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Legislative Watch: The Cannabis Industry in the Age of COVID

Whether used for medical reasons or recreation, cannabis is a multibillion-dollar industry that could play a role in a post-pandemic recovery. Legislators have been addressing regulatory details.

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(Shutterstock)
The cannabis industry is vulnerable to all the pressures that other business sectors have felt during the pandemic. On top of that, it’s still illegal under federal law and not fully legalized in most states. Efforts to change that are likely to take a back seat to other priorities for an indeterminate period of time.

U.S. sales increased by over 30 percent between 2018 and 2019, and had been projected to reach $17 billion in 2020. It’s been suggested that legalizing marijuana could play a significant role in economic recovery, just as ending prohibitions on alcohol helped the country out of the Great Depression.

News reports regarding preliminary and unpublished research suggesting that cannabis strains with high levels of CBD might have value in treating COVID-19 attracted attention, boosted some stocks and led to talk about further studies. As these developments have played out, legislators have introduced more than 70 bills relating to cannabis cultivation and sales since March. 

Some Examples:

Louisiana HCR81 observes that the cannabis industry is thriving and highlights the need to understand what will be needed to provide it with “capable and competent” workers. It calls for the establishment of a task force that can make recommendations regarding the projected workforce demands for Louisiana’s medical cannabis industry. Members would include representatives from universities, the Board of Pharmacy, the Board of Medical Examiners, the Workforce Commission and the Legislature.

SF4255 in Minnesota authorizes mobile distribution of medical cannabis to patients enrolled in the state’s registry program. This would include deliveries directly to patients as well as parking a mobile distribution unit at a predetermined time and place, with permission of the property owner. One of the two employees required to man a mobile distribution unit must be a pharmacist.

Georgia HB1150 eliminates misdemeanor penalties for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis. It establishes regulations for cultivator, processor and retail licenses and home grower permits. Those who hold one type of license are not eligible to have another type, though multiple retail licenses are allowed. Smoking cannabis in public places is prohibited by the bill, and violations would be cited as misdemeanors.

HB1143, the North Carolina Medical Cannabis Act, aims to protect seriously ill people who have a medical need to use cannabis from arrest, noting that “compassion dictates” that the state should distinguish between medical and non-medical use. It protects users, caregivers and physicians from arrest, prosecutions and penalties related to medical use of cannabis. Patients and caregivers are required to have identification cards issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Pennsylvania HB2050 amends previous legislation that established a “medical marijuana” program in the state and replaces the words “marijuana” and “medical marijuana” with “cannabis” throughout the original text. Among a number of other provisions regarding permits and fees for cultivation, processing and dispensaries, it allows medical cannabis growers and processors to contract with farms in Pennsylvania to use their land and buildings. It establishes a fund in which monies received from permits and taxes on sales are to be deposited for specified uses, including 40 percent for a student loan reimbursement program and 40 percent for a mixed income housing program.

S2650, a Massachusetts bill, creates a Cannabis Social Equity Loan Trust Fund that would make no-interest loans to cannabis entrepreneurs from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by “previous marijuana prohibition and enforcement.” Money for the fund will come from revenue generated by the state’s cannabis excise tax as well as private gifts, grants and donations.

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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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