Lansing Officials Report Medical Marijuana Program is Operating at a Loss

Lansing Officials Report Medical Marijuana Program is Operating at a Loss

[Canniseur: The author may have the city of Lansing confused with the state capitol of Michigan. It doesn’t diminish the fact that the city revenues are down from previous years. Yes, the nascent cannabis industry (even though medical cannabis was passed 2008. There were certain people who fought tooth and nail against implementing regulations to control the industry and by the time they got around to sensible regulation of the industry, it was already a mess. Very interesting read though.]

In the midst of the state’s medical marijuana regulatory chaos, the capital of Michigan has announced that it will not be seeing any profit from this operating year of its medical marijuana program.

Lansing city administrators say that excise taxes will not be bringing in as much money as previously estimated, given language of last year’s bill establishing the state’s recreational marijuana industry. That recreational cannabis licensing law stated that the excise tax that had been put in place for the medical marijuana industry would terminate within three months of the beginning of the recreational industry — even though now some of the bill’s very sponsors say they can’t remember why they wrote in that stipulation at all.

The loss of the excise tax was a letdown for many Michigan towns and cities, who were to have shared an estimated $24 million in excise tax from medical cannabis. Some authorities went so far to say that the excise tax was the reason why they agreed to have medical dispensaries in their jurisdiction in the first place.

“The fact that the tax revenue from medical has been taken away and repealed makes it where, now that we’re in the industry, the only option we have for revenue is if we’re in on recreational as well,” the town of Adrian’s city attorney Tamaris Henagan told The Detroit News.

Lansing officials say they will have taken in $200,000 in cannabis business fees by the end of the fiscal year, in comparison with the $735,000 that was reaped during the city’s first year with a medical marijuana program. The city’s executive budget proposal states that it expects to take in $500,000 in the 2020 fiscal year.

The announcement is somewhat astounding from the outside, given the fact that the capital charges $5,000 in initial licensing fees to marijuana businesses, with an additional $5,000 renewal payment each year. (That’s on top of the state licensing process through which all cannabis enterprises must also pass.)

The city clerk estimated that 7,500 staff hours were spent overseeing the medical marijuana program this year. Next year, the city budget allows for the hiring of a new employee that will be dedicated to managing elections and marijuana licensing.

Of course, the way the numbers are being tallied is political. Should Lansing officials show that the medical marijuana program is turning a profit, all licensing payments would become taxes, rather than their current designation as a fee. What’s the big deal? In Michigan, taxes require approval from the state’s voters — a process that could severely hold up the program’s implementation and by extension, patients’ access to cannabis.

The big payoff for the state will likely happen when taxation begins on recreational cannabis, which the Senate Fiscal Agency has predicted could result in $35.5 million in sales tax and $53.8 million in excise tax in its first year.

And for many of the town’s cannabis advocates, the lack of funds that the beginning of the medical marijuana program brought in was besides the point — and that all vetting of potential cannabis distributors was well founded.

“People are looking to (dispensaries) for relief for some pretty serious medical issues so we need to make sure the product is the safest product,” said at-large city council member Patricia Spitzley. “Those were the projections and that was the hype.”

Spitzley added that there is the potential for the town to benefit financially in indirect ways, like raised property values and new job opportunities.

Lansing Officials Report Medical Marijuana Program is Operating at a Loss was posted on High Times.

Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Headed to Texas House Floor

Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Headed to Texas House Floor

[Canniseur: Texas is trying to get in on the cannabis movement, even if they’re a bit draconian. Apparently you will be able to ingest cannabis that has measurable amounts of THC in it as well. The bill also authorizes consumption in all sorts of methods, except the oldest method of all; Smoking whole flower. None of that for Texas. No siree.]

Texas may see the expansion of its medical marijuana program beyond its current restriction to low THC cannabis oil for those with severe forms of epilepsy. A bill is waiting to be scheduled for floor vote in the House that would add qualifying conditions to the program, in addition to forms in which patients are able to access the drug.

Among the conditions that House Bill 1365 would authorize for entry into the program include PTSD, Alzheimer’s, cancer, less severe forms of epilepsy, and tendency to be nauseous with other forms of treatment. It would also authorize the use of cannabis via vaping, creams, and oils — though smoking will still be off the table should it pass. It would also establish more opportunities to conduct research on cannabis.

“Texans with debilitating conditions deserve treatments that improve their quality of life,” commented the bill’s sponsor Rep. Eddie Lucio in a Facebook post announcing the proposed legislation. In a press release announcing the proposed legislation he noted that 33 states in the country allow medical cannabis, and that taxes associated with such programs can have “a vital impact to our economy.”

The legislation is supported by 56 state legislators from both sides of the aisle, despite the concerns that were raised over its language that doctors “prescribe” cannabis. Some think the wording could expose medical professionals to potential issues with the federal government.

