Cannabis Report: The 2016 Election and Ballot Initiatives

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Welcome to the first edition of the Cannabis Report, providing our readers with up-to-date news and analysis on the current state of cannabis policy. This year an unprecedented number of states will vote on medical and recreational cannabis initiatives, reflecting the increasing importance of cannabis policy as a national point of contention. Nine states will vote on cannabis initiatives November 8: five (California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Maine) on commercial access for all adults, four (Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota) on some version of availability for medical use only. California, with an eighth of the nation’s population and an even larger share of its cannabis consumption and production, is clearly the biggest prize, but Massachusetts also looms large because of its proximity to the other East Coast population centers. We break down all of the ballot initiatives and presidential candidate positions below.

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Commercial (“recreational” or “adult use” initiatives
This November, citizens of Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will vote on recreational cannabis initiatives. The proposed referenda will amend state criminal code to allow adults over 21 to possess a personal amount of cannabis and grow up to six mature plants at home. Additionally, each proposal establishes a commercial system of regulated production and supply by private, licensed firms. The initiatives are similar in broad terms and leave many details to future regulations that will establish requirements on product and inventory control, restrictions on advertising, health and safety standards, packaging and labeling, and restrictions on edibles. Arizona, California, and Massachusetts will delegate such regulatory authority to new state bodies, while Maine and Nevada assign such responsibility to existing departments. Most initiatives will impose an ad valorem excise tax on the final sales price. California is the only to employ a specific per unit wholesale tax, in addition to an excise tax as a percentage of the retail price. One marked shift in this generation of initiatives has to do with on-site consumption. Currently, Alaska is the only jurisdiction that permits cannabis users to consume at certain establishments. Three initiatives this November will allow users to consume the drug at retail or specifically licensed establishments. Though these initiatives vary slightly in terms of certain regulatory mechanisms, broadly speaking, voters will decide on wholly commercial initiatives not unlike alcohol.

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Medical Use initiatives
Medical cannabis initiatives will appear on ballots in four states: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. The initiatives all share the basic premise of a system for licensing actors to grow and distribute medical cannabis, based primarily on vertically-integrated production and sale and incorporating caregivers who may acquire or sometimes produce medical cannabis on patients’ behalf. None place any special taxes on the sale of medical cannabis. Some provisions are fairly unusual, including requiring care centers to devote a portion of revenue to providing medical cannabis to low-income patients (Arkansas Issue 7), a prohibition on all pesticides (North Dakota’s Measure 5), and bi-weekly purchase limits, ranging from between 2.5 to 3 ounces, verified against a central database that records patients’ purchase amounts (Arkansas, North Dakota).

In Arkansas, internal disagreements within a group of initiative writers have produced two competing initiatives, Issue 6 and Issue 7. The two share similar foundations but on certain controversial points, Issue 7 is generally more liberal: it requires vertically-integrated providers (“cannabis care centers”) to be structured as non-profit organizations, covers an expanded list of qualifying medical conditions, places regulatory authority at the Department of Health instead of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, and allows home cultivation for patients without access to a local care center. Montana’s Initiative 182 seeks to loosen restraints on the medical cannabis market imposed by Senate Bill 423 (2011), including by repealing a three-patient maximum per caregiver and adding chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. Florida’s Amendment 2 is a second attempt by the advocacy group United for Care to collect 60% of Florida’s vote to legalized medical cannabis as required for Florida constitutional amendments, after an earlier attempt (also called Amendment 2) failed with only 58% of the vote in 2014.

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Presidential Candidates
Of the 17 Republicans vying for the Presidential nomination in 2016, six supported using Federal law to preempt states’ recreational or medical cannabis laws. Yet seven expressed their approval for medical cannabis, as did three Democratic candidates. All major nominees for President this November have opined on cannabis. Hillary Clinton (Democrat) has not taken a stand on adult recreational use but favors medical cannabis and promoting research into the drug’s therapeutic benefits as well as allowing states to experiment with regulating the drug for non-medical purposes. Ms. Clinton has also expressed her intent as president to re-schedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II. Donald Trump (Republican) is not in favor of recreational cannabis use, but supports medical cannabis and believes that states should set their own cannabis policies. Gary Johnson (Libertarian) supports legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use as well as medical cannabis. Mr. Johnson is in favor of amending federal law to de-schedule cannabis, allowing states to regulate the drug. Jill Stein (Green) also supports legalizing and regulating cannabis for both recreational and medical purposes. Ms. Stein’s platform calls for federal legalization of cannabis.

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In the News

Survey: 57% Of Americans Favor Marijuana Legalization
According to the Pew Research Center, a decade ago 32% of adult American favored and 60% opposed legalizing marijuana. Now, the numbers have basically flipped, with 57% in favor and 37% opposed, based on a survey of 1,201 U.S. adults conducted this past August by Pew.

Recreational marijuana for N.J.? Lawmakers to check out Colorado’s budding law
Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald are among the nine lawmakers who are traveling to Colorado this weekend to witness the impact that legal marijuana has had on the Rocky Mountain state. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is leading a delegation to meet with legislators, members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration, health officials, farm and dispensary owners, and the people who drafted the constitutional amendment voters passed in 2013.

New Study Confirms Marijuana Use Up Drastically in Workforce
In 2015, Quest examined more than 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid, and 200,000 hair drug samples. Following years of decline in overall illegal drug usage, the results showed that the percentage of employees testing positive for illicit drugs has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high.

Barbados examines medical use of marijuana
Senior Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George revealed at a conference on the availability and rational use of opioids that the Ministry of Health was undertaking research into the use of medical marijuana in palliative care.

The Argentine Congress agrees to discuss the legalization of medical marijuana (Spanish)
The debate over the use of the cannabis in Argentina has again been taken up by the House of Representatives which held a joint briefing, similar to an earlier meeting in 2012. Family members of patients who use cannabis for refractory epilepsy met with members of Congress to discuss decriminalization and a regulatory framework to allow for the medical use of drug.

Uruguayan authorities ensure that marijuana will reach most of the country (Spanish)
Sources from the National Drug Board confirmed that the distribution of legal marijuana is assured for most of the country and that the registration of consumers will begin “within weeks” when the conflict with the Uruguayan Mail system is resolved.

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