The future is indeed green as we head in to 2019.
Canada has legalized adult use and is regulating distribution. Canadian “pot stocks” are hot. Michigan has become the 10th state in the United States to fully legalize and Massachusetts’ system of retail distribution is now operational. California continues to prepare for its full adult use marketplace, and New Jersey could legalize at the beginning of the year.
Thirty-three states have legalized for medical use and over 200 million Americans live in a state with some type of medical cannabis program.
On the federal level the results of the mid-term elections bode well for legislation currently
stalled in the House of Representatives. Outgoing Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions used
his position to block any and all cannabis reform bills. With the Democratic Party set to take
control of the House reform activists are optimistic that bills addressing banking reform,
research, state’s rights and de-scheduling will move through Committee and to a full floor vote.
While the Senate retains a GOP majority, reform allies such as Sen. Cory Gardner and Sen. Rand
Paul could be key in moving legislation through the Senate.
Locally here in Pennsylvania 2019 will welcome both decriminalization bills and a full “adult
use” bill. Representatives Ed Gainey and Barry Jozwiak both introduced decriminalization bills
in 2017, but Rep. Jozwiak’s bill is the one most likely to advance to the House Floor. It would
reduce the offense grading from a misdemeanor to a summary offense for the first two
convictions, but would escalate to a misdemeanor upon the third. Rep. Jake Wheatley will
reintroduce his full adult use bill which would legalize possession, cultivation of 6 plants,
provide for expungement of cannabis related convictions and would create a regulated system
of retail distribution. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale estimates that Pennsylvania could
generate close to $600 million in recurring revenue.
Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program continues to expand. Over 100,000 patients and
caregivers have been registered and over 900 physicians have registered. The Medical
Marijuana Advisory Board has been meeting quarterly and will be promulgating a framework
for adding qualifying medical conditions. Approximately one-third of the licensed
grower/processors are operational and producing products. Of the potential 150 dispensaries
approximately 40 are selling products to patients.
But many issues confront Pennsylvania patients – Pennsylvania remains “zero tolerance” for
DUI meaning that any amount of THC, active or metabolite, is sufficient for a conviction. Prices
remain out of reach for patients of limited means and the patient fund has yet to be
established. Law enforcement and the Courts have received no guidance or training leading to
inconsistencies and disparate treatment from County to County. Registered patients are faced
with significant Second Amendment restrictions. While PA’s medical marijuana law prohibits
discrimination, employee rights have yet to be tested in practice.
Last but certainly not least is the rapid expansion of domestic hemp production and cultivation.
The Farm Bill permits states to develop hemp cultivation programs with an eye towards commercial application.
The “CBD” industry continues to expand despite being Schedule I in the eyes of the DEA. The United States Senate recently passed hemp legalization legislation, but its future in the House is uncertain.
The future is most certainly green, but a lot of work remains to be done before the nightmare
of “Reefer Madness” is finally and permanently behind us.
Patrick K. Nightingale, Esq.
Partner, Cannabis Legal Solutions