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A surprising oasis for medical marijuana: Oklahoma

A surprising oasis for medical marijuana: Oklahoma

When you think of Oklahoma, marijuana is probably not a thing you associate with the state.

OKLAHOMA (NewsNation Now) — Drive about 40 miles northeast of Oklahoma City and you’ll land on Chip Baker’s hundred-acre farm.

At first glance, it looks like any plot in rural Oklahoma. Spacious fields studded with work sheds and tarped greenhouse tunnels. Roosters roam freely next door.

Throw open the barn door and the golden light doesn’t reveal amber waves of grain but a different kind of cash crop.

It’s a marijuana operation and it’s all “baker’s brand.”

“Tokelahoma, cushlahoma, weedlahoma [and] gongelahoma” Baker says are just a few of the brands he sells.

“I think Lester Grinspoon said it best when he said “I smoke marijuana every chance I get.” and it’s true! Every chance, I do! ” exclaimed Baker.

Baker has grown weed around the world since he was 13. From the woods of Georgia and the lakes of Switzerland to Colorado and California.

“I love California weed, I love California growers. But there’s a certain snobbiness and we’ve done it all,” said Baker. “But like Oklahoma it’s this newness, adventure, that’s partly why we’re here.”

The 48-year-old and his wife Jessica moved to Oklahoma a couple of years ago after 57 percent of statewide voters literally greenlit medicinal marijuana through state question 788.

David Lewis is a lifelong Oklahoman and coo of Stability Cannabis, one of the state’s largest indoor grow facilities.

“I think people underestimate how much of a culture shock this was. This was a state where you couldn’t buy wine in a grocery store, yet we passed medicinal marijuana,” explained Lewis. “Born and raised in Oklahoma, I never would have thought we’d have almost 400,000 patients consuming medical marijuana. It’s shocking.”

According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, there are more than 380,000 Oklahomans with active medical marijuana cards, about 10 percent of the population. That’s more than any other state in the country and double that of New Mexico, which comes in second.

In a state whose politics are as red as its dirt, the numbers almost seem wrong.

“Oklahoma and Texas are the home of outlaw country, right? Just because people are conservative or work on the land, or fish or hunt as relaxation, or even go to church, doesn’t disbar them from using cannabis and enjoying it,” said Baker.

“What I would say is look around the congregation at your church, and that’s our customer base,” added Lewis.

They’re consumers who get to come out of the shadows like Taly Frantz-Holly.

“I’ve been on the black market, as far as cannabis, as a smoker and everything from the time I was 19,” said Frantz-Holly.

She suffers from PTSD and says certain prescription pills left her suicidal. She found relief in cannabis.

“I went from taking 8 pharmaceuticals—8 medicinal pills every day. And now I’m down to 2. I only have panic attacks once ever few weeks and I was having panic attacks every single day,” stated Frantz-Holly.

Frantz-Holly says, without a doubt, the plant saved her life. So enamored by its medicinal powers, she now grows it herself.

“I literally got drug charges when I was 21 for a joint. And did 30 days in county jail. For a joint! And now I’m picking up 75 marijuana plants to go home to my commercial grow,” said Frantz-Holly.

She’s not alone. There are 7,000 other commercial growers across the state. Baker says it’s never been easier or cheaper to break into the business.

“Oklahoma just made it so easy to get involved that the average and normal person could,” said Baker. “There just no boundaries here.”

The application fee for growers, processors, dispensaries and transporters is $2,500. For patients, it’s $100. $20 for disabled veterans. Baker says it took him 15 minutes to apply in other states? He’s waited two years.

 

“Well if you look back at the political cycles, Oklahoma is the reddest of the red states. And I think what that translated to in medical marijuana was a free market approach,” said Baker. “The government wanted the free market to settle out who the winners and losers would be, and as a result you saw very limited restrictions on getting into the market and a lot of people participated.”

And many doctors, especially during a pandemic, have signed off on cards for patients suffering from anxiety, depression and insomnia.

“Oh COVID was a boom to the industry! Turns out if you’re trapped at home I guess with your kids and your in laws, you might have to medicate a little bit more every now and then,” said Lewis.

“The other thing is people aren’t sharing cannabis as much because of COVID. So people have been having their own bowls and their own joints,” stated Baker.

Baker says industry-wide, the business grew 50 percent last year.

If you’re surprised by Oklahoma’s booming numbers, Baker says you shouldn’t be. People just haven’t been able to talk about it but singing it.

“Oklahoma has a cannabis history. The cross Canadian ragweed, the famous song from 20 years ago. Oklahoma boys roll their joints all wrong. Its famous! It’s been famous for years!” said Baker.

 

Virginia Cannabis Legalization Will Now Take Effect July 1, 2021

Virginia Cannabis Legalization Will Now Take Effect July 1, 2021

Virginia cannabis legalization has been moved forward by a new provision

Following today’s legislative approval of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s amendments to Senate Bill 1406 and House Bill 2312, Virginia becomes the first southern state to legalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults. 

Senate Bill 1406, introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Senate President Pro Tempore Senator Louise Lucas (D-18), and House Bill 2312, patroned by House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46), establish a statutory timeline for the legalization of the commercial marijuana market in Virginia. The measure also permits for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis by those ages 21 or older.

Last week, Gov. Northam recommended changes to the legislation to permit the personal use provisions of the law to take effect on July 1, 2021 rather than on January 1, 2024 — the enactment date initially approved by lawmakers. Today, a majority of the legislature concurred with that change.

Therefore, beginning July 1, 2021, adults will be permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to four cannabis plants per household without penalty.

The timeline by which state regulators have to enact provisions licensing commercial cannabis production and sales remains July 1, 2024.

Commenting on the final passage, NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the Executive Director of Virginia NORML, said: “This is an incredible victory for Virginia. Legalization will bring an end to the thousands of low-level marijuana infractions occurring annually in the Commonwealth — ending a discriminatory practice that far too often targets Virginians who are young, poor, and people of color.” 

Majority Leader Charniele Herring added: “It is a huge day for equity in the Commonwealth. Virginia is now the first state in the South to legalize recreational marijuana use, and I am so proud to have been able to carry this monumental legislation. I am ever grateful for the commitment and advocacy from NORML on this topic. Getting Virginia to this day would not have been possible without their hard work and dedication to the cause.”

Senator Adam Ebbin said: “The passage of SB1406 caps off years of struggle to reform our broken and outdated marijuana laws and begins the deliberate steps to repeal the harms of the failed prohibition. I am thankful to NORML, the Governor, and my colleagues for moving this 283 bill from inception to passage over the last four months, and look forward to continuing to partner with them to establish a regulated, equity focused, adult-use marketplace in the coming years.”

Newly released statewide polling data finds that 68 percent of registered voters in Virginia, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans, support legalizing marijuana for adults.

“Virginians were very clear that they are ready for legalization this year, sending over 8,800 emails in support of these measures,” Pedini added.

New York legalizes adult use marijuana, expunges former pot convictions

New York legalizes adult use marijuana, expunges former pot convictions

New York legalized cannabis

New York officially legalized weed Wednesday as Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that will regulate the sale of recreational marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people previously convicted of possession.

Legislators approved the long-stalled measure late Tuesday, sending the bill allowing adults over 21 to use weed legally to the governor’s desk.

“This is a historic day in New York – one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis.”

Officials say the marijuana market will eventually lead to as many as 60,000 new jobs and generate $350 million in revenue annually.

Adults over 21 will also be allowed to grow marijuana at home. It will be a while before legal sales begin or plants are allowed to grow as the newly-created Office of Cannabis Management is formed and finalizes rules and regulations. Most experts predict sales will start in late 2022 or early 2023.

Some parts of the law take effect immediately as anyone previously convicted of possessing an amount of marijuana now under the legal limit will automatically be subject to expungement and resentencing.

As of Wednesday, New Yorkers can legally possess less than 3 ounces of marijuana and consuming cannabis is permitted in public wherever smoking tobacco is allowed.

Law enforcement can no longer arrest or prosecute anyone for possession of pot under the three-ounce limit. A police officer can still use the odor of burning cannabis as a reason to suspect a driver is intoxicated, but can’t use that smell alone as justification for searching a car.

Once a marketplace is gearing up, the law allows for localities to opt-out of retail sales at the local level. It also sets a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and locality.

As far as tax revenue, the plan is to dedicate 40% of the funds to reinvestment in communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war, another 40% to schools and public education, and 20% to drug treatment, prevention and education.

What Would New York Cannabis Legalization Look Like?

What Would New York Cannabis Legalization Look Like?

New York cannabis legalization is being voted on today

The vote on New York cannabis legalization could happen today. What does that mean for the industry, and the country?

After reaching a landmark deal that aims to integrate a recreational cannabis industry into New York’s current medical cannabis program, the state legislature could be voting as soon as today on whether or not New York cannabis legalization will pass. The bill’s passing would be a massive decision with even bigger ramifications for the legal cannabis industry at large.

But how would a cannabis industry in New York theoretically look? One thing is for sure; the industry would be huge.

What’s in the bill

The bill potentially on its way to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk would allow adults in the state to buy cannabis in retail stores, and also sample it in tasting rooms similar to wine tasting venues. They would also be able to grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home – six per person and up to 12 per household.

If passed, the New York cannabis legalization law would not go into effect until late 2022, which means businesses like dispensaries may not open until after that period.

Fifty percent of the licenses to grow and sell marijuana would be set aside for what’s known as equity businesses, which includes people from disproportionately impacted communities and small farmers. They would have access to loans, grants, and incubator programs.

The funds for this program will come from a 13 percent sales tax to be charged on the sale of marijuana. State revenues could reach $350 million dollars a year and the money would be split between the community reinvestment fund, public education, and efforts to combat drug addiction.

The legislation further decriminalizes possession of marijuana, eliminating penalties for having 3 ounces or less of cannabis, or storing up to 5 pounds at home. It also would expunge the records for people with previous convictions for amounts that are no longer criminalized.

How it could impact the industry

If New York cannabis legalization passes, the state would become the 15th state to legalize cannabis, and the second largest to legalize behind California. Ranking barely third behind Texas in state GDP, the economy of New York is already massive, which would all but guarantee an equally massive legal cannabis industry.

Similar to California, New York also has a thriving illicit market already in operation in the state. Cannabis delivery services are very popular in New York City where anyone can ride their bike across the city to deliver cannabis products. While few other states allow cannabis delivery in their recreational cannabis programs, New York cannabis legalization would likely allow for delivery services to continue, if not thrive under new legal regulation.

California sold the most cannabis in 2020 at $4.4 Billion worth. However in combination with its relatively small medical cannabis industry which generated around $50 million in 2020, a New York legal cannabis industry would generate over $1 Billion by 2024. That would put New York in the top five cannabis markets in just two years of operation.

To say that New York cannabis legalization would make the state a major player with influence on the direction of the industry would be an understatement.

How it could impact the country

California alone generated over twice as much sales revenue in 2020 than all of Canada where cannabis is federally legal. With the addition of a massive industry after New York cannabis legalization, that number could easily double again, making the United States a legal cannabis behemoth despite federal law.

The massive profits will likely draw the attention of more politicians who will see the potential benefits of legalizing in their own states, or even federally. In states where cannabis is legal, opinions on legalization generally improve over time after those against it see the benefits it brings. In a massive state like New York, a sway in public opinion on legalization could create waves that reach across the east coast and even the country.

Nearly 70% of Americans already support federal cannabis legalization, with 90% supporting federally legal medical cannabis. With New York’s population the number will rise making it nearly impossible for legislators on the federal level to keep ignoring. Of course when it comes to politics, nothing is a guarantee.

A whole new world awaits

The reality is that if New York cannabis legalization passes, the entire industry is likely to change. Entrepreneurs and corporate cannabis entities will flock to New York to capitalize on the new, fresh industry. And with such a massive economy, there will be no shortage of opportunity.

A legal cannabis industry in New York is likely to jump start movement across the east coast, with Pennsylvania and Maryland likely to follow should the industry show promise. Florida has already surpassed $1 Billion in sales with medical marijuana alone, and a full recreational industry would likely explode there as well.

The dominoes of cannabis legalization have been slowly falling state after state, and New York is one BIG domino that could change everything. But just like California, New York could also fall short.

Despite its massive revenue generation and thriving cannabis industry, California has suffered immensely due to its changing regulations with lack of communication or leniency, exorbitant licensing and square footage fees that punish small farmers, and a thriving illicit market that the state can’t quash.

New York must tread lightly or risk facing a similar fate to their west coast cousin, which could have an inverse effect on the future of cannabis legalization across the country. Only the future will tell.

NY Legislators Reach Deal to Fast Track Legalization

NY Legislators Reach Deal to Fast Track Legalization

New York cannabis legalization is on the fast track to being signed into law

New York is ready to legalize recreational marijuana.

The state would impose special pot taxes and prepare to license dispensaries under an agreement reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

“It is my understanding that the three-way agreement has been reached and that bill drafting is in the process of finishing a bill that we all have said we support,” state Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger told Bloomberg Government on Wednesday.

 
 

The deal that legislative leaders brokered with Cuomo (D) would legalize cannabis use for adults 21 years old and up, and includes a 13% sales tax, 9% of which would go to the state and 4% to the localities, Krueger said. Distributors additionally would collect an excise tax of as much as 3 cents per milligram of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, with a sliding scale based on the type of product and its potency.

No changes would be made to the taxes already imposed on marijuana sold for medical purposes, Krueger said.

The governor’s office estimates that a legal cannabis program could pull in about $350 million a year once fully implemented.

Sales could begin as soon as one year after enactment, said Krueger, who sponsored legislation (A.1248/S.854) with Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) that was a starting point for the negotiations.

With New Jersey legalizing marijuana earlier this year, “we are literally surrounded geographically by other states that are doing it. We just need to stay ahead of the times,” Peoples-Stokes said in an interview. “Because we’re New Yorkers, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can speed this up.”

Cuomo earlier Wednesday said an agreement was close, and that it’s one of his budget priorities. Krueger said she expects lawmakers to vote on stand-alone legislation as soon as next week.

Legislative leaders want to separate the marijuana and budget debates, a strategy that gives them the upper hand on determining pot policy.

Neighborhood Programs

The proposed recreational marijuana tax structure is similar to the one levied on alcohol, Krueger said.

Tax revenue would first go to covering cannabis-related expenses at state agencies overseeing the regulation of cannabis, with the rest divided among programs to help people rebuild their lives after marijuana possession arrests; to help neighborhoods; education; and drug treatment.

“We understand the ramifications of decades of incarceration of a people that actually ends up costing us, as a government, money,” Peoples-Stokes said. “This community reinvestment could reverse that whole dynamic. We could reinvest in people’s lives.”

Putting those programs into the legalization law will mean that Cuomo wouldn’t be able to count on that burst of new revenue to close a $2.5 billion budget hole anticipated in the next fiscal year.

Read the Full Story from Bloomberg

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.

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