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2022 Election Recap: Where is Weed Legal?

Election Day is finally over. The votes have been (mostly) counted, and the results are (mostly) in.

Cannabis legalization was a hot topic during the midterm election. Five states had adult-use legalization measures on the ballot, along with more than 100 local cannabis-related ballot initiatives across the country. And the results are mixed.

Arkansas- Failed

Issue 4 failed to garner enough support from Arkansas voters, according to Politico. Passage would have legalized the sale, possession, and consumption of cannabis by adults 21 and older, while applying an additional tax on cannabis products. Medical cannabis remains legal in Arkansas.

Maryland- Passed!

Marylanders voted overwhelmingly in favor of Question 4, legalizing adult-use cannabis in the state, Politico has confirmed.  Now HB 837, a bill passed earlier this year by the Legislature, takes effect. HB 837 decriminalizes cannabis possession and allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to 2 plants for personal use. All criminal records for cannabis-related offenses that are now legal will be expunged. The decriminalization component of HB 837 takes effect on January 1st, 2023. The possession and home grow provisions take effect in July 2023.

Neither HB 837 nor Question 4 create a regulatory and taxation framework for the sale of adult-use cannabis. The Legislature will return next year to pass legislation to establish the legislative and regulatory infrastructure needed to prop up the state’s adult-use cannabis industry.

Missouri- Passed!

Missouri voters have officially passed Amendment 3 (according to Politico) legalizing the sale, possession, and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older, while imposing a 6% tax on cannabis products. Missourians are now also permitted to cultivate cannabis plants at home given proper registration and restrictions. The success of Amendment 3 also opens the door for individuals with certain non-violent cannabis convictions to petition for resentencing and/or record expungement.

Missouri now must develop regulations that facilitate an adult-use cannabis market. Amendment 3 becomes effective 30 days after Election Day.

North Dakota- Failed

North Dakota’s Statutory Measure 2 failed to receive enough votes to pass this year, according to Politico. The measure would have legalized adult-use cannabis, allowing North Dakota adults to grow up to 3 cannabis plants for personal use and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis flower, 500mg of THC for edibles, and 4 grams of cannabis concentrates. Passage of the ballot measure would have also established an adult-use cannabis marketplace, allowing for the possession, production, processing, and sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older. Medical cannabis remains legal in North Dakota.

South Dakota- Failed

Initiated Measure 27 failed to gain majority support by South Dakota voters, according to Politico. Had it passed, the measure would have legalized the possession, use, and distribution of cannabis for adults 21 and older, along with home cultivation. Possession and distribution would have been limited to 1 ounce of cannabis.

The failure of this initiative notably follows the passage of a similar proposal in 2020 by wide margins, Amendment A, which was ultimately invalidated by the South Dakota Supreme Court. Medical cannabis remains legal in South Dakota.

What Does it All Mean?

The 2022 midterm elections resulted in some major wins… and a few disappointments for legal cannabis. Maryland and Missouri (the only initiatives to include an expungement provision) legalized adult-use cannabis, whereas the initiatives in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota failed to get enough votes this year. 

Adult-use cannabis is now legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 48% of the American population now has legal access to adult-use cannabis, and approximately 76% of the population has legal access to medical cannabis. 

The campaigning and voting is over, but the work is just beginning. Over the next few months (possibly even years), policymakers and regulators from Maryland and Missouri will work to pass enabling legislation and promulgate rules to implement each state’s adult-use cannabis program.

Stay tuned for additional post-election analyses from the WM Policy team, and make sure to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Reefer Madness: Debunking 5 Cannabis Myth

In the 1930s, cannabis was the scapegoat for America’s spiritual and moral decay— the devil’s lettuce that pushed people to jump out of windows and commit mass murder. It’s easy to look back and laugh at the ridiculousness of the Reefer Madness era, and even though the posters are now considered pop art, these myths had serious public policy consequences. And they still do.

Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, garnered public support for his anti-cannabis policies by playing into the rampant racism and xenophobia of the early 20th Century. By associating cannabis with Mexican immigrants and Black Americans, and with the help of the iconic Reefer Madness film and anti-cannabis propaganda printed in newspapers, Anslinger successfully molded public opinion and used that support to craft and implement public policy. Anslinger’s work lead to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937- the precursor to President Nixon’s War on Drugs and the unofficial beginning of cannabis prohibition in America. 

Cannabis myths have consequences. 

