U.S. House Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis

Congress Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis
Congress Votes to Decriminalize Cannabis

The United States Congress recently moved one step closer to decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level when the House of Representatives approved a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). How likely is it that the legislation will ultimately become a law? And what does it mean for the U.S. cannabis industry? Read on to learn more.

Congress Votes on Law to Decriminalize Cannabis at Federal Level

H.R. 3884, the resolution introduced and voted on in the House, is historic. The bill marks the first time that either chamber of Congress has officially cast votes on a proposed law to decriminalize marijuana federally. The bold legislation, named the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, is intended to “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.” Democratic Rep. and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler introduced the MORE Act because the criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately impacted minorities and communities of color through selective enforcement of marijuana laws by police.

After the momentous vote in the House, Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer issued a powerful statement observing that millions of Americans have had their lives destroyed by convictions for possessing just a small amount of marijuana. Hoyer further noted that “the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust.”

Proponents of the legislation say that the measure would directly benefit the federal government by providing much-needed revenues to finance things like cannabis industry job training, legal aid for indigent criminal defendants, and substance abuse treatment for people with addiction problems. These things would be made possible by a 5% sales tax on all legal sales of cannabis and cannabis-related products.

Proposed Law Would Eliminate Criminal Penalties for Marijuana Possession

If the MORE Act becomes law, it would remove marijuana from the substances banned by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The MORE Act would also eliminate criminal penalties for the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana. This means that the law would effectively legalize cannabis in the United States.

The MORE Act also includes a provision that would allow for the expungement of prior convictions for marijuana possession. This means that an individual with a previous conviction for unlawfully possessing marijuana in violation of federal law would potentially be eligible to have that conviction removed from their permanent record. Beyond that, anyone currently in prison for a federal cannabis offense could have the ability to petition for a sentencing review hearing.

Republican Support for MORE Act to Decriminalize Cannabis

The MORE Act had strong support from Democrats, with 222 Democratic members of the House voting in support of the legislation and just six (6) Democrats opposing it. Perhaps surprisingly, five (5) Republicans also voted in favor of decriminalizing cannabis. In fact, one prominent Republican, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, was the bill’s co-sponsor. Before voting, Gaetz gave an impassioned speech on the House floor and implored his fellow members in the House to change their positions on marijuana legalization because those stances “are overwhelmingly losing with the American people.”

In addition to Gaetz, the other Republicans who voted to end the federal law prohibiting marijuana manufacturing, distribution, and use included Don Young from Alaska, Tom McClintock from California, Brian Mast from Florida, and Denver Riggleman from Virginia.

Cannabis Decriminalization Not Likely to Pass in U.S. Senate

Despite some Republican support for the MORE Act, the bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House might not go very far in the Senate. Republicans still control the U.S. Senate, and the vast majority of the Republican Party has not shown any inclination to legalize marijuana at the federal level – or to do much of anything that would pave the way for marijuana legalization across the United States.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and one of the most powerful members of the Republican Party, was highly critical of the House for spending time on the cannabis decriminalization legislation instead of focusing on a COVID-19 stimulus bill that he called more “serious and important” than a marijuana law. Current Democratic vice president elect Kamala Harris previously introduced a similar bill in the Senate, but Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee prevented the measure from reaching the Senate floor for a formal vote.

Some have criticized the recent bill passed in the House of Representatives because it has little chance of gaining enough support in the Senate to become a law. Kevin Sabet, the president of conservative anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said that “there is zero interest in moving this bill in the Senate and zero interest in supporting it in either the current administration or the incoming one.” Whether that last observation is actually true remains to be seen.

While president-elect Joe Biden has not yet come out in favor of legalizing cannabis at the federal level, earlier this year he did express support for the decriminalization of marijuana. A spokesperson for the Biden presidential transition team recently said that Biden would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug as opposed to a Schedule I drug. Additionally, Biden “would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization.”

What Does the Future Hold for Cannabis Legalization in the United States?

While cannabis legalization at the federal level may not be on the horizon, individual states continue to push their own marijuana legalization efforts. A total of 15 states have already legalized cannabis for recreational use, and 36 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Both of those numbers grew in the November 2020 election, when voters in five (5) states approved laws to legalize cannabis within their respective state borders. Just last month, voters in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voted to allow legal marijuana sales at state-licensed dispensaries.

The number of regulated cannabis markets figures to increase in the years ahead, as more and more states take up the issue of whether to legalize adult-use cannabis. There is a growing belief among many in the cannabis industry that states like Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania could get recreational cannabis legalization measures on the ballot in 2022.

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All-Time High for Cannabis Sales in Oregon

Oregon Cannabis Sales Rise
Oregon Cannabis Sales Rise

Oregon cannabis dispensaries set a new single-month record in May with approximately $103 million in sales of marijuana. This was the first time ever that the state has topped $100 million in monthly cannabis sales. What could the boom in retail marijuana sales mean for cannabis operators in Oregon? And could it provide savvy investors with new opportunities to get involved in the Oregon cannabis market? Read on to learn more.

Oregon Cannabis Sales Top $100 Million in Single Month

According to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, retail marijuana stores in Oregon reported total sales of more than $103 million in May 2020. (May is the most recent month for which sales records have been made available to the public.) While this was the third straight month that Oregon set a new record for cannabis sales, it was the first time that retail cannabis sales have exceeded $100 million in a single month.

When compared to retail marijuana sales in 2019, the success of Oregon dispensaries so far in 2020 is staggering. The total of $103 million generated by Oregon dispensary sales of recreational cannabis and medical cannabis in May 2020 represents an increase of roughly 60% over total cannabis sales in May 2019. Moreover, these gains are not mere anomalies: year-over-year sales of marijuana in Oregon increased by 37% in March and 44% in April. Through the first five (5) months of 2020, Oregon retail pot shops have sold more than $415 million worth of product – a 40% increase when compared to the first five (5) months of the previous year.

Oregon Dispensaries Adjust to Changing Conditions Caused by Coronavirus Pandemic

Oregon dispensaries have seen a surge in retail cannabis sales even as most other retail businesses in the state struggled to adjust to coronavirus-related restrictions. In fact, the cannabis industry has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because states like Oregon declared that cannabis dispensaries are “essential businesses” that should be exempt from shutdown orders.

Oregon dispensaries were allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic with certain restrictions in place, such as social distancing and limits on the number of people allowed inside stores at once. Oregon retail marijuana shops were also able to take advantage of state laws that allow for delivery of marijuana: online orders and home delivery accounted for nearly $1.4 million in total sales in May 2020.

What Are the Effects of Legal Cannabis Sales on Oregon State Revenues?

Oregon lawmakers have expressed concerns about the state budget, especially in light of the hit that the state has taken in terms of decreased sales tax revenues during the coronavirus pandemic. This is because most businesses struggled when shutdown orders were put in place, and many of these businesses have continued to struggle even after the shutdown orders were lifted. The downturn in overall retail sales has had a devastating effect on Oregon state revenues.

One industry that has not suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic is the legal cannabis industry. This has provided a boost to the Oregon budget by filling the state with much-needed sales tax revenues. Oregon imposes a 17% tax on legal sales of marijuana. Additionally, this tax number is the same for both recreational marijuana and medical marijuana.

Economists enlisted by the state government to study and analyze the effects of the legalization of marijuana on the economy have been taking a close look at what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. These economists believe that several factors are influencing the bump in tax revenues generated by retail cannabis sales:

  • The underlying demand for marijuana (and alcohol) is up as more people are stuck at home and looking for some form of relief.
  • More cannabis product categories and varieties are available to consumers.
  • Greater demand for marijuana products such as concentrates and edibles has led to higher prices. Thus far, the higher prices have not discouraged consumers from continuing to purchase cannabis from dispensaries.

