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Pot Topics: Rauner signs ‘Ashley’s Law;’ More cannabis jobs in Illinois

Pot Topics is a weekly look at all the cannabis-related news in Chicago and around the country. | AP file photo

Pot Topics is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s what’s happening this week in Chicago and around the country:

  • Gov. Rauner signs bill allowing school children to use medical cannabis
  • Nevada cannabis sales have already surpassed year-end projections
  • Studies show Oregon has a weed oversupply, while Colorado has a well-balanced market
  • Michigan Democrats hope marijuana legalization measure will activate the youth vote
  • Study finds that more cannabis jobs are opening up in here in Chicago and around the state of Illinois

Rauner OKs allowing medical cannabis for students at school

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law Wednesday allowing parents to administer medical cannabis to eligible children while they’re at school.

The law allows parents or guardians to give kids a “cannabis-infused product” on school property or a school bus if both the parent and child have been cleared by the state’s medical marijuana law. It also authorizes a school to prohibit cannabis if administrators determine that the drug would create a “disruption to the school’s educational environment” or expose other students to it.

In February, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, introduced the measure, which was dubbed “Ashley’s Law” for 12-year-old Ashley Surin, who uses cannabis to treat epileptic seizures related to a leukemia diagnosis.

Ashley’s parents sued the state of Illinois and Schaumburg School District 54 in January after she was barred from class for medicating with the drug. A federal judge ultimately ruled in favor of the family in April.

Ashley’s Law garnered bipartisan support in the Legislature, passing the House in April in a 99-1 vote and gaining approval from the Senate the following month in a 50-2 vote.

On Friday, Ashley Surin’s mother, Maureen Surin, was still ecstatic about the governor’s decision to sign off on the bill.

“With bipartisan support for ‘Ashley’s Law,’ our daughter and all Illinois schoolchildren are now able to have access to a quality education while regulating their illnesses on school grounds,” she said.

1st year of Nevada marijuana sales smokes expectations

Nevada regulators and industry insiders say the state’s first year of broad marijuana legalization has exceeded even their highest expectations, with sales and tax collections already surpassing year-end projections by 25 percent.

Numbers from June are still outstanding but are expected to push taxable sales past $500 million, netting total tax revenue in the neighborhood of $70 million — with about $25 million devoted to schools.

“I think it has been a huge success, and I don’t see how anyone could argue with that,” said Andrew Jolley, president of the Nevada Dispensary Association.

A legal battle over distribution licenses made for a rocky start last July, but Nevada’s $195 million in sales for the first six months dwarfed the totals in Washington state ($67 million) and Colorado ($114 million) for the first half-year of legal sales in those states in 2014. And so far, there’s no sign legal sales that began in California on Jan. 1 have cut into business in neighboring Nevada, regulators say.

“We are viewed by many others outside Nevada as essentially being the gold standard,” Nevada Taxation Department Director William Anderson told The Associated Press. “It’s an often-used term, but it’s appropriate here.”

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat who helped lead the legalization effort, added the “biggest surprise has been that there have been no surprises.”

But not all the reviews are glowing.

Some medical marijuana patients insist they were better off before Nevada legalized recreational pot. Tourists still have nowhere to legally smoke the drug, at least for now, and opponents remain skeptical of the impact on children.

Nevada’s Public Safety Department plans to release early data on the trends in the next few weeks.

Studies show Oregon has weed oversupply, Colorado hits the mark

Two of the first states to broadly legalize marijuana took different approaches to regulation that left Oregon with a vast oversupply and Colorado with a well-balanced market. But in both states prices for bud have plummeted.

A new Oregon report by law enforcement found nearly 70 percent of the legal recreational marijuana grown goes unsold, while an unrelated state-commissioned Colorado study found most growers there are planting less than half of their legal allotment — and still meeting demand.

The reports offer case studies for California and other pot-friendly states as they ramp up their legal pot industries. They also underscore some key differences in how broad legalization was handled that have helped shape differently evolving markets in each state.

The Oregon study released by the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area — a coalition of local, state and federal agencies — includes the medical and general-use markets and the illegal market, despite gaps in data on illicit marijuana grows.

It noted Oregon still has a serious problem with out-of-state trafficking and black market grows — and the top federal law enforcement officer in Oregon demanded more cooperation from state and local officials Thursday in a strident statement.