Lately, there has been a resurgence of pernicious cannabis myths, all while legalization is spreading across the country and around the world, and public support for cannabis is at an all-time high. But this time, instead of overt racism, today’s cannabis myths are often under the guise of concern for public health. From the persistent gateway theory to the grotesque insinuation that cannabis causes mass shootings, Reefer Madness 2.0 is here. 

In the spirit of Halloween, here’s a scary thought: failure to swiftly and loudly address cannabis myths will have detrimental consequences for the cannabis legalization movement. At best, they will slow legalization efforts. At worst, they will turn back the clock on cannabis progress. 

Scared yet? Let’s debunk five common cannabis myths:

1. Cannabis legalization leads to higher rates of youth usage.

The idea that legalization  increases the rate of underage cannabis consumption is pervasive but unfounded. A recent peer-reviewed study found that cannabis legalization in the US did not influence underage adolescent cannabis use. Another study looking at national data on cannabis use among high schoolers from 1993 until 2019 found “no significant associations” between medical and adult-use legalization laws and underage cannabis consumption. In fact, some studies even suggest that legalization may lead to a decrease in youth cannabis consumption. One 2019 study using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1993 to 2017 found that adult-use legalization was associated with an 8% decrease in youth cannabis consumption rates. This is likely because, as the cannabis industry shifts from the illicit market to an above-ground, regulated industry, it becomes harder for teens to access cannabis, especially given strict identification requirements for dispensaries and cannabis deliveries. While concerns about young people accessing cannabis are valid, the myth that legalization increases underage consumption has been debunked over and over again. 

2. Cannabis is being laced with fentanyl.

One of the newer myths is that cannabis is being cut with fentanyl– a synthetic opioid that can be fatal in small doses– and sold to unsuspecting consumers. Though the opioid crisis is very real in the United States, and fentanyl overdose is the number one cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45, fentanyl-laced cannabis is not the culprit. There is no evidence that anyone is intentionally lacing cannabis with fentanyl, despite what some policymakers may say. Our recent blog post breaks down the fentanyl cannabis myth in more detail. 

3. Cannabis use leads to mass shootings.

And now for one of the most offensive and asinine myths out there– the misinformation that cannabis causes young people to commit mass shootings. This lie was recently touted by Fox News Hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, as well as Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. To be extremely clear- cannabis is not the cause of mass shootings in America. My colleague, Weedmaps’ VP Bridget Hennessey, said it best: “It is an affront to our humanity to blame cannabis–or any other ridiculous excuse–for what caused the death of children and the adults dedicated to teaching them.”

4. Cannabis is a gateway to other drugs.

The gateway theory- that cannabis leads to the use of other drugs- is a classic cannabis myth with remarkable staying power. Though it has been debunked countless times, many still believe that cannabis leads a person down a path of increasingly problematic drug use. The main issue with the gateway theory is that it conflates correlation with causation. While it may be true that most people who use other drugs have used cannabis at some point in the past, there is no evidence that cannabis causes one to use other drugs. The Institute of Medicine found that cannabis use does not appear to cause, or be the most significant predictor of, serious drug abuse. Further, RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center offers an alternative explanation for why someone may go on to use other drugs after cannabis: “it is not marijuana use, but individual’s opportunities and unique propensities to use drugs that determine their risk of initiating hard drugs.” For more on the gateway theory, check out our policy paper, “Dispelling the Gateway Theory.”

5. Cannabis leads to increased crime rates.

Some believe cannabis legalization will increase crime, but numerous studies show otherwise. This myth is likely the product of decades of anti-cannabis propaganda associating cannabis with criminal activity. The reality is that legalization has no impact on crime rates, and it may actually reduce crime. Data from Washington and Colorado– the first two states to legalize adult-use cannabis– saw “minimal to no effect” on major crimes and no long-term effects on violent and property crimes following legalization. Another study examining crime data from 1990 through 2006 found a potential reduction in violent crime following medical cannabis legalization. Internationally, a 2017 study found that medical legalization led to a decrease in violent crime in states bordering Mexico, with stronger reductions in counties closest to the border. It is clear that cannabis does not increase crime, and in fact, decriminalization frees up law enforcement budgets to focus on more serious crimes.

Final Thoughts

There is nothing inherently wrong with good-faith questions about the impacts of cannabis legalization. It will take time and effort to undo the past century of anti-cannabis propaganda, and with a brand new industry comes plenty of benefits… and policy challenges. Fortunately, revenue from the cannabis industry is funding research on the impacts of cannabis legalization across the country. For example, California announced a $20m grant program earlier this month– entirely funded by cannabis revenue– for public universities to study cannabis and “address research gaps and inform policymakers.” Recipients of this grant will research the health of the cannabis industry, California’s legacy cannabis genetics, cannabis potency, monopolies and unfair competition, and the medical use of cannabis. 

