There was a lot of cannabis news last week from coast to coast. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker finally signed compromise legislation allowing for the voter-mandated recreational marijuana sales. And in Nevada, a judge ruled on the cannabis distribution controversy. Find out about that more in our weekly marijuana legislative roundup.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved an amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would extend protections on state medical marijuana programs through 2018. The measure, commonly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, would prohibit the use of federal funds to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote a letter to lawmakers earlier this year urging them not to renew the protection, which is currently set to expire in September. The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment has been included in every appropriations bill since its first passage 2014.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee voted down an amendment to the 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would have expanded veterans’ access to medical marijuana. The measure would have prohibited the use of federal funds to interfere with veteran participation in state-legal medical cannabis programs. It also would have permitted Veterans Affairs physicians to make recommendations and fill out paperwork pursuant to such participation.
The move effectively blocks the amendment from proceeding to a vote of the full House of Representatives.
On Friday, Governor Charlie Baker signed a compromise bill to significantly modify the recreational marijuana law passed by voters in November. The House and Senate had passed widely differing implementation bills in June, with the House seeking to “repeal and replace” the ballot measure and the Senate offering relatively minor changes. Under the new law, the tax on cannabis sales will be capped at 20 percent, including a 17 percent state tax rate. Municipalities will be able to impose local sales taxes of up to 3 percent on top of that. Residents with prior marijuana convictions will be able to have their records sealed, but not expunged.
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The Cannabis Control Commission will also be expanded from three to five members, to be appointed by the governor, attorney general, and treasurer. Adults will still be allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to 12 plants at home. The most controversial provision of the bill deals with local regulation of recreational marijuana retailers. In the 260 municipalities where a majority voted for the legalization measure, a referendum will be required to ban the opening of cannabis retailers.
In the 91 towns that voted against the initiative, however, only a vote of the city council or other governing body will be required to impose such a ban. Critics argue that this unusual compromise may be unconstitutional. Sales of recreational marijuana are expected to begin in mid-2018.
On Monday, a Carson City judge ruled that the state’s emergency regulations on recreational marijuana were lawful, allowing the state to continue granting provisional cannabis distributor licenses to certain retailers in order to meet demand. Under Nevada law, only alcohol distributors are permitted to obtain distributor licenses that allow them to transport marijuana from growers to retailers for the next 18 months. However, the Department of Taxation had ruled earlier this year that there was insufficient interest among alcohol distributors to meet demand for recreational marijuana.
Under the emergency regulations, certain retailers have been granted provisional licenses to transport the product themselves. The emergency rules also require that alcohol distributors provide a plan for how they intend to avoid losing their federal liquor licensing while distributing a substance that remains illegal under federal law. In his ruling, the judge agreed with the Department of Taxation’s argument that its actions were necessary to protect revenue on which the state budget relies.