We all know that the state of Texas has always been, shall we say, ever so slightly averse to cannabis legalization. In other words, THC just can’t catch a break in Texas, even with a state full of legalization supporters.
And, while any smart stoner will tell you that the hemp plant is hardly the same thing as its THC-filled cousin, cannabis, it may as well be in the Lone Star State. Smokable hemp, which is popular with smokers in prohibition states because it contains CBD and other cannabinoids, has been banned in the state since 2019 — just one year after the 2018 Farm Bill was legalized at the federal level.
But that may change in the near future. Early next year, the Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that is challenging the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) ban on smokable hemp — and with any luck, the ban will be overturned.
The premise of the lawsuit, which was filed in 2020 by four Travis County hemp businesses, is that the smokable hemp ban is unconstitutional. According to the plaintiff’s filings, “the regulation at issue shuts out hemp businesses from manufacturing and processing a good that is legal.”
The plaintiffs also argue that the DSHS has interpreted the law too strictly by banning the sale of smokable hemp, noting that the regulations only prohibit the “processing or manufacturing” of such products.
“In June 2019, Governor Abbott signed legislation establishing a hemp program for Texas. Among other things, it directs the executive commissioner of DSHS to prohibit ‘the processing or manufacturing of a consumable hemp product.’ The Rule DSHS later adopted in 2020, however, went much further: The Rule prohibits the ‘manufacture, processing, distribution, or retail sale of consumable hemp products for smoking,’” the companies wrote in court documents.
While it may seem unlikely that a smokable hemp ban would be overturned in a state notorious for its staunch stance against legal cannabis, there are signs that it could happen. The lawsuit has already had at least one win in court — though it was admittedly short-lived.
In August 2021, Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st District Court ruled that the ban on smokable hemp is unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction barring the DSHS from enforcing its provisions.
“Based on the entire record in this case, the Court concludes that Texas Health and Safety Code Section 443.204(4) is not rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest,” Livingston wrote in her final judgment.
“In addition, based on the entire record in this case, the real-world effect of Texas Health and Safety Code Section 443.204(4) is so burdensome as to be oppressive in light of any legitimate government interest,” Livingston continued in her ruling.
Zachary Maxwell, the president of Texas Hemp Growers, applauded Livingston’s ruling after the judge struck down the ban.
“Today’s ruling is a major win for Texas’ hemp industry, and may set a new standard in similar cases across the country,” Maxwell said in a press release. “The attorneys behind the Texas Hemp Legal Defense Fund fought hard, brought fact-based arguments to the courtroom and proved the undeniable financial harm caused by this cavalier ban.”
But while Judge Livingston’s ruling was a win for smokable hemp, DSHS appealed the judge’s ruling a few months later to the Texas Supreme Court. In the court filings, DSHS asserted that the higher court, not the
Travis County District Court where Judge Livingston presides, had jurisdiction in the case.
Shortly after the appeal was filed, the high court agreed to hear the case — and oral arguments are now
scheduled for March 2022.
Whether or not the higher court will agree with Judge Livingston’s earlier ruling remains to be seen. But if it does, it will be a huge win for Texans — especially given the current climate surrounding legalization in the state.
Will Ohio get a legal market?
Cannabis advocates have been pushing for legalization in Ohio for what feels like an eternity, but thus far, weed remains illegal in the state. As with Texas’ ban on smokable hemp, though, that could change in the near future.
A proposal by activists to legalize cannabis in Ohio has officially garnered more than 200,000 signatures, which means that the proposal is heading to the legislature to be considered within the next few months.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the proposal “would allow Ohioans age 21 and older to buy and possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of concentrates,” and that they “could also grow up to six plants individually and no more than 12 in a household with multiple adults.”
Cannabis products “would be taxed 10%, with revenue going toward administrative costs, addiction treatment programs, municipalities with dispensaries and a social equity and jobs program,” according to the newspaper.
The activist group behind the push to legalize cannabis in Ohio is the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.”
“Marijuana legalization is an issue whose time has come in Ohio. According to recent polling, Ohioans are not only in favor of legalizing marijuana for regulated adult-use, they view it as inevitable,” the coalition says on its website. “We hope that Ohio’s leaders seize this opportunity to take control of our future. Support for a regulatory and taxation system is critical in order to set Ohio up for success should we see changes at the federal level.”
The group says its campaign is “an effort to encourage Ohio legislators to regulate marijuana for adult-use, just like we do for alcohol,” and to advance a proposal that would fix “a broken system while ensuring local control, keeping marijuana out of the hands of children, and benefiting everyone.”
But before lawmakers can weigh the coalition’s bill, the petition will have to go to the secretary of state for verification. Once the verification is done, “lawmakers will have four months to act on the legislation,” according to a recent report from the Columbus Dispatch.
Should lawmakers fail to pass the bill or an amended version, “supporters can collect another 132,887 valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot for the next general election.”
This is not the first time that an Ohio advocacy group has campaigned lawmakers to legalize cannabis in the state. Advocacy group ResponsibleOhio waged another legalization campaign in 2015 — but the push was unsuccessful.
If this current bill succeeds, it will mean big things for cannabis in Ohio. The proposal would not only legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over in Ohio, but would also grandfather the state’s medical cannabis businesses into the newly created recreational market.
That would be excellent timing, as Ohio’s medical cannabis program could already be on the cusp of a significant overhaul. The Ohio State Senate passed a bill earlier in 2021 that would make the first changes to the medical cannabis program since its inception five years ago.
One of the most notable changes would be looser restrictions to the medical permit program in Ohio. If passed, the legislation will permit physicians in the state to “recommend marijuana for treatment for any condition if the physician, in the physician’s sole discretion and medical opinion, finds either of the following”: that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana” and “that the patient may otherwise reasonably be expected to benefit from medical marijuana.”