In the meantime, pesky cannabis myths will likely be around for years to come. For the sake of the industry, it is vitally important to continuously and loudly debunk misinformation when it arises. 

For more, check out the “Addressing Concerns” page on our website, and our “Myth vs. Fact” policy paper. 

Follow WM Policy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The Truth About Fentanyl-Laced Cannabis

There’s been a lot of recent news media reports and statements from high-ranking elected officials about the dangers of fentanyl-laced cannabis. They claim that there’s been a rise in dealers cutting cannabis with fentanyl and selling it to unsuspecting consumers

This makes for great headlines. But there is little truth behind it. In fact, there is no evidence that cannabis is being intentionally laced with fentanyl–in the U.S. or anywhere else.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used to treat post-surgical pain or chronic pain for those with a tolerance to other opioids. It is a controlled substance that can be administered safely under the strict supervision of a medical professional. But recently, fentanyl has become the face of the opioid epidemic due to its widespread use as a cheap, potent additive in other drugs sold illegally.

Fentanyl overdose is now the number one cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 56,516 overdose deaths in 2020 involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. That’s more than 150 deaths per day.

The ubiquity of illicitly-manufactured fentanyl is one of the gravest public health concerns of modern times— and unfortunately, the subject of much misinformation. Some common falsehoods include: fentanyl is Naloxone-resistant (Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to reverse an opioid overdose), that simply touching fentanyl can cause an overdose, and that cannabis products are being laced with fentanyl and sold to consumers.

But in fact, “there are no scientifically verified reports of fentanyl contamination of cannabis products,” according to a guide published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services. A separate report from the Ontario Harm Reduction Network found zero cases of fentanyl present in cannabis in Canada. And most recently, the American Addiction Centers’ Chief Medical Officer told WebMD that “there is no scientific data that would validate the assumption [that fentanyl-laced cannabis is causing widespread fatalities] thus far.”

Just because a person tests positive for both fentanyl and THC does not mean they consumed contaminated cannabis. THC is detectable in the body up to 30 days after consumption–so cannabis could have been consumed weeks prior to testing positive for fentanyl.

Yet there is an abundance of “reports” from law enforcement and others sounding the alarm of an alleged proliferation of overdoses resulting from fentanyl-laced cannabis. To far less fanfare, these claims are quietly retracted as new information emerges, and no evidence of adulterated cannabis is actually found. Police in Vermont, for example, reported an overdose resulting from fentanyl-laced cannabis. But months later, they admitted the test was inaccurate.

A situation in Connecticut is also worth noting. Last February, health officials reported 39 cases of overdoses linked to fentanyl-laced cannabis. Public panic ensued, fueled by sensational media reports. But it turned out that only one case tested positive for fentanyl, which was “likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident.” The fentanyl detected in the cannabis was likely due to cross-contamination, a result of improper equipment cleaning. There is no evidence that the fentanyl was intentionally mixed with cannabis with the intent to sell it.

The availability of fentanyl-laced drugs is a legitimate public health and safety concern and a real danger to society. But deliberate scare tactics designed to justify increased enforcement of drug-related crimes are not legitimate solutions.

Bad information leads to bad public policies.

Cannabis is medicine for some and is consumed responsibly by millions of adults across the country. Some studies even suggest that cannabis can potentially reduce opioid use and exposure to fentanyl. Misinformation and “Reefer Madness” sensationalism impede laws to legalize and expand access to safe cannabis.

There is a solution: Mandatory laboratory testing–coupled with common-sense regulations and adequate access to legal cannabis for patients and consumers.

Fear mongering, rumors, and misinformation are not credible nor effective public health and safety strategies.

For more information about fentanyl, check out Drug Policy Alliance’s “10 Facts About Synthetic Opioids (Fentanyl).”

For information on Naloxone, check out the CDC’s resource here.

Women’s History Month Isn’t Over Yet! You Need to Know These Three PHENOMENAL WOMEN & Their Amazing Cannabis Connection.

On this, the last day of Women’s History Month 2022, WM Policy pays tribute to 3 women–each a cannabis activist in her own unique way. These women made a huge impact not only in the cannabis space, but also in modern society and American history.  They are worth learning more about, honoring during Women’s History Month, and celebrating all year long.  

