In this week’s cannabis news round-up, President Biden expands cannabis pardons and clemency in federal cases; Rhode Island hits $100 million in the first year of the adult-use market; study shows states with cannabis prohibition may boost the use of unregulated cannabinoids; and Ukraine passes medical cannabis legalization bill.
President Biden Grants Pardons and Clemency in Federal Cannabis Cases
Building on his October 2022 pardons for “all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession,” President Joe Biden has announced a series of pardons and clemency grants aimed at specific federal cannabis convictions, as well as 11 individuals incarcerated for non-violent drug-related offenses.
The executive order extends to individuals convicted under federal law for simple possession, attempted simple possession, or use of cannabis, including certain offenses committed on federal lands.
“I am commuting the sentences of 11 people who are serving disproportionately long sentences for non-violent drug offenses. All of them would have been eligible to receive significantly lower sentences if they were charged with the same offense today,” said President Biden in a statement.
“Second, following my pardon of prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana, I am issuing a Proclamation that will pardon additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law. Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.
“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either. That’s why I continue to urge Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.
“I have exercised my clemency power more than any recent predecessor has at this point in their presidency. And while today’s announcement marks important progress, my Administration will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equal justice, address racial disparities, strengthen public safety, and enhance the wellbeing of all Americans.”
While the president’s actions about cannabis have been well-received by advocates, there are critical observations. Notably, these cannabis-related pardons have not resulted in the release of any incarcerated individuals and they exclude certain segments of the population, including immigrants and those with convictions related to cannabis sales.
Rhode Island Sales Pass $100 Million in First Year of Adult-Use Market
According to recent sales data by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, the Ocean State is celebrating a significant monetary milestone in the inaugural year of legal adult-use cannabis sales.
Since sales began in December 2022 through November 2023, state-licensed businesses rang up a total of $105 million; the adult-use market made up about two-thirds of the overall figure (nearly $70 million), with medical marijuana accounting for the remaining third. August saw the highest total sales just short of $10 million, while September set a record for adult-use sales at just over $7 million.
Medical sales exhibited a different trajectory, showing a gradual decline over the year, reaching the lowest sales in November with just under $2.3 million recorded. Adult-use sales the same month were just short of $7 million, the lowest point since July.
Study Shows States with Cannabis Prohibition May Boost Use of Unregulated Cannabinoids
A recent study by the University of Michigan, University at Buffalo and Legacy Research Institute has revealed that in states where cannabis is illegal, people are more likely to turn to cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, suggesting that cannabis prohibition unintentionally encourages the use of less regulated substances.
After examining data from 1,169 adults, researchers discovered that 25% of respondents had used emerging cannabinoids in the past year. Notably, in states without legal cannabis, the use of delta-8 THC was significantly higher. Individuals without access to legal cannabis in their state were twice as likely to have used delta-8 THC. Additionally, CBD use has seen a 50% increase since 2019, with 21% of Americans now regularly using the cannabinoid.
This research reinforces the pattern that having legal access to regulated cannabis products tends to reduce the use of unregulated cannabis. The researchers pointed out that “Higher delta-8-THC use in states without medical or adult-use cannabis laws suggests that cannabis prohibition may unintentionally promote delta-8-THC use.”
The study, funded by the AMA (American Medical Association) with additional partial funding from NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) and NIH (National Institutes of Health), also highlights the need for further research into these cannabinoids due to health concerns and the lack of industry standards.
Ukraine Passes Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill
Ukrainian lawmakers have taken a significant step by approving a bill to legalize medical cannabis, receiving an overwhelming 248 votes in favor in the country’s 450-seat unicameral parliament. The legislation has now been forwarded to President Volodymyr Zelensky for final approval and it’s expected to go into effect by the middle of 2024.
President Zelensky is expected to endorse the bill, aligning with his expressed support for cannabis-based medicines, a stance he first conveyed in June and during his 2019 presidential campaign. Once the president affixes his signature, the new law is slated to take effect six months after that.
This proposal aims to grant access to cannabis for medical purposes, particularly for cancer patients and individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from the country’s ongoing war with Russia. Medical cannabis will only be accessible with a doctor’s prescription and it maintains the strict prohibition of adult-use cannabis. Additionally, in a bid to expedite patient access to medical cannabis, the legislation permits the import of raw cannabis materials.