What’s new this week: Deadlines are fast approaching for ballot initiatives in a number of states. Campaigns in Arkansas and North Dakota are scrambling to round up enough support for a ballot push, while the numbers coming out of Colorado and New Mexico prove that the cannabis industry is booming and supporting a successful economy.
U.S. News Updates
Three petitions make a play for cannabis in Arkansas. There are three competing measures for cannabis in Arkansas, although they don't all stand and an equal chance. Arkansans for Compassionate Care had their measure approved in 2014. They’ve been gathering signatures ever since. An alternate medical measure from attorney David Couch was approved this year, and a third measure that would legalize cannabis for recreational use has been approved but is failing to gain widespread support.
Colorado’s 4/20 sales broke the bank this year. Cannabis sales on the April holiday brought Colorado its most profitable day since legalization began, with $7.3 million in total sales, a 53 percent increase from last year. The month of April ended with a whopping $117 million in transactions, surpassing the previous monthly sales record of $101 million last December. The majority of the sales, $76.7 million, were in the recreational cannabis market.
Cannabis activist sues the state to stop dispensaries. In a strange twist of fate, longtime marijuana activist Mike Ruggles, the former operator of a cannabis collective, is suing Gov. David Ige, Health Director Virginia Pressler, Attorney General Douglas Chin, and the four companies issued licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in an attempt to stop the forthcoming dispensaries from opening. Using federal law as the basis for the suit, Ruggles argues that the state cannot give citizens a license to break federal law (an argument used years ago, to much confusion, by a Long Beach, Calif., dispensary-license loser). Federal illegality isn’t Ruggles' objection, though; it’s just a way to stop commercial dispensaries. “They’re basically trying to make money off the backs of sick and poor people,” he said.
Can cannabis save Atlantic City? New Jersey state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) plans to introduce a legalization bill that he is convinced will produce enough revenue to breathe new life into the ailing Atlantic City. Atlantic City Councilman Frank Gilliam is on board and hopes that other council members will follow suit. Meanwhile, a marijuana decriminalization group is advocating for a statewide initiative that would eliminate penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis in Newark. The East Central Ohio Decriminalization Initiative would remove penalties for possessing less than 200 grams of cannabis in the city. Under Newark’s current law, possessing less than 100 grams of cannabis is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.
Medical marijuana is booming in New Mexico. With the addition of 12 new licensed producers, the cannabis economy is thriving in the Land of Enchantment. Dispensaries and licensed producers offer significant employment opportunities, with about $3 million paid out in salaries and compensation in the first quarter of 2016, an increase from $2.3 million in the same period last year. New Mexico now has more than 55,000 registered medical marijuana patients. First quarter sales soared from $5.7 million last year to $10 million over the same period in 2016.
New York’s medical program is bunk at best. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance examines the effects of New York’s medical cannabis program, which has been fraught with issues since its inception. Between the long wait for implementation, the restrictive nature of the program, the prohibitively high costs, and general inaccessibility, the program has made it incredibly difficult for many patients to access medicine. The law doesn’t allow for the cultivation or smoking of cannabis, and there are just 20 dispensaries to serve the entire state. In addition, very few physicians are certified to authorize patients, meaning that even qualified patients often must search for months in order to find a physician.
North Dakota ramps up signature gathering. The North Dakota Compassionate Care Act of 2016 is coming up on the state’s deadline for making the November ballot. The deadline to submit signatures is July 11, and the campaign’s supporters will need to pull out all the stops to claim a spot on the ballot. The campaign will be holding an event for last-minute signature gathering at the 33rd annual Rally in the Valley in Valley City, North Dakota this Friday, June 17, and you can also find petition locations here.
Pennsylvania in a tizzy over proposed fine increase. The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee postponed action on a bill that would increase the fines on the first and second offense for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Although House Bill 1422 is technically a decriminalization measure, decreasing the penalty from jail time to a civil offense, it would also establish the current maximum fine of $500 as the minimum fine for a first offense. The bill would change the language from “not exceeding” to “not less than” and increase the fines for second and third offenses to $750 and $1,000, respectively. The committee will likely revisit the bill before the House adjourns for the summer.
International News Updates
The Irish favor a bit o’ the green. The most recent Global Drug Survey found that cannabis is the primary (illegal) drug of choice for the Irish by a wide margin. The survey indicated that 78.6 percent of Irish respondents reported using cannabis at least once over the previous 12 months. It was a big jump from the same survey last year, where 60.8 percent of respondents affirmed their cannabis use. Another promising result from the study was the lack of use of synthetic cannabis, a dangerous substitute not related to the cannabis plant, which registered a 1.9-percent use rate.