MARGARET MEAD (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) A pop culture cultural anthropogist, Mead seemed to be everywhere in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was constantly observing and gathering information in all kinds of settings–including having the comedian Joan Rivers hand out surveys at her comedy club appearances during the comic’s early career. Mead’s published writings are often credited for instigating the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1976 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1979. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor in 1998.

Mead was an early advocate of cannabis and admitted to trying it once. Long before the idea of legalization was discussed seriously, and at a time when even talking about cannabis was considered taboo,  she testified before Congress in 1969 in support of legalization. 

“It is my considered opinion at present that marihuana is not harmful . . . I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition . . .”       

MARY JANE RATHBUN aka BROWNIE MARY (December 22, 1922 – April 10, 1999) is rightfully known as the “mother of the medical cannabis movement” in the United States. She hardly looked like a cannabis activist at the time–an elderly International House of Pancakes waitress favoring polyester pant suits, with a wash-and-dry hairdo and thick eye glasses. But it was her actions where she gained her cred. Arrested three times for drug possession (each provinguted “main her with progressively more notoriety and publicity) she baked and distribgically delicious” cannabis-laced brownies) to gay men suffering from the side effects of AIDS medications during the early years of the pandemic. A Castro neighborhood fixture, she was a leader in the passage of San Francisco Proposition P (1991) and California Proposition 215 (1996), which legalized cannabis for medical use in California.

“I know from smoking pot for over thirty years that this is a medicine that works . . . It eases the pain. That’s what I’m here to do.

MAYA ANGELOU (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) Poet, memoirist, civil rights activist, screenwriter, lecturer, actress, director, producer, first black streetcar operator in San Francisco and first “out” cannabis consumer to appear on U.S. currency. Recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees, Angelou recited her poetry at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

In the second installment of her autobiography, “Gather Together In My Name” Angelou discloses her cannabis use during her late teens/early 20s (the mid-to-late 1940s). And it made a huge difference in her outlook on life. As a result of her cannabis use, “For the first time,” she admitted,  “life amused me. …”

Angelou was a disciplined cannabis consumer: “One joint on Sunday and one on the morning of my day off.” It’s unknown if cannabis enhanced her creativity or writing ability, but it is certain that it helped make her happier. “The weed always had an intense and immediate effect,” she noted. “Before the cigarette was smoked down to roach length, I had to smother my giggles.”

“Smoking grass eased the strain for me. I made a connection at a restaurant nearby. People called it Mary Jane, hash, grass, gauge, weed, pot, and I had absolutely no fear of using it.” 

In honor of Margaret, Mary and Maya, I am sharing Angelou’s beautiful poem “Phenomenal Woman.” If you are not familiar with it, take a few minutes and enjoy it now. And whether it’s the first time you heard this poem, or if you have loved it for years, why not send it to a phenomenal, history-making woman in your life. 

Seven Reasons To Be Excited About New Mexico’s Adult-Use Cannabis Market

New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are undeniably the shiny new objects of the cannabis industry. This attention is certainly deserved, as there is a lot to be excited about in the tri-state area.

However, New Mexico– which legalized adult-use cannabis in April 2021 with the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act– may  be an even brighter star to watch. Here are seven reasons why.  

  1. No license caps 

New Mexico’s cannabis industry will have no limits on the number of licenses available– a huge win for both the industry and consumers. As seen in states like Illinois, California, and Arizona, license caps limit access to legal cannabis for consumers and patients, bolster the unregulated market and severely restrict the market participation of minority business owners. Uncapped licenses will allow market forces to determine retail density based on supply and demand, not arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions. When legal supply meets legal demand, economic forces help drive out the illicit market, thereby allowing the legal market to capture a large share of the revenue. This is good for consumers, businesses and government entities that depend on the revenue, not to mention the beneficiaries of the increased tax revenue- the local population reaping the increased public service.

  1. No local bans on cannabis businesses

New Mexico also became the first adult-use state to limit the ability of local governments to ban commercial cannabis activity in their jurisdiction. While municipalities can still regulate the time, place and manner of cannabis businesses within their borders, they cannot ban these businesses altogether. New Mexico’s approach to local control is a notable departure from states like California, where roughly two-thirds of cities have banned cannabis retailers in their community. 

  1. Retail Consignment 

Included in the definition of “Commercial Cannabis Activity” in HB 2 (New Mexico’s adult-use legalization bill) is “consignment.” New Mexico is the first state to allow dispensaries to accept cannabis from producers on consignment. Consignment is typically when a seller accepts inventory from a producer and pays them only after the products sell to consumers. Further along in the bill is a provision that requires the Division of Cannabis Control to offer discounted licenses to retailers that accept products on consignment from microbusiness licensees. And while it’s not clear how retail consignment will take shape in the New Mexico cannabis industry, there are a number of potential benefits to retailers, producers and consumers alike. 