The bill, which is currently being considered by the state House of Representatives, would also add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness and opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment.
Ohio’s medical cannabis laws currently limit cannabis treatment to the following qualifying conditions: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Alzheimer’s disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Cancer; Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Crohn’s disease; Epilepsy or another seizure disorder; Fibromyalgia; Glaucoma; Hepatitis C; Inflammatory bowel disease; Multiple sclerosis; Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable; Parkinson’s disease; Positive status for HIV; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Sickle cell anemia;
Spinal cord disease or injury; Tourette’s syndrome; Traumatic brain injury, and Ulcerative colitis.
Io-weed? Or Io-won’t?
Iowa may be the next legalization domino to fall — well, if a trio of Democratic lawmakers in the state has anything to say about it, anyway.
Three state senators in Iowa — Joe Bolkcom, Janet Petersen, and Sarah Trone Garriott — have made it clear in recent months that they intend to push a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot use for adults aged 21 and older.
“Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure,” said Bolkcom, who represents Iowa City (home to the University of Iowa). “It’s ending across America because it has caused far more harm than good.”
“Right now, you can go to Hy-Vee or Kum & Go, and buy a six-pack of beer,” Bolkcom said. “What this constitutional amendment would do… it would basically begin to treat marijuana like we treat a six-pack of beer.”
To bolster the argument for legal cannabis, Bolkcom, Petersen, and Trone Garriott have pointed to survey data showing that voters in the Hawkeye State are ready to end pot prohibition. One poll, taken in 2021 by the Des Moines Register, found that “54% of adults [in Iowa] say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use, 39% oppose it and 6% are unsure.”
Per the report, that was “about the same level of support shown in a March 2020 Iowa Poll, which for the first time found a majority of Iowans (53%) favored legalizing recreational marijuana.”
But while the numbers have stayed the same from 2020 to 2021, the polls still show a marked increase in support for legalization when compared to 2013, when the same poll found “just 29% of Iowa adults said they favored the idea; 68% opposed it and 3% were unsure.”
The senators also pointed to its bordering state, Illinois, as an example of a state with a thriving recreational market. South Dakota, another state bordering Iowa, may also push to pass a legalization measure next year.
“The world is changing around us, and Iowa is getting left behind,” Trone Garriott said. “Unlike many of our neighboring states, the citizens of Iowa do not have the ability to put this issue on the ballot as referendum. So, we think it’s time that I once got to have a voice and a vote in this matter.”
So, with attitudes changing in Iowa, it’s a good time for the trio to propose legalization to be considered by state lawmakers.
The trio has already submitted language to the Legislative Services Agency to propose this amendment in the next legislative session — which means that the debate over legal weed in Iowa could be in the works sooner rather than later.
Per multiple news reports, the proposal “requires a simple majority in both the state house and senate in two consecutive General Assemblies to be included on a ballot.” Once it is in on the ballot, “more than half of
Iowans need to vote for the amendment for it to become a part of the state’s constitution.”
In other words, there’s a good chance that once the legislative debate picks up, Iowa could be well on its way to legal weed.
“Iowans are ready to join the growing list of states that are regulating marijuana for adult use,” said Petersen.
Bud breaking point
The alarms are sounding in the California weed industry, just five years after legalization took hold in the state.
In mid-December, over two dozen cannabis industry insiders wrote a letter to California Governor Gavin
Newsom and other lawmakers to warn that the California adult-use cannabis industry is at “a breaking point.” According to the letter, the industry in the state is on the verge of collapse thanks to extremely high tax rates and other issues. That threat is because the current system “is rigged for all to fail” in California. Part of the issue is that much like Colorado, California’s local governments are responsible for authorizing the sale and production of cannabis, which means that about two-thirds of California cities do not currently have dispensaries. This is having a vast impact on the financial health of the industry, according to the letter.
And, so are the taxes on weed.
As of January 1, 2022, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) will raise the state’s cannabis cultivation tax for dry-weight flower by almost 5%, which will equate to a tax of about $161 per pound — or over $10 per ounce. This tax will make it tough for cannabis growers to break even — which, in turn, could have devastating effects on the industry.
Industry leaders are now asking lawmakers to incorporate three necessary changes to the current cannabis laws: for a lift of the cultivation tax, a three year break from the excise tax, and an expansion of retail shops throughout much of the state.
“It is critical to recognize that an unwillingness to effectively legislate, implement, and oversee a functional regulated cannabis industry has brought us to our knees,” the letter states. “The California cannabis system is a nation-wide mockery; a public policy lesson in what not to do. Despite decades of persecution by the government, we have been willing and adaptable partners in the struggle to regulate cannabis. We have asked tirelessly for change, with countless appeals to lawmakers that have gone unheard. We have collectively reached a point of intolerable tension, and we will no longer support a system that perpetuates a failed and regressive War on Drugs.”
And, the taxes aren’t just going to make it tough to break even for cannabis growers. According to the letter, the high weed taxes in California are also pushing consumers back into the black market — further depleting the resources from the legal market and pushing the industry to the brink of devastation. “The opportunity to create a robust legal market has been squandered as a result of excessive taxation,” the letter said.
“Seventy-five percent of cannabis in California is consumed in the illicit market and is untested and unsafe.”
Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said in a statement that the governor supports cannabis tax reform and recognizes the current problems while expanding enforcement against illegal sales and production.
“It’s clear that the current tax construct is presenting unintended but serious challenges. Any tax-reform effort in this space will require action from two-thirds of the Legislature and the Governor is open to working with them on a solution,” Mellon said.