Cannabis new briefs: House Democrats promise cannabis reform, Mass. finds success with recreational cannabis, and New York wants to cover medical marijuana
By Rick Schettino
Nov 27, 2018
The midterm elections have been very good to stakeholders in the cannabis space — especially in Washington D.C where three House Democrats poised to chair major House committees have pledged that marijuana reform will be on the agenda in the next session of Congress.
Rep. Maxine Waters, who is the top seed to chair the House Financial Services Committee, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that “it’s inevitable.” In particular, Waters mentioned that solving banking issues caused by federal prohibition is a high priority. An amendment which would have protected banks from federal harassment was blocked from a vote last year by House Republicans.
Rep. Jim McGovern from Massachusetts is also calling for federal reform. McGovern will be taking control of the powerful House Rules Committee. The hugely important committee was previously headed by outgoing Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who is staunchly opposed to reforms and has thwarted all attempts to bring marijuana amendments to the House floor.
Further, in a surprise twist, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, also from Massachusetts, reversed his position on legal pot calling for federal marijuana reform, presumably to protect his state’s well-established medical marijuana and fledgling recreational marijuana programs.
And, finally, Rep. Jerrold Nadler from New York, the expected incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has made clear that he supports ending federal prohibition altogether. As chairman of the committee, Nadler has the power to assure that cannabis legislation comes up for a vote. The Judiciary Committee is responsible for oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Massachusetts brings in over $400,000 as recreational sales begin
Sales figures on the first day of legal marijuana in Massachusetts surpassed $440,000 as hundreds of customers braved long lines and dreary weather for the chance to be among the first to buy cannabis legally. That’s significant considering that the sales occurred at only two stores. Figuring in its 17 percent sales tax rate, the state is estimated to have taken in over $74,000 in tax revenue.
Northampton-based New England Treatment Access claimed to have served approximately 2,000 customers on opening day. Cultivate in Leicester estimated that it had served over 1,000 customers. Both shops sold out of certain products but still had inventory remaining as of Wednesday afternoon.
In the state’s capital city of Boston, officials have reached an agreement with a handful of marijuana retailers. Ascend Mass, which is run by former Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, will operate a retail shop a short distance from Mass. General Hospital, Boston City Hall, and the Massachusetts State House. Mayflower, Apothca Inc. and Green Line Boston Inc. have also received the green light. Apothica operates medical marijuana dispensaries in other cities as well as a recreational shop in Eugene, Oregon. Before they can open, each of the companies must be granted licenses from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Three other prospective retailers have received final licenses from the state, but still, have some hoops to jump through before opening their doors.
On a side note, venerable daily news outlet The Boston Globe has launched a new section on its website dedicated to covering the cannabis industry in the Northeast.
NY State considering requiring health insurance cover pot
This is as big a deal as any when it comes to cannabis industry news: To put a dent in New York’s opioid epidemic, State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried are floating a proposal which would require government-funded health-insurance programs to cover the cost of doctor-prescribed medical marijuana treatment. It includes Medicaid, Child Health Plus, the Essential Plan, Elderly Pharmaceutical Coverage, and workers’ compensation.
Currently, medical marijuana patients must foot the bill for their medication, and not all patients can afford the treatment. If the measure passes, many low-income New Yorkers will be able to purchase marijuana.
“It’s unfair not to cover marijuana when opioids, OxyContin and Ambien are covered,” Savino told The Post. “We have to push the envelope.”
Although they would not be affected under the proposal, Savino supports the idea of mandating that private insurance companies also cover the cost of medical marijuana. However, because the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug, private insurers are likely to contest the matter.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the state are seriously considering full-scale legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York is likely to legalize pot for all adults in 2019.
State lawmakers in New Jersey are scheduled to meet to discuss freshly unveiled legislation which could legalize marijuana for adult residents in the Garden State. Other bills being discussed include an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program and outline process for expunging criminal records for certain marijuana crimes. The bills, which have made their way through committees, will now go up for a full vote on the floor.
In Oregon, recreational marijuana sales are nearing $543 million for 2018. That’s a 29 percent increase over 2017 and well above previous best estimates. The most surprising fact about this statistic is that the state has seen a 50 percent drop in prices due to rampant overproduction.
A state study showed that the retail cost of a gram of marijuana plummeted from $14 in 2015 to $7 over the past year. However, the state’s analysis also shows that lower prices have resulted in a corresponding increase in consumer sales.
Marijuana taxes expected to generate nearly $90 million in 2018 in Oregon. That’s $20 billion above 2017 revenue. Experts estimate that the state’s cannabis market will surpass the billion-dollar mark by 2025.
The marijuana supply change is coming together, in San Diego, California. The city has awarded nearly 30 permits to marijuana production facilities since August. Currently, the city has a cap of 40 licenses, leaving 31 applicants vying for the remaining handful causing rising tensions between competing concerns. To make matters worse, businesses in the vicinity of some of the proposed facilities are voicing concerns over crime and public safety.
City regulators are hopeful that they will be able to increase the number of licenses available to marijuana production businesses beyond 40 to boost the local marijuana supply chain and increase the tax revenue. Prospects for expansion were improved as midterm elections shifted the balance of power to the left.
Maryland medical marijuana sales are on track to surpass $100 million. According to the Baltimore Sun, sales for the first nine months of 2018 topped $67 million. That figure is well above the $46 million estimates made by New Frontier Data. Senior Economist with New Frontier, Beau Whitney says sales could hit $100 million in December.
Earlier this year, Maryland lawmakers approved legislation aimed at improving diversity in the industry by increasing the number of licenses available to growers and processors of marijuana.
Is North Carolina considering legalizing cannabis? At an event in Raleigh North Carolina last week, state representative Kelly Alexander expressed his hope that state lawmakers will work toward creating cannabis reform legislation in 2019. "It's time now for the legislators in North Carolina to catch up with the people," said Alexander.
Lobbying efforts for cannabis grow
A report on CBS News last week explored the growing lobbying efforts surrounding the cannabis industry in Washington D.C. Take a look below: