in 2019. However since they were the only state with a law allowing export of cannabis, and no states have a law allowing imports, the law is basically moot.

The interstate cannabis commerce bill wouldn’t just be restricted to recreational cannabis either. California also has one of the country’s oldest medical cannabis programs and would be able to provide medical cannabis to neighboring states as well.

Even with the largest illicit market of cannabis production in the country, California’s legal recreational market is still oversupplied. The hope with SB 1326 is that some of that supply can be sent to other states to make the industry more profitable for those participating legally.

Critics of the bill have shown concern however over wording that could remove the opt-out clause currently in place in the state.

Most states with legal cannabis programs will have opt-out clauses that permit municipalities to opt-out of legal cannabis business in their localities. Those criticizing SB 1326 believe that the new bill will overshadow the opt-out clause, but lawmakers believe that it will actually give the municipalities more options than the opt-out clause itself provides.

The interstate cannabis commerce bill also places restrictions on who can enter the new market if it passes.

“The bill would prohibit an entity with a commercial cannabis license issued under the laws of another state from engaging in commercial cannabis activity within the boundaries of this state without a state license, or within a local jurisdiction without a license, permit, or other authorization issued by the local jurisdiction,” the bill’s text reads.

This line should reassure smaller towns and local businesses that multi-state operators won’t be able to just storm in and take over. And at this time, officials in the cannabis industry want to focus on leveling out the supply in California before they begin accepting any imports.

Legal gray area leaves potential Missouri cannabis growers in limbo

Legal gray area leaves potential Missouri cannabis growers in limbo

Missouri cannabis growers

NORTH MISSISSIPPI (WMC) – It’s been well over a month since the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law. However, potential cannabis growers in Mississippi are hesitant on how to proceed in growing their product.

Ambiguity in the signed legislation doesn’t specify if greenhouses are considered indoor or outdoor grow.

The difference is outdoor grow is strictly prohibited under the law.

“We fought so hard for these last two years, over two years, to get something passed,” said Zack Wilson with We are the 74. “Here we are, we have something passed, and now it’s another set of hurdles.”

Wilson, a resident of Byhalia, has been planning on building greenhouses for months, already setting up the framework for one on his property.

He’s put a pause on that after seeing greenhouses are not officially defined in the law.

You don’t have to look far in the 445-page bill.

On page 2, the bill reads “Cannabis cultivation facility” means a business entity licensed and registered by the Mississippi Department of Health that acquires, grows, cultivates and harvests medical cannabis in an indoor, enclosed, locked and secure area.

Wilson said in his conversations with his local legislators, the feeling is greenhouses do not offer the same level of security as a brick and mortar structure.

Wilson disagrees.

“A greenhouse is totally enclosed, so as far as I’m concerned that is indoor,” Wilson said. “Locked? There are doors. There’s a lock on it, just like any other building. A secure area? That means we put it inside a fence. Myself, personally, I’m in the middle of 200 acres. If somebody were to find my stuff, they would have to fly over it to find it.”

“It leaves everybody in limbo that’s actually going to do a greenhouse grow,” said Todd Franklin, owner of Franklin Farms.

Franklin built two greenhouses, 3,000 sq. ft. and 1,800 sq. ft. in 2021 before the original Initiative 65, the cannabis program Mississippians voted on in the 2020 elections, was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

He was ready to build more but has also paused construction due to the uncertainty of if greenhouses would be considered indoor grow.

“If you call the department of health, they tell you to go to their website. You click on their website and there’s nothing there,” Franklin said.

In our attempts to find some clarity from the Mississippi Department of Health, asking if greenhouses are considered indoor or outdoor grow, we were told the department doesn’t have an answer for us at this time.

“It is important to remember that beyond determining what is indoor growing – the same indoor security measures would apply. While the program is in development, I encourage you to visit or website and read the bill for answers,” an MSDH spokesperson said.

“Greenhouses are pretty much the industry standard. Why would we want to pull more from our power grid when we have mother nature above us,” Wilson said, gesturing up to the sun.

Both Wilson and Franklin said they would have 24/7 security systems on their properties once growing began.

Franklin doesn’t want to be caught behind the curve.

NY Gov. Hochul signs conditional cannabis cultivation bill

NY Gov. Hochul signs conditional cannabis cultivation bill

New York passes conditional cannabis cultivation licenses

With this legislation, NY is creating a new Conditional Adult-use Cannabis Cultivator license, allowing hemp farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed new legislation on Tuesday that will allow hemp farmers in the state to apply for a conditional license to grow cannabis.