Although the Compassionate Care Act that took effect in 2016 does allow people with intractable forms of epilepsy to access cannabidiol oil of with .5 percent THC or below, marijuana is mostly far from legal in Texas. There are only 600 patients enrolled in the statewide program. Cannabis advocates in the state have been eagerly tracking the progress of not just the medical program expansion, but several other bills that would widen access to cannabis and decriminalize its possession.

Representative Tracy King’s bill to legalize hemp and its products is scheduled for a floor debate next week in the House. At the start of the month, the state’s Department of Health announced that it would be removing hemp from its list of controlled substances to clear the way for any future legalization of hemp production.

Various decriminalization bills have also been introduced this year. Rep. Joe Moody’s HB 63 has also been sent to the calendars committee to be scheduled for a floor vote. That bill would remove the threat of jail for people charged with their first cannabis possession fine and reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce from a maximum of $2,000 to $250.
Not all jurisdictions, however, are waiting on state legislators to reduce the penalties for small time cannabis charges. Dallas attorney general John Creuzot announced sweeping plans last week to overhaul the way such crimes are dealt with by police officers, including a resolution to longer prosecute people for their first marijuana misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Headed to Texas House Floor was posted on High Times.

North Carolina Democrats File Bill to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana

North Carolina Democrats File Bill to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana

[Canniseur: Another ‘it’s about time’ states. North Carolina has long ignored the learning from other states. It would be too easy to blame the republicans, but they are the ones who enacted SB1, which was called the bathroom bill about 3 years ago. Will the republicans in North Carolina ever wake up to 2019? Hard to tell. They are kind of retro though.]

It’s hard to ignore the rumblings for legal marijuana in North Carolina. This week, some policymakers are focusing first on decriminalization measures. On Monday, four state representatives filed as primary sponsors for HB 766, which would erase penalties for possessing four ounces or less of cannabis, making it “no longer unlawful.”

The bill would make the cut offs for drug offenses that qualify as misdemeanors and felonies higher. Under current law, possession of more than a half ounce makes your crime a misdemeanor. A felony awaits those convicted of more than one and a half ounces. Under the new bill, you would have to be convicted of possession of more than four ounces to get a misdemeanor, and more than a whopping 16 ounces for it to qualify as a felony.

HB 766 would also compel the Department of Justice to review court records and expunge all possession charges of less four ounces of marijuana, allowing individuals to file their own petition with the court system before the DOJ’s deadline of July 1, 2020. It’s not the most agile system that has been proposed for such a process of retroactive justice — for each expungement, a hearing would be required to make the petition a success.

The bill has been passed to the Senate’s committee on rules and operations, where it will await its legislative fate. Its sponsors include 12 Democrats, including State Representatives John Autry, Allison Dahle, Pricey Harrison and Zack Hawkins, who are its primary sponsors.

Cannabis legalization has been a legislative issue in North Carolina for at least a decade, but this year has seen concentrated effort on behalf of lawmakers to get something passed that would widen legal access to cannabis. In November, state representative Kelly Alexander announced that he would be beating the bushes for cannabis legislation plans in 2019. In October, a consortium of the News & Observer, the Herald-Sun, and the Charlotte Observer newspapers published a survey of 60 North Carolinian leaders. Most all of them said they wanted to make at least some form of marijuana legal.

HB 766 does not even qualify as the most dramatic proposal for cannabis possession that has been filed in this year’s legislative session. In February, state senator Paul Lowe filed SB 45, a measure that would legalize possession of up to three ounces of weed. That bill was also sent to the committee on rules and operations, but has yet to see any further movement.

Certainly, some officials are hedging their bets that legal cannabis will be present in North Carolina’s future. Asheville Alcohol Beverage Control Board general manager Mark Combs told CBS17 in February, ““The states that are legalizing it, we’re talking. We’re asking questions. We’re curious as to what they’re doing. What’s working? What’s not working? What are best practices? So that we have a working knowledge of what we could expect, whether it’s an ABC system, or whether it’s franchised, or whether it’s state-operated. It’s good to have that base knowledge so that we can go from there, and not be surprised.”

North Carolina Democrats File Bill to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana was posted on High Times.

Dallas Will No Longer Prosecute Small Time Marijuana Offenders

Dallas Will No Longer Prosecute Small Time Marijuana Offenders

[Canniseur: Texas joins this broader movement across the country. At its core, this is about racial and social equity. Poorer people, and disproportionately black people specifically, are jailed for minor crimes and are unable to pay fines to be released.]

DA John Creuzot is starting to make good on his promise to overhaul the bloated prison system.

The Dallas County district attorney released a five page memo on Thursday stating that his office would no longer prosecute first-time marijuana misdemeanors. John Creuzot also announced that all in-process first-time misdemeanors that had been filed before his term in office will be thrown out, part of what he called “a step forward in ending mass incarceration in Dallas County.”

