The Rhode Island Senate is scheduled to vote this week on one of three adult-use marijuana legalization bills under consideration.

In Connecticut, lawmakers approved a bill legalizing adult-use marijuana and sent it to the governor for his expected signature.

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And in Montana, anti-marijuana groups dropped their legal challenge of last November’s voter-approved recreational marijuana initiative.

Rhode Island

A Senate bill to legalize adult-use marijuana is on the floor calendar for June 22 after the Judiciary Committee advanced the measure last week.

The bill is one of three to address recreational marijuana. Legislation also has been introduced in the House, and Gov. Dan McKee has a legalization bill in his budget package.

With the lack of consensus behind one bill, an emerging view is that it will be difficult to legalize recreational marijuana before the regular legislative session ends June 30, and the issue might be pushed to a special session later this summer or fall.

The amended Senate bill would cap retail licenses at one per 20,000 residents and reserve at least one-third of the licenses for people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.

Connecticut

State lawmakers last week approved a social equity-focused recreational marijuana measure that is expected to create a $700 million-plus market within a few years.

Gov. Ned Lamont plans to sign the legislation.

The new recreational marijuana market is expected to launch by May 2022.

Connecticut is the “final piece in the tri-state legalization puzzle,” noted Michelle Bodian, a Connecticut native and senior associate attorney in the New York office of the national cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg.

“Like New York and New Jersey, Connecticut adopted a law that reflects regional coordination efforts but also includes its own unique take on the process,” Bodian said in a statement.

“It features an innovative approach to licensing that includes a strong social equity component. The tri-state area is poised to become a major hub for cannabis commerce, innovation and social responsibility.”

Connecticut’s combination of license types, social equity provisions and fee structure “will allow for more business opportunities per capita than in most other states,” Bodian wrote in an email to MJBizDaily.

She also noted that Connecticut is providing regulatory authority to an existing state agency, which could significantly reduce the time needed to set up an adult-use market and “could allow Connecticut to issue license applications quickly, potentially even before New Jersey or New York.”

The social equity provisions are designed to help communities most harmed by the war on drugs, with the goal of bringing more minority entrepreneurs into the state’s legal marijuana industry.

The nearly 300-page law includes a requirement to reserve 50% of applications for social equity applicants.

Most new licenses will be awarded through a lottery system to provide qualified applicants an equal opportunity, according to a Marijuana Policy Project bill summary.

Existing medical marijuana cultivators will be able apply for an adult-use license as soon as this summer.

But the fees are huge: $3 million or $1.5 million if the operator creates at least two social equity joint ventures, according to the MPP bill summary.

Connecticut’s medical marijuana market, which was launched in the fall of 2014, has four producers and 18 dispensaries.

Montana

A legal challenge to voter-approved adult-use marijuana legalization was dropped, its momentum sapped after the state Legislature watered down the ballot measure.

SAFE Montana and Wrong for Montana voluntarily abandoned their lawsuit.

Before the legislative action, the 2021 MJBizFactbook projected Montana adult-use sales at $90 million in the first year and $325 million in the fourth year.

The weaker measure passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte includes several provisions that could curb sales:

  • A 35% THC potency cap for flower.
  • Edibles potency caps.
  • A longer, 18-month head start for existing medical cannabis operators over industry newcomers.

Industry officials, though, say the program is “workable.”

The market launch now is scheduled for Jan. 1, 2022, instead of Oct. 1, 2021.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.