Coronavirus Delays: Where Do Cannabis Bills Stand Across the US? – Cannabis Wire

Medical Cannabis Legalisation

As 2020 kicked off, advocates were pushing for cannabis law reform along the two main tracks: ballot and bill. 

But just as the signature gathering geared up in anticipation of the November election, and lawmakers were deep in debates, the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States. Now, state governors, lawmakers, and other officials have shifted their energy toward flattening the curve. 

Whether this spells delay or demise for certain cannabis reform efforts in 2020 remains unknown. Cannabis Wire has reached out to the sponsors of major medical and adult use legislation to see where things stand. Here’s what they had to say.

(Editor’s note: There are hundreds of pieces of more incremental cannabis legislation, addressing everything from taxes to advertising, but Cannabis Wire is focusing on bills that would bring, for example, medical or adult use sales to a state for the first time.)

ALABAMA

Senate Bill 165 would legalize medical cannabis sales; currently, state law allows only for CBD possession. The bill, which passed in the Senate in mid-March but not yet in the House, would not allow for sales of edibles or flower.  

Senator and bill sponsor Tim Melson told Cannabis Wire by email, “It definitely is in limbo. Unfortunately low priority due to [coronavirus]. No idea of % of chance it will come back up.”

The session ends in May, but all activity has been postponed until at least the end of March.

CONNECTICUT

As Cannabis Wire previously reported, Governor Ned Lamont pushed for adult use legalization in his 2020 State of the State address, and lawmakers responded with a bill. A hearing was held on the bill in early March. Currently, medical cannabis is legal in Connecticut.

Lamont has joined forces with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has urged a “regional approach” to legalization during which northeast states work together on cannabis policies. 

During the early March hearing, Jonathan Harris, senior adviser to Governor Lamont, said that “times have changed rapidly,” with cannabis surrounding the state. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand.”

Cannabis Wire did not receive a response to a request for comment by publication.

The session ends in May, but all activity has been postponed until at least mid-April.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

As Cannabis Wire previously reported, lawmakers began to push for a compromise adult use legalization bill in 2020 after a similar effort failed last year. HB 1648 would allow for limited home cultivation, but would not allow for any cannabis sales. Currently, medical cannabis is legal in the state.

Representative and bill sponsor Renny Cushing told Cannabis Wire, “To be honest, at this moment I don’t have any clarity on how this legislative session will turn out. The [New Hampshire] House has given the Speaker the power to adjust all deadlines. The State House is closed, and the legislature itself is officially shut down until at least April 10. It really is all dependent on how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. I expect the Speaker will make decisions about the legislative calendar guided by recommendations concerning what is best for public health.”

The session ends in June, but all activity has been postponed until at least mid-April.

NEW YORK

As Cannabis Wire previously reported, after a failed push to pass adult use legalization by budget, and then by bill, last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo again in 2020 put adult use legislation in his budget. The budget is due by April 1, and the state is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. As of Thursday, the state reported that nearly 40,000 people had tested positive for the virus. 

Even as Governor Cuomo has been giving daily press conferences on COVID-19 and has emerged as a standout leader during the crisis, legalization is still in play. 

Cuomo spokesperson Nicole Leblond told Cannabis Wire that “the answer still stands” that Cuomo is still “actively negotiating several budget items including legalizing adult use cannabis.” 

Leblond continued, “As the Governor noted a few days ago at his press conference, he would like to see this included in the budget.” 

Still, there are rumblings that the divisions that plagued the 2019 push to legalize could reemerge. Last year, Cuomo and lawmakers couldn’t agree on equity and law enforcement provisions, among other issues. 

Sen. Liz Krueger told Cannabis Wire late last week, “Assembly Member Peoples-Stokes and I have put forward what I believe to be the best proposal to achieve marijuana legalization, and I would be happy to see the Governor include it in his budget. However, while it is important that we end marijuana prohibition as soon as possible, it is also important that it be done the right way. If that cannot be achieved in the midst of a public health crisis, then we will all be better off waiting. There is no reason we cannot negotiate and pass a nation-leading legalization model when the crisis is over.” 

