Home Legislative Cannabis Law Reform Moves Through Much of The Northeast in 2018

Cannabis Law Reform Moves Through Much of The Northeast in 2018

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Flickr @ Brian Shamble

The Northeastern portion of the United States was a whirlwind for cannabis progress in 2018. Each state and district saw progress of some variety. While most took progressive steps, some remained relatively stagnant. With such a wild and mostly progressive 2018 in the books, let’s examine the marijuana news coming out of each state.

Maryland

Maryland began the year with a medical cannabis program, which officially launched in March. However, the bill did create confusion for some. In one case, lawmakers found themselves uncertain around medical patients and any potential arrests. The state also passed a medical marijuana bill which aimed to create more access for minority business owners to become growers and processors.

By December, it was clear that Maryland’s program is a hit. So much so that sales surpassed expectation, pulling in over $100 million in revenue. Potentially even more impressive is the 300 new patients registered each day.

Washington, D.C.

Despite much activity on Capitol Hill, the country’s capital saw little change in 2018. The unorthodox market continues not to allow cannabis sales. Instead, a product can be gifted along with other purchased items. The ban on dispensaries continues to hinge mainly on bureaucratic reasons in Congress. Though, 2018 saw efforts by cannabis attorneys to change that. The November midterm elections have also given hope to rules changing when Democrats take control of the House next year.

Delaware

Delaware spent much of 2018 in limbo. While some lawmakers pushed for recreational cannabis, others opted for the status quo. This includes a failed June attempt in the House. There, the measure fell four votes short of the needed 25 to move the bill to the Senate.

Despite the setback, the state did make progress in 2018. That includes passing a bill which expunges possession records for those charged with such crimes prior to 2015. Now, with neighboring New Jersey on the edge of legalization, some say Delaware lawmakers are watching intently.   

New Jersey

New Jersey saw immense progress in 2018, though no certain milestones have been reached just yet. The year began with staunchly anti-cannabis Governor Chris Christie succeeded by a pro-cannabis governor, Phil Murphy. Murphy swore to legalize adult use within the first 100 days of his term. This did not occur. Instead, cities like Point Pleasant and Tom’s River announced plans to ban medical and/or recreational sales.

February saw the state propose a decriminalization bill. Another bill followed in March. This one centers on home growing and the allowance of 400 legal dispensaries. That same month saw the state expand access to its medical program. By the spring, rumors of legalization were heating up. In April, the state Attorney General acknowledged that law enforcement was preparing for the changing laws.

The rest of the year consisted of steady progress towards completing the bill. However, in December, state lawmakers announced that the bill will not go up for a vote in the final days of 2018. Rather, it appears that the state is poised to become the 11th state to legalize in early 2019 – becoming the second to follow in Vermont’s path.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program began in 2016. This past year saw it make significant gains with the start of its medical cannabis market. In short order, the demand for medical products outpaced expectations.

The standout figures helped spur on further advancement of the market. That includes granting 23 additional dispensary permits this past December. The move gives the state 79 locations for patients. Additionally, the state has considered expanding its list of qualifying conditions. However, one setback came when the state rejected all eight applicants attempting to partner with universities for research. A new round of applications is expected to open in early 2019.

New York

New York State’s about-face on cannabis access continued in 2018. The year began with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a staunch opponent to cannabis, launching a study into regulated marijuana in New York. By the summer, the study, which was led by the state Health Department, concluded that New York should legalize adult use. Recently, the Governor continued his change of tune by calling for the legalization of cannabis within the first 100 days of 2019.

Throughout the year, New York State also saw progress concerning medical access. One measure saw the state become one of the first programs to allow anyone with an opioid-based prescription to receive medical marijuana. Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio told police to stand down on cannabis smoking arrests. Instead, the city now pushes summonses as a crime deterrent. The decision came as the city looks to overhaul its policing policies towards cannabis and people of color.

Connecticut

Much of 2018 in Connecticut centered on expanding its current cannabis laws. So far, the state has a medical program and has decriminalized small possession. In April, the state House Appropriations Committee approved a bill which would legalize the plant. The next step would be consideration of the floor. This was expected before the end of the year, but that will not be the case. Nothing is guaranteed for legalization in 2019, but there does appear to be some progress.

Despite the setback, in December, Governor-elect Ned Lamont offered his support for adult use cannabis. Meanwhile, around the same time, the state doubled its number of dispensaries.

New Hampshire

If this article were the famous Sesame Street song “One of These Things is Not Like the Other”, New Hampshire would be that thing. In terms of Northeastern states, New Hampshire appears set on keeping cannabis at bay. The state has a medical program and expanded its program by adding a dispensary in a lightly populated part of the state.

However, the likelihood of more expanded access coming doesn’t appear likely. Despite residents favoring legalization, Governor Chris Sununu has vowed to veto legislation of any type. In December, he called legalization “the next major battle” and uses anti-marijuana groups for advisement on the matter.

Vermont

Vermont began 2018 by making history. In early January, state lawmakers approved an adult-use cannabis bill, which was signed into law by Governor Phil Scott. This became the first time in which a state-approved recreational use through legislative means rather than a vote by citizens.

With sales not yet beginning, lawmakers spent the rest of the month hammering out the program’s details. They include considering options which would fast-track erasing misdemeanor offenses from criminal records. This led to the establishment of expungement clinics which will begin in the coming months. Additionally, Vermont passed a home cultivation law which allows residents 21 and over to grow in their homes and potentially rental properties.

Meanwhile, the state continues to sort its marketplace out. A significant sticking point for policymakers appears to be a demand for roadside saliva tests before the market can open.

Massachusetts

While Vermont made quite an impact on the Northeast in 2018, it can be argued that Massachusetts had the more lasting effect. With recreational sales beginning this past November, the state became the first on the east coast to do so. During the second week of sales, the state pulled in $2.6 million in revenue. Additionally, thanks to its market going live, states like New York, New Jersey and others in the Northeast have reconsidered regulation changes.

Prior to its legal cannabis market launch, much of the state’s year was spent preparing its rules, regulations and licensing. One such measure included giving licensing preferences to communities of color. However, issues persisted in the maturing market. Heading into the new year, the state’s “gray market” caused debates over what is a sale and which is a gift. Despite the issues, the year was seen as a smashing success by most.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island ushered in medical cannabis in 2006 and became the second state to open a dispensary. However, its progression has slowed since then. This includes some troubling signs as well. The most glaring mark came from a February report which found that state police continued to enforce small possession laws despite it being decriminalized since 2013. The number of citation appears to be around 5,000.

With surrounding states opening its access and dispensary doors, Rhode Island may join the movement. In May, a bill to legalize was filed in the state Senate. Despite Governor Gina Raimondo’s resistance to cannabis – citing her youth sons and role as a parent – she and other lawmakers seem to embrace the likelihood of recreational cannabis in the state. Lawmakers already confirmed that cannabis will be up for discussion next year.

Maine

Maine voters legalized adult use cannabis in 2016. Thanks to notoriously anti-marijuana Governor Paul LePage and his vetoes, the law was only passed this past May when the state’s Congress overrode his efforts. Some even called the passed legislation “a more conservative version” of what citizens voted for in 2016.

The conservative measures include prohibiting social clubs and only allowing for three plants to be grown at home. Then, in July, lawmakers also overturned the Governor’s efforts to veto medical cannabis reforms which would improve access in several facets of the market.   

The state did make some progress near the end of the year. A law was enacted in December which gives increased options to medical businesses. Under the new law, operations can sell up to 30% of its harvest. The move allows retailers to not have to cultivate their own crop.

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