Law and Politics
Insights from across the cannabis industry
Law and Politics
Recreational use of cannabis has been legalized in Canada, but it isn't quite the legalization advocates have long fought for. In November 2017, Parliament passed the Cannabis Act (C-45) to fully legalize cannabis for all uses in the country. When it goes into effect October 17, it will make Canada the second nation in the world to do so, after Uruguay. Legalization coming to Canada is bittersweet (or even just plain bitter) for the small-scale businesses and activists that have worked to pave the way for this moment and are now getting shut out of the legal industry. Because Canada already has had a publicly-traded and federally legal medical marijuana market since 2013, it is on course to dominate the global marijuana trade at the expense of locally owned small businesses everywhere. From Compassionate Use to Capitalist Use In 2001, Canada became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana for medical use. Like similar legislation passed in California five years earlier, patients could grow their own or designate another grower to do it for them. In this way, Canada’s “designated growers,” or “DG’s,” had a similar rise in early medical markets to “collectives” and “caregivers” that were directly serving patients in the U.S. Canada’s road to legalization has mirrored that of its southern neighbors’ in many ways, but with one notable exception; sweeping federal medical legislation paved the way for Canada to corporatize the industry while maintaining a criminal element and securing domination in the global marijuana trade. In 2013, influenced by the momentum generated by the recent passage of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, the Conservative government under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper passed the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The MMPR replaced the smaller-scale DG’s, often criticized as being a front for organized crime, with large-scale corporate Licensed Producers (LPs). Because LPs have been legal cannabis producers nationwide in Canada since 2013, they have been public entities for just as long. When Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau was challenging Harper in the 2015 elections, he vowed to legalize marijuana nationwide “right away” if elected. In 2016, the Liberal government began discussing plans to carry out the campaign promise and, in November 2017, approved C-45, set to go into effect October 17. %related-post-1% Because LP’s will now be serving an adult use market the size of California, there has been a rush of mergers and acquisitions in Canada and the U.S. as global investors seek to stake their claim on these foundational global markets. State-legal companies profiting from the sale of cannabis have been unable to make the leap to Wall Street in the U.S. and many have joined forces or sold out entirely to Canadian LPs with Wall Street ambitions when federal law changes stateside. In February of this year, Toronto-based Cronos Group (CRON) became the first Canadian corporation to be listed on the NASDAQ, marking a milestone for Wall Street. Cronos also has research holdings in Israel and makes pharmaceutical cannabis products, an industry that has been brewing in Canada since the MMPR and the looming FDA approval of GW Pharmaceuticals Epidiolex in the U.S. market. In March, Cronos acquired California-based MedMen, a billion-dollar company with a corner on the Los Angeles market, now the largest adult use marijuana market in the world. Cronos plans to roll out the MedMen brand in Canada when C-45 goes into effect. Until recently, Cronos has boasted that it had the largest marijuana cultivation facility in the world at 315,000 square feet. In February, Canopy Growth Corporation (WEED) announced an over 1 million square foot facility in British Columbia. Other competitors may seek to top that ahead of the October roll out as well. In the meantime, patients have suffered from lack of access to DG’s, and small businesses have been shut out of the legal market, meaning the multi-generation growers in places like British Columbia will remain outlaws after legalization takes effect and will potentially face stiffer penalties than before if caught. Not Legal Enough The grassroots activists who paved the way for the Canada’s C-45 aren’t exactly thrilled. Just as in the United States, medical or adult use cannabis legislation has often come at a big cost to the small businesses and compassion communities that drove the issue into the mainstream. “Cannabis legalization should be about civil liberties, not about making big money on the stock market,” says well-known Canadian activist Jodie Emery. Emery was speaking to Global News Canada from a 420 celebration this year in Vancouver, British Columbia, about why the work isn’t done and they will still be practicing peaceful protest next 420. “420 will definitely be a protest as long as there is still stigma and discrimination against people for cannabis. Even if the federal government legalizes it, their legislation actually introduces tougher penalties, so everything that happens here today will still be illegal next year. That’s why we have to keep protesting,” Emery said. Canadian legalization does not take place until October 17, and not a minute before. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear that, right now, there is no plan to retroactively remove marijuana offenses and there will be no stop to arrests and prosecutions until legal sales begin this fall. %related-post-2% “We recognize that anyone who is currently purchasing marijuana is participating in illegal activity that is funding criminal organizations and street gangs. Once the law is changed, we will, of course, reflect on fairness in a way that is responsible going forward, and therefore we do not want to encourage in any way people to engage in that behavior until the law is changed,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in January. Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard echos activist Jodie Emery’s sentiments, “Canada is taking a much more convoluted and outdated approach [than some American states].” Picard points out that the current Controlled Drugs and Substances act only lists eight cannabis-related offenses, while C-45 will have 45, “and many penalties will be far stiffer.” But he warns most importantly about the new “illicit cannabis” classification. “The new law will also create something called ‘illicit cannabis’ – covering all products that are not purchased in a provincially-regulated store, or grown legally. If you distribute "illicit cannabis" to a minor, i.e. share a joint with a teenager or sell them a bit of pot, you could face a $15,000 fine and 18 months in prison for a summary offence and up to 14 years in prison for an indictable offence. By comparison, selling liquor to a minor will land you a maximum fine of $10,000 in most provinces,” Picard writes. He says it is especially problematic in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, where “they are creating a state-run monopoly.” And therein lies the rub. Canada isn’t decriminalizing and de-scheduling cannabis, it is regulating a commercial market while retaining the right to arrest people. It’s the same model as adult use legalization in the United States, and while possessing legally produced cannabis will be legal, this isn’t the legalization advocates have fought for.
While the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal in Luxembourg, the use of medical marijuana is now legal — but only for a few patients. Luxembourg allowed the sales of Sativex for multiple sclerosis patients back in 2012. It took the government until the end of 2017, however, to announce plans for a pilot project, and roughly seven more months for the nation’s Chamber of Deputies to agree to a bill legalizing medical marijuana — barely. The new law, passed June 28, makes the use of medical marijuana legal for patients with chronic pain, nausea as a result of chemotherapy, or multiple sclerosis causing muscle spasms. Everyone