In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Rhode Island expunges more than 23,000 cannabis possession records; House lawmakers introduce a bill to promote cannabis research; and Alabama awards the state’s first medical cannabis licenses.
Rhode Island Expunges More Than 23,000 Cannabis Possession Records
The Rhode Island judiciary system has successfully expunged more than 23,000 records related to cannabis possession, marking the completion of the initial phase of cannabis relief mandated by the state’s legalization law and a Supreme Court executive order.
In a press release issued on Thursday, the judiciary announced that 3,015 cases were expunged in the Superior Court, 10,650 cases in the District Court and 9,952 cases in the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.
Through collaborative efforts between courts and law enforcement, automated relief was provided in compliance with the state’s enactment of adult-use legalization last year. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell further facilitated the process by issuing an executive order outlining the procedures for mass expungements in January.
“The automatic expungement of marijuana charges has been an impressive achievement,” State Court Administrator Julie Hamil said in a recent announcement. “The Judiciary has demonstrated coordination at all levels to ensure the timely and comprehensive execution of this process.”
The second phase of the expungement process will focus on clearing cannabis possession records related to cases with multiple criminal violations. Planning is underway for this phase and must be completed by July 1, 2024.
Bill Promoting Cannabis Research Introduced
A House bill introduced Tuesday by Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV) and Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) aims to promote responsible research on the plant. The Higher Education Marijuana Research Act would appropriate up to $150 million in federal funding for university-sponsored medical cannabis research.
“The legal, responsible use of cannabis has been a major economic driver in Nevada and across the country and deserves further research,” Rep. Titus said in a press release. “Most of that research will come from academia, where right now too many universities and researchers do not have robust protections for even possessing what they are researching. As a former professor, I’m introducing this commonsense legislation to support their work and help us all learn more about the effects and potential uses of cannabis.”
As a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Congresswoman Titus supported the Medical Marijuana Research Act in the previous session. She also included language in last year’s appropriations package that prevents the Department of Justice from impeding the implementation of legal marijuana programs in any state. In the current Congress, she’s a co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, which aims to provide legal cannabis businesses, including those in Nevada and nationwide, access to banking services similar to other small businesses.
Morgan Fox, Political Director for NORML, says that significant federal barriers still exist when it comes to conducting further research, especially regarding clinical trials and products available in state-legal markets.
“We are grateful to Rep. Titus for introducing this legislation at a time when state cannabis laws are rapidly changing,” Fox says. “This bill will facilitate trusted university partners to engage in the kinds of research that will best equip state and federal lawmakers and regulators to develop effective cannabis policies based on public health and safety, will allow consumers to make more informed choices and will help train the next generation of cannabis researchers.”
Alabama Awards First Medical Cannabis Licenses
On June 12, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) announced the first round of licenses for medical marijuana businesses. After reviewing 90 applications for cannabis business licenses, 21 permits were awarded to companies catering to the needs of registered medical cannabis patients in the state.
In accordance with the state’s medical cannabis law, the commission has the authority to grant a maximum of 12 cultivator licenses, four processor licenses, four dispensary licenses, five integrated facility licenses, as well as an unspecified number of secure transporter and laboratory licenses.
MCC Vice Chairman Rex Vaughn has expressed the state’s intention to initiate a second round of license applications for cultivators, transporters and laboratories, saying, “These businesses will not only serve the patients of Alabama but provide business and job opportunities for local communities,” he said.
Evaluators with relevant experience, recruited by the University of South Alabama, assessed the applications. Scoring was based on various factors, including financial capability, management approach, operational plans, personnel and security measures. Two evaluators independently reviewed each exhibit to determine the applicant’s solvency, stability, suitability, capability, projected efficiency and experience. These assessments considered the commission’s criteria and a comparison with other applicants.
Alabama’s medical marijuana law, enacted in 2021, is recognized as one of the strictest cannabis programs in the country. Licensed dispensaries have the legal authority to sell specific forms of medical cannabis, such as inhalers, suppositories, topicals, inhalers, lozenges and edibles. However, the law prohibits patients from purchasing, growing, or smoking flowers and other inhalable combustibles.
The recently finalized guidelines from the AMCC introduce additional regulations primarily aimed at preventing accidental consumption of cannabis gummies by children. Edible producers are strictly prohibited from using cartoons, realistic or fictional characters, language that may attract minors, or images of fruits, children, or animals in their products. Additionally, imitations of existing candies targeted at children are strictly forbidden.
While child safety rules of this nature are standard in other states with legalized medical or recreational cannabis, Alabama has taken further measures. The AMCC mandates that edibles must be produced as “gelatinous cubes,” ensuring a distinct shape that differentiates them from children’s candy. Other acceptable shapes include “rectangular cuboids” or variations thereof. The Cotton State has gone one step further—all gummies must be peach-flavored as the AMCC was concerned that flavoring and sugars would attract children.