The memo addressed a variety of changes in enforcement priorities that go beyond marijuana offenders. Creuzot’s office will not be prosecuting individuals with small possession charges involving other drugs, people who drove with a suspended license, or anyone caught stealing “necessary” items.

“The criminal justice system has fallen disproportionately harshly on poor people and people of color, that’s just a fact,” Creuzot said to the Texas Observer. “The entire system is complicit in this dysfunction. We’re doing what we can within this office to address some of that.”

Shifts in policy were expected from Creuzot. He arrived to last year’s DA race promising to work on cash bail reform and shrink Dallas’ massive prison population, which sees the booking of around 67,000 people a year.

“Our current system is uncoupled from physical safety and fairness, as people sit in jail not because they pose an identifiable danger to the community, but because they cannot pay their fee to go home,” Creuzot wrote in the memo. “When low-income people are held in jail simply because they cannot afford a few hundred dollars, they lose their jobs, housing, stability, and cannot take care of their children: this makes our communities less safe.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety has released numbers stating that around 379,000 residents have been arrested in the last five years for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. Their detainment and prosecution costs the state $730 million each year, according to Representative Joe Moody from El Paso.

Two weeks ago, Moody’s third attempt at a cannabis decriminalization bill made it out of committee. It would scale back the maximum punishment for small time possession from 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to a $250 penalty. “We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” said the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Heather Fazio at the time.

Creuzot is far from the first public defender to free up their docket from low level marijuana offenses. In fact, across the United States — and even in places that have yet to see the legalization of recreational marijuana — law enforcement agencies are taking matters into their own hands, and making moves that seem to anticipate that measures to decriminalize marijuana will be taken shortly in their jurisdiction. New York’s Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced that his office would dismiss 35 outstanding bench warrants for minor marijuana offenses in February, echoing a decision made by neighboring city Buffalo to no longer pursue small time marijuana offenders.

Shifting law enforcement standards are not the only area in which Texas has seen movement on widening access to cannabis. The Department of State Health Services made a move to take hemp off its list of controlled substances early this month. That decision puts the state in a prime position to benefit economically from last year’s U.S. Farm Bill, which made it legal for farmers to enter the hemp industry. Earlier this year, Canadian company Village Farms International secured a Nasdaq listing in preparation for opening a facility to grow hemp in Texas.

There are also a record-setting number of bills being considered by the state legislature that would widen access to the state’s scant, but existing medical marijuana program.

Dallas Will No Longer Prosecute Small Time Marijuana Offenders was posted on High Times.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Approved by Texas House Committee

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Approved by Texas House Committee

[Canniseur: What is this about cannabis and Texas? If they decriminalize, that will be a small first step. A very small step, but a step nevertheless. Let’s hope it passes.]

Texas State Representative Joe Moody’s House Bill 63 made it out of the House’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday on the power of a 5-2 vote in its favor. With the proposed legislation’s movement, it’s beginning to look more likely that Texas will see jail time taken off the table for those caught with small amounts of cannabis on their person.

The bill was introduced by Moody back in November, on the very first day it was possible to file for this year’s legislative session. If passed, it would change the punishment for an individual’s first offense of small scale possession of marijuana (here defined as less than an ounce) from up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to a $250 — still a weighty penalty, but nothing compared to the current law. A third possession offense would raise the crime to a Class C misdemeanor subject to a fine not exceeding $500. The bill would not affect current laws against driving while high.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Heather Fazio told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll published last year indicated that Fazio is right about the population of Texas’ thoughts on cannabis prohibition. The survey found that 53 percent of voters would legalize the possession of some amount of cannabis, and that another 31 percent are in favor of medical marijuana programs. Only 16 percent thought marijuana should be illegal for any usage.

But going further afield from decriminalization, legalization may still be a long time coming in the notoriously anti-weed state. There are still some powerful state politicians with virulently anti-cannabis viewpoints, and the state’s small medical marijuana program is strictly limited — medical products are limited to .5 percent THC, for example.

There have been some developments in the fight for regulation, however. Governor Greg Abbott’s shifting stance on the drug has been one cause for renewed hope. In October during a debate with his then-Democrat challenger Lupe Valdez, Abbott announced that he was open to reducing punishments for low level marijuana possession. “One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana,” said Abbott.

At HB 63’s committee hearing earlier this month, multiple prominent Texan officials testified in favor of decriminalization. Nueces County district attorney Mark Gonzalez shared his office’s efforts to make sure less low-level offenders wind up in prison. “We have to decide enough is enough and to be smart on crime,” Gonzalez said. “The time is now.” Those attending the hearing also heard the words of Senior District Judge John Delaney, whose testimony focused on the cost to the state incurred by harsh cannabis laws.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Approved by Texas House Committee was posted on High Times.

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