“What is often lost in this discussion is the link between marijuana and serious, interstate criminal activity. Overproduction is rampant, and the illegal transport of product out-of-state — a violation of both state and federal law — continues unchecked,” said Billy Williams, U.S. Attorney for Oregon. “It’s time for the state to wake up, slow down and address these issues in a responsible and thoughtful manner.”

The Colorado study, released Thursday, focuses on the legal, general-use market, and researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s business school and a Denver consulting firm had access to state tracking data to produce the first-of-its-kind analysis.

Colorado sales of broadly legalized marijuana began in 2014, roughly two years before Oregon allowed marijuana to be sold at non-medical retail stores. From the beginning, Colorado had stricter regulations for its growers than Oregon did.

Michigan Democrats hope pot measure brings out youth vote

AP file photo
AP file photo

As both parties continue pumping funds into the 2018 race, Michigan Democrats hope to cash in on another kind of green.

A proposal to legalize marijuana will be on Michigan’s November ballot, putting the state on the cusp of allowing recreational use of the drug for those 21 and older. If approved, Michigan would become the 10th state and the first in the Midwest to allow its recreational use.

The ballot measure could also entice more younger voters to show up to the polls, which likely would help the Democrats. And in Michigan’s first general election in two years, the lure of legal weed could be a surprise tool for the minority party to redeem itself in a battleground state that narrowly swung to President Donald Trump in 2016.

One of the ballot’s committee leaders, Jeff Hank, said the initiative is nonpartisan but that Michigan politicians running on anti-marijuana messaging — all of whom are Republicans — should beware.

“It’s the most sensible thing to do,” Hank said. “Politicians who don’t support this proposal are on the wrong side of history, and that’s too bad.”

Having a cannabis-injected voter bump is an easy gift for Michigan Democrats, who by and large support legalizing marijuana as a civil liberty, a criminal justice reform and a fertile source of tax revenue. It also helps that legalizing marijuana, a once-fringe issue associated with the anti-war counterculture movement, has quickly solidified into a lasting political cause.

Two years ago, the share of Americans living in a state with recreational marijuana laws swelled to almost a quarter of the country, thanks to successful 2016 election ballot initiatives in four states that raised the total to nine states plus the District of Columbia. Thirty-one states have legalized medical marijuana, including Michigan, which has allowed it for a decade.

Legalizing recreational marijuana boasts a 61 percent approval rating among Michiganders, according to EPIC-MRA polling. The partisan breakdown showed three-fourths of both Democrats and independents favor legalization, while just under half of Republican respondents approve.

“It’s likely to increase participation among young voters, who are very Democratic,” EPIC-MRA president Bernie Porn said.

Study shows increased opportunities in Illinois’ medical pot business

A study published last week by jobs aggregation site Joblift shows there are increasing opportunities in the state’s medical cannabis business.

The study, which used 3,367 cannabis jobs postings from across the country, found that overall growth in the sector is outpacing the national average.

In Illinois, there were 128 postings in the first half of this year, more than doubling the amount of postings from the last half of 2017.

There were also more job opportunities in Chicago’s cannabis industry. In the first of 2018, there were 63 postings for cannabis jobs in the city, compared to 27 postings during the final six months of last year.

In Chicago, the majority of postings were for marketers (10 percent), graphic designers (6 percent) and skilled medical professionals (5 percent), while the most in-demand statewide jobs were for patient representatives (12 percent), dispensary general managers (five percent) and marketers (four percent).

According to the analysis, there were 13 cannabis jobs available per 100,000 Illinoisans.

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

  • Mission cannabis dispensary and the Chicago Public Library host a free medical cannabis information session at 6 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St.
  • Mission cannabis dispensary and the Chicago Public Library host a free medical cannabis information session at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Coleman Branch, 731 E. 63rd St.
  • The Will County Veterans Assistance Commission and the Midwest Compassion Center host a cannabis education event at 10 a.m. Aug. 9 at 2400 Glenwood Ave. Suite 110 in Joliet.
  • Modern Cannabis hosts a “Get a Card” event at 10 a.m. Aug. 11 at Emporium Wicker Park, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Mission cannabis dispensary and the Chicago Public Library host a free medical cannabis information session at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the South Shore Branch, 2505 E. 73rd St.

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