2019: Year End Cannabis News Review
There have been big moves in cannabis in 2019, with approval for the end of marijuana prohibition reaching all-time highs. Cannabis and hemp saw more legalization both at the state and federal level, and even some bipartisan support in Congress.
Here were some of the biggest stories in weed in 2019:
Colorado finally approves rules for legal pot lounges and cafes
The problem of where to consume cannabis in Colorado has been an issue since adult-use cannabis use was approved by voters in 2012. In 2020, Colorado tokers will finally have a place to light up.
In May, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed HB 1230 into law, licensed marijuana hospitality spaces in which cannabis can be consumed on-site. The new rules open the door for a variety of businesses to cash in on cannabis consumption, including hotels, spas, art galleries, cafes, lounges, and more. After purchasing medical or recreational cannabis at a dispensary, tourists and residents will be able to try out their purchases at on-site marijuana tasting rooms.
The law won’t go into effect until 2020, and cities and counties have the option of banning social-use establishments. Local governments will have the option of adjusting the regulations to allow vaping, for example, but not smoking.
Cannabis banking bill gains bipartisan support in House
The House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 in September.
The SAFE Banking Act would protect banks that work with the cannabis industry from being penalized, or from violating federal anti-money laundering and illicit finance laws. For years the cannabis industry has struggled to gain access to even the most basic banking services.
Despite being a multibillion-dollar industry, marijuana businesses have largely been given the cold shoulder by banks and credit unions, leaving them holding literal bags of cash.
This is the first time that the House has passed standalone marijuana legislation. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) sponsored the SAFE Banking Act, and it passed with a vote of 321-103. All but one Democrat and 91 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, giving it broad bipartisan support.
USDA releases draft hemp regulations
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released draft rules for hemp regulation.
The USDA drafted the regulations as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill that descheduled and legalized hemp. Under the draft rules, the THC content must be under 0.3%, and any “hot” hemp found to exceed that amount would be destroyed.
Not everyone is happy with the proposed rules. Hemp farmers say that the USDA regulations will make producing high-quality CBD that doesn’t exceed THC limits impossible.
Colorado cannabis sales generate $1 billion in tax revenue
Since recreational marijuana sales began in Colorado in 2014, the state has collected $1.02 billion in tax revenue, according to the latest numbers released by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Adult-use cannabis sales in the last five years have exceeded $6.56 billion. Legal cannabis has created jobs for 41,076 people who work in the industry, and there are currently 2,917 licensed marijuana businesses in the state.
Cannabis sales in Colorado have begun to level out, in part due to a decline in medical marijuana sales. In 2018, recreational marijuana sales were up 11%, but medical cannabis sales were down 20%.
End of marijuana prohibition gains traction in Congress
The House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) ACT in November. The bill would deschedule cannabis, expunge marijuana convictions, and create reinvestment programs in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“This will remove a stain on people’s record but really a stain on the United States of America,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).
Some key elements of the MORE Act include:
- Remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances
- Require federal courts to expunge past marijuana convictions and criminal records
- Allow states to set their own marijuana policy
- A 5 percent federal tax on marijuana would fund programs that provide job training, legal assistance, treatment for substance abuse, and provide loans for cannabis businesses owned by people who are socially or economically disadvantaged
- Create the Cannabis Justice Office within the Department of Justice
- Prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances because of marijuana use
- Prohibit denying citizenship to immigrants based on a marijuana conviction
Additionally, removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would allow veterans access to medical marijuana through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
While the bill is likely to pass in the House, its future is less certain in the Senate.
Illinois becomes 11th state to legalize cannabis
Jan. 1, 2020, will mark the beginning of more than just a new decade in Illinois as the state’s first recreational marijuana dispensaries are set to open on New Year’s Day.
Illinois was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than through a voter-approved ballot initiative.
In June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a bill that allows adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis. In addition to legalizing adult-use cannabis, the new law includes provisions to expunging prior marijuana convictions and the creation of social equity programs.
Recreational flower, edibles, and infused products will have a graduated tax rate according to the THC content.
Michigan first Midwest state to legalize adult-use marijuana
On Dec. 1, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to allow recreational marijuana sales. Adults 21 and older can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of flower, including up to 15 grams of concentrate.
Michigan voters approved Proposal 1 to legalize adult-use marijuana in 2018. Sales were originally slated to begin Jan. 1, 2020, but the state moved up the date in an effort to reduce black market sales. Detroit has delayed recreational sales until Jan. 31.
On the first day of sales, the state’s three licensed retail marijuana shops generated more than $200,000 in cannabis sales and an estimated $36,000 in tax revenue.
Marijuana Industry Daily projected that marijuana sales in Michigan are expected to reach $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion per year when the market reaches maturity.