Contact Scythian to Learn About Cannabis Real Estate

Oregon is not the only state with strong cannabis sales so far in 2020. Many other states where cannabis use is legal, including Arkansas, Colorado, and Illinois, have also seen a surge in retail cannabis sales.

Scythian Real Estate is the full-service real estate partner of sophisticated cannabis companies throughout the U.S. and already has a strong footprint in several states where cannabis is legal. For more information about cannabis real estate, email Scythian now.


Virginia Decriminalizes Cannabis Possession

Virginia Decriminalizes Cannabis
Virginia Decriminalizes Cannabis

Virginia lawmakers have decriminalized cannabis in the state, meaning that individuals who are caught by law enforcement with a small amount of marijuana in their possession will no longer face criminal penalties. Instead, possession of a minor amount of pot is now considered a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. What could this new law mean for efforts to legalize recreational cannabis use in Virginia? Could cannabis companies soon be doing big business in Virginia? Read on to learn more.

Virginia State Legislators Reclassify Marijuana Possession as Civil Offense

HB 972 and SB 2, the two bills passed by the Virginia state legislature, specifically reclassify what used to be a criminal offense – the simple possession of one (1) ounce or less of marijuana – as a civil offense. Prior to passage of the new law, a person convicted of simple possession of marijuana in Virginia could be sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $500. Now, instead of facing jail time and other severe penalties for simple possession of marijuana, anyone caught by police with a small amount of weed will be subject to a fine of just $25. This amount represents the lowest fine imposed by any state in the entire country for a marijuana possession offense, suggesting just how far Virginia lawmakers have moved when it comes to legalizing adult-use cannabis. But they still have a bit further to go in terms of legal cannabis sales: state legislators are soon going to consider whether to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

After the Virginia General Assembly passed the bills in March, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam sent the legislation back to legislators with a series of proposed amendments. Legislators incorporated most of the suggested changes, and Northam then signed the bills into law. The cannabis decriminalization law went into effect on July 1, 2020. Virginia is now the 27th state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana possession.

When Will Cannabis Be Legalized in Virginia?

The thinking among many cannabis industry observers in Virginia is that decriminalization doesn’t go far enough. In addition to decriminalizing cannabis possession, the Virginia law also creates a committee to study the possible effects of legalizing cannabis for recreational use in the state. That committee will reveal its findings and issue a recommendation on cannabis legalization by November 30, 2020.

The formation of the work group to study legalization comes on the heels of an announcement by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to introduce legislation to legalize recreational cannabis in Virginia. The state legislators were set to introduce the proposed law during the August special session of the Virginia General Assembly. While state lawmakers considered many different criminal justice reform bills during the session, it was the marijuana legalization proposal that figured to draw the most attention because of the rising popularity of cannabis legalization both in Virginia and nationwide.

Legalization of cannabis has been an especially popular policy idea in southern states: a Civiqs online opinion poll found that a majority of adults in every Southern state are in favor of marijuana legalization. Cannabis has already long been decriminalized in Mississippi and North Carolina, while Georgia state lawmakers are set to consider cannabis decriminalization as part of the recently introduced Georgia Justice Act. Additionally, Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana have gone even further by legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. (Virginia currently has a limited medical cannabis law on the books.)

No Criminal Record for Marijuana Possession in Virginia

Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), stated that the Virginia decriminalization law “will save thousands of Virginians from the trauma of arrest and the stigma of a criminal conviction.” The MPP, which is the largest organization in the country dedicated to reforming existing marijuana policies and laws, has advocated for decriminalizing cannabis possession across the U.S. because individuals who get arrested and convicted for marijuana crimes often face difficulties getting hired for jobs, securing housing, and being approved for loans. When marijuana possession is classified as a criminal offense, a conviction can result in the offender being sentenced to jail time and being stuck with a permanent criminal record.

Cannabis Operators Should Contact Scythian Real Estate

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