Marijuana legalization outlook: Connecticut to weigh adult use in special session as RI bill stalls

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Connecticut lawmakers will tackle adult-use marijuana legalization in a special session scheduled to start this week after a state House vote was postponed during the regular session that ended June 9.

In Rhode Island, a measure to legalize adult-use marijuana stalled with only two weeks to go in the legislative session.

In Virginia, a government watchdog group recommended that recreational marijuana timelines be moved up by six months so regulators can begin implementing the program in early 2023.

In North Carolina, a medical marijuana measure appears to be gathering momentum. The legislative session adjourns July 2.

Connecticut

Lawmakers will try to pass a recreational marijuana bill in a special session that will begin June 16, West Hartford TV station WVIT reported.

The state Senate narrowly passed an adult-use legalization bill by a vote of 19-17, but efforts to get it through the House were thwarted when Republicans threatened a filibuster.

A vote in the House could be close, but the state is under pressure to legalize a recreational marijuana market in wake of successful legalization efforts in New York and New Jersey. Neighboring Massachusetts already has legalized recreational cannabis.

The measure acted on by the Connecticut Senate would emphasize social equity applicants and enable existing medical cannabis cultivators to pay a hefty fee in order to grow cannabis for an adult-use market.

MJBizDaily projects that a Connecticut recreational marijuana market could generate $250 million in sales in the first full year and $725 million in the fourth year.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said he wants the adult-use market to launch by May 2022.

Rhode Island

Lawmakers still could legalize recreational marijuana before the regular session ends June 30, but it’s looking more likely that the issue will be pushed to a special session later this year.

“Marijuana legalization will not be decided until after the budget is adopted this month,” House Speaker Joe Shekarchi told Providence TV station WPRI last week.

“It is possible we will return sometime in the summer or fall.”

As WPRI reported, early momentum in support of legalization has failed to result in a clear consensus behind a single measure.

Instead, backers of three different bills, including one put forth by Gov. Dan McKee’s administration, continue to jockey for support.

House Rep. Scott Slater’s bill would allow regulators to begin issuing 15 adult-use retail licenses as soon as July 1, with five set aside for social equity applicants.

The governor’s proposal calls for 25 stores to be licensed annually for three years through a state-run lottery, with 20% earmarked for minority-owned businesses.

A Senate bill could create up to 150 store licenses, but the timing would depend on the creation of a new Cannabis Control Commission.

McKee also has signaled the growing possibility of a special session to address the issue.

“I want the time to actually make sure that the due diligence is put in so it does come out right,” he said, according to WPRI.

Virginia

A government watchdog group, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, wants state regulators to start accepting marijuana retail applications and implementing the program at the beginning of 2023 rather than July 2023.

The watchdog group’s report noted that the current timeline gives regulators and entrepreneurs six months to establish the market.

The proposed timeline would extend that period to a year, giving regulators more time to award licenses and issue final permits and give applicants additional time to submit applications and set up businesses.

Adult-use marijuana sales in Virginia currently are scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2024.

Advocates have made it clear that they will push for an earlier launch, so Virginia’s program might continue to be in flux.

MJBizDaily projects that a recreational marijuana market in Virginia will generate $400 million-$500 million in retail sales in its first full year and $1.2 billion-$1.4 billion by its fifth year.

North Carolina

A bill to legalize medical marijuana has picked up support across the state, with only a few weeks to go before the legislative session ends July 2.

The measure, Senate Bill 711, is backed by prominent members of the Republican party, according to the Greensboro News & Record.

If passed and signed into law, the bill would make medical marijuana available to patients suffering from such conditions as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Two commissions would work together to establish licensing requirements and qualifications.

Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected].