Medical Marijuana: The Latest Snapshot

While the Super Bowl XLVIII matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks may have been a major letdown for football fans hoping to witness an epic battle between the NFL’s top offense and its top defense, fans certainly had fun nicknaming the big matchup featuring teams from two states that recently legalized marijuana as the “Stoner Bowl,” with high hopes (pun intended) that Bob Marley would make a hologram appearance at halftime. But to the NFL, marijuana use is no laughing matter, as the league continues to impose stiff penalties on players who test positive for the drug. In fact, Broncos linebacker Von Miller missed several games earlier last season and Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner was forced to miss the Super Bowl due to drug related suspensions. Despite these crackdowns, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl that the league would consider allowing injured players to use medical marijuana for head injuries if medical experts could demonstrate that the drug helps treat concussions.

The NFL’s openness to medical marijuana should come as no surprise as states around the country continue to shift towards loosening restrictions on both medical and recreational marijuana. In addition to Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana is currently legal in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia. The following is a snapshot of recent legislative updates involving marijuana around the U.S.:

  • The District of Columbia Council approved a measure making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction punishable by a $25 fine and seizure of the drug, which some marijuana advocates view as a step towards outright legalization in the nation’s capital.
  • 281 marijuana dispensaries began the process of registering with state regulators in Oregon in the first week of a program that regulates the retail sale of medical cannabis in Oregon. However, some dispensaries may not be able to operate, as there is a move in the Oregon legislature to allow cities and counties to ban dispensaries from opening until May 1, 2015.
  • Voters in libertarian Alaska will vote on Aug. 19 on an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 or older, and tax it at $50 an ounce.
  • An effort is underway to put medical marijuana on a ballot in Ohio. Supporters have 50,000 of the 385,000 signatures required by July 2 to put an issue on the ballot this year.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this year that he was going to implement executive actions that would allow the restricted use of medical marijuana. Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in the New York State Assembly that would fully legalize and tax recreational marijuana.

Interestingly, there has been a movement to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in several southern states, one of the few areas of the country where opposition towards any form of legalization of the drug still remains. For example:

  • Florida voters will have a chance to vote on a ballot initiative this November on whether to legalize medical marijuana. That initiative looks likely to pass as 82% of Florida voters support legalizing medical marijuana, while only 16% oppose it.
  • Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services and a potential 2016 Republican Presidential candidate, recently indicated openness to allowing “tightly regulated” medical marijuana.
  • Georgia legislators took a step towards easing laws restricting medical marijuana when the Georgia House approved a measure that would allow people suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment, glaucoma and some seizure disorders to take products derived from cannabis oil to ease their symptoms.
  • Various bills have been introduced in the South Carolina legislature that would legalize some forms of medical marijuana.

Commercial landlords around the country may look at these developments and see medical marijuana clinics or retail marijuana shops as attractive tenants to fill vacant spaces. However, while states may be loosening marijuana restrictions, the drug remains illegal at the federal level. The Obama administration has indicated that it will not challenge these state laws and just recently enacted new regulations which would allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses operating legally under state laws, but there is no certainty that a successor administration will take the same position. This disconnect between state and federal laws has kept medical marijuana shops from deducting operating expenses from their federal income taxes, thus slashing their profits. It remains to be seen whether marijuana related retailers will be viable tenants.

Related topics: Compliance, Retail