Medical cannabis is currently legal in the state.

KENTUCKY

In late February, the Kentucky House voted 65-30 to advance a medical cannabis bill, HB 136. Currently, the state has a limited program to allow for CBD possession.

Cannabis Wire asked bill sponsor Rep. John Sims if he expected COVID-19 related delays on the cannabis legislation. Sims responded: “More than likely.” 

Medical cannabis has the support of Governor Andy Beshear. 

The session ends in April, and lawmakers reconvened on March 26 despite pushback from Gov. Beshear.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is perhaps one of the most outspoken governors in favor of adult use cannabis legalization. Last year, as Cannabis Wire reported, Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman called for adult use legalization after Fetterman conducted a listening tour on the issue across the state. 

While a few adult use legalization bills have been introduced, Rep. Jake Wheatley has mounted a particularly aggressive push. In February, he sent a memo to colleagues titled “Criminal and Social Justice Reform Through a Legal Adult-Use Cannabis Marketplace,” and then introduced House Bill 2050. The bill was last acted upon on March 4, when it was referred to the health committee, which currently has no meetings scheduled.

Cannabis Wire did not receive a response to a request for comment by publication.

Lawmakers continue partial activity and remote voting, and primarily on COVID-19 legislation. 

RHODE ISLAND

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is again trying to get adult use cannabis legalized by budget, but she faces stiff opposition in the state legislature. As Cannabis Wire noted, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of her plan is state-control, which is not an approach taken by any other state, though it has been proposed. (In Canada, some provinces have government-run cannabis businesses.) Medical cannabis is legal in Rhode Island.

Brian Hodge, the deputy director of communications for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, which helped craft the governor’s adult use plan, told Cannabis Wire, “At this time the General Assembly is not meeting. This is a rapidly evolving situation and the impacts remain to be seen.”

The budget is due in June. 

SOUTH CAROLINA

Senate Bill 366 would legalize medical cannabis sales, but only in non-smokable forms. A hearing on the bill in the Medical Affairs Committee set to take place on March 19 was cancelled, and all House and Senate sessions have been cancelled through, at least, this week.

Cannabis Wire did not receive a response to a request for comment by publication.

TENNESSEE

HB 2454 and SB 2334 would legalize medical cannabis sales, but only in non-smokable forms. But a hearing on HB 2454 in the House Health Committee Health Committee set to take place on March 17 was cancelled. 

Representative and bill sponsor Bryan Terry told Cannabis Wire, “At this point, continuation of our legislative session is up in the air. We have recessed until June 1, but depending on the status of the pandemic, we do not know what will occur at that time. It is likely that when we return, we may just be able to get enough members to sine die or run an expedited session like a special session in order to take up other essential matters. If we are going to take up comprehensive pieces of legislation like the Clinical Cannabis Authorization and Research Act, it will still likely be during an expedited process; therefore, it would be incumbent upon those of us presenting comprehensive bills to have members prepared during our recess. We will know the process of our return as we get closer and ensuring members know the bills and have their questions addressed prior to returning would be a coronavirus related hurdle that we would have to overcome.”

VERMONT

While Vermont legalized adult use cannabis in 2018, that bill did not allow for sales, only personal possession and home grow. As Cannabis Wire reported, a bill that aimed to establish adult use sales was inches from the governor’s desk at the start of this month. 

Senator and bill sponsor Dick Sears, who is also part of the conference committee formed in mid-March to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill before sending it to the governor, told Cannabis Wire, “Once the Committee was appointed the legislature adjourned due to the COVID-19 crisis. The Senate Committee on Judiciary is currently meeting on COVID-19 related matters only. If and when we get a green light to continue to work on House bills and conference committees, the conference committee may meet on S.54.”

The session ends in May.