With this legislation, New York is creating a new Conditional Adult-use Cannabis Cultivator license, allowing hemp farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season. Conditionally licensed cannabis farmers must hit certain requirements under this law.

According to the governor’s office, some of the requirements include, “safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices, participation in a social equity mentorship program, and engagement in a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization.”

“I am proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul said. “New York State will continue to lead the way in delivering on our commitment to bring economic opportunity and growth to every New Yorker in every corner of our great state.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes added, “Last year, after many years of fighting, we finally enacted the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, and are beginning to undo the devastating impacts over 90 years of unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition had on too many lives and communities. MRTA ensures that the legal adult-use market will be centered on equity and economic justice for communities of color and individuals that have been harmed most by the War on Drugs in the State of New York. With the passage of this bill, we have the opportunity to create a responsible start to the adult-use cannabis industry by authorizing temporary conditional cultivator and processor licenses to current New York hemp farmers. This authority will help secure enough safe, regulated, and environmentally conscious cannabis products to meet the demand of the adult-use cannabis market when retail dispensaries open. Importantly, this legislation calls for a Social Equity Mentorship Program, which will create a viable and inclusive path for social and economic equity partners interested in cannabis cultivation and processing to gain invaluable knowledge and experience in this emerging industry. The temporary conditional licenses authorized by this bill will ultimately help realize the vision and goals of the MRTA.”

New York bill would allow conditional licenses for cannabis cultivation

New York bill would allow conditional licenses for cannabis cultivation

New York bill for conditional cannabis licenses

While the Office of Cannabis Management lags behind establishing a regulation and licensing process for recreational cannabis in New York, lawmakers are trying to find a workaround in the meantime.

In an effort to ensure that equity applicants — those who will open dispensaries first in the state — have product on their shelves when they open, a bill has been introduced to permit limited cultivation of recreational cannabis via already licensed hemp farmers in the state. Assembly Bill A2682A and Senate Bill S8084A propose the use of “conditional adult-use cultivator licenses” that would give cannabis-adjacent growers (i.e. hemp growers) the ability to plant and process recreational marijuana.

Assembly Speaker Crystal Peoples-Stokes was a sponsor of the bill and one its biggest proponents.

“It provides a conditional license to make sure when licensing is in place that equity business will have a product to put on their shelves,” she said. The legislation would only permit recreational cultivation licenses to valid industrial hemp growers that have been authorized from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, as of December 31, 2021.

With the outdoor planting season beginning in May in New York, legislators are hoping that the bill will pass before then. Should the bill pass, the conditional licenses would eventually expire, requiring the grower to apply for a full license.

New York legalized cannabis for adult use in 2021. However the state has yet to establish a regulated market and regulators say legal sales likely won’t begin until 2023.

 
New Jersey legal cannabis delays have cannabis growers worried

New Jersey legal cannabis delays have cannabis growers worried

New Jersey cannabis growers worried about delays

Like many of New Jersey’s residents who voted to legalize weed for adult consumers, the state’s largest growers say they’ve been eager for the market to open.

In fact, they say they’re bursting at the seams with marijuana — and now, they’re worried they’ll have to take drastic measures if things don’t speed up.

“I hate to say this, but we may have to start destroying product, and we may have to start potentially letting people go because part of the anticipation is you ramp up your staffing, as well,” said James Leventis, an executive for Verano New Jersey, which has a cultivation and processing facility in Readington Township and three stores in Elizabeth, Lawrence Township and Neptune.

“You’re hired for a job with the idea that this market will develop,” said Leventis, the company’s vice president of Compliance & Government Affairs. “I’m very concerned we will continue to see these delays. It’s looking very stark right now.”

Just like any other organic material, cannabis starts to decompose after time. Even after it’s properly stored, after six months weed can get stale, loose its aroma and potency. In worst-case scenarios, the pot can get moldy.

For months, Verano along with fellow New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association members have been pressuring the state to allow them to sell to the public. The strategy has increased over the last month.

So what’s the hold up?

In no uncertain terms, the state agency created to govern the nascent cannabis industry — the Cannabis Regulatory Commission — has said these same companies demanding to open have yet to comply with stipulations in the marijuana law.

“The law has been in place since Feb. 22, 2021,” said Jeff Brown, the CRC’s executive director at last week’s public meeting. “It has noted clearly that alternative treatment centers [like Verano] need three things: municipal approval, relevant necessary supply to be able to serve their patient base, and operational capacity to continue to serve and even expand access.”