Consignment will allow dispensaries to stock their shelves without paying for inventory upfront. Inventory costs are expensive for any business, and cannabis operators face even greater difficulties due to limited access to traditional banking services. The option to consign at least a portion of their inventory will help smaller, less-capitalized businesses enter the market and compete against larger operators. Additionally, because consignment is less financially risky for retailers, they will be more incentivized to try out selling new products and brands. This will encourage product innovation among supply-side operators, leading to greater product diversity and a better consumer experience.

  1. Microbusinesses Licenses
    To ensure that small businesses have a seat at the cannabis table, New Mexico created an integrated microbusiness license that allows an operator to cultivate, process, distribute and sell cannabis under one license type. Though there are limitations on the number of plants a microbusiness licensee can grow at once, this model allows smaller entrepreneurs to take advantage of the benefits of vertical integration, namely lower overhead costs, greater efficiency and tighter control of one’s supply chain.

The license fees are smaller for integrated microbusinesses- intended to keep barriers to entry low for smaller operators. Depending on the number of activities a prospective microbusiness licensee wishes to participate in, an annual license will cost between $1,000 and $2,500. By comparison, a single manufacturer or retail license in New Mexico costs $2,500. And to further ease the financial burdens for these smaller players, microbusinesses are exempt from the $10 per plant fee that standalone cultivation licensees must pay.

Low barriers to entry and uncapped licenses are critical in achieving a diverse cannabis marketplace that allows small-and medium-sized businesses to flourish. Not only will New Mexico’s microbusiness licenses enable those without access to significant capital to enter the industry, a diverse pool of cannabis growers and manufacturers will also result in more product diversity and lower prices for consumers.

  1. Consumption Lounges

Consumption lounges, where people can legally consume cannabis at licensed premises, are coming to New Mexico. The inclusion of consumption lounges in the Cannabis Regulation Act is part of a broader trend of states including consumption lounges in their successful legalization bills (including New York and New Jersey). Legal consumption lounges are a relatively new concept within the regulated cannabis industry, but they will likely be a staple in all future adult-use cannabis marketplaces. 

Not only do consumption lounges address the demand for spaces to consume cannabis outside of one’s home, they also provide a solution to several public policy concerns. First, consumption lounges create a place for those unable to legally consume cannabis in their homes, whether it be because they live in federally-subsidized housing or because they live in a rental property that prohibits cannabis consumption. Second, providing designated consumption spaces will mitigate public nuisance and odor concerns associated with consuming cannabis in public and will reduce public consumption-related arrests and citations. And finally, legalizing consumption lounges will play a role in minimizing the unregulated market.

Note: For more information on consumption lounges, check out WM Policy’s latest policy paper.

  1. Automatic Expungement & Re-Sentencing

Retroactive relief is a keystone of equitable cannabis policy reform, and New Mexico passed one of the nation’s most progressive cannabis expungement bills to date. Alongside HB 2, Governor Lujan Grisham simultaneously signed legislation mandating the automatic expungement of cannabis-related criminal records. All eligible criminal records will be automatically expunged if the original offense would no longer be a crime under the Cannabis Regulation Act. The bill also allows for the resentencing or dismissal of those currently incarcerated for offenses no longer considered illegal or that would otherwise result in a lesser sentence.

Two actionable provisions make this bill great: 1) automatic relief and 2) enforceable deadlines. Automatic expungement and resentencing occur when the appropriate government agencies identify all eligible records and sentences and enact the appropriate relief. Automatic expungement and resentencing relieve individuals of the time-consuming and often costly burden of petitioning the court themselves (this is known as petition-based expungement or resentencing). Further, the bill established deadlines for implementation, which will ensure that expungement and resentencing are prioritized and carried out in a timely manner.

  1. Sales Beginning in April

And finally, something to be very excited about: cannabis sales will commence on April 1st, 2022. New Mexico will be the first state among the five that legalized adult-use cannabis last year to begin adult-use cannabis sales. While the April 2022 sales deadline was statutorily mandated, it’s no small feat to promulgate regulations, accept and review applications, and issue licenses within one calendar year. New Mexico’s Cannabis Control Division deserves kudos for their hard work, and the same goes for Governor Lujan Grisham for her continued commitment to New Mexico’s emerging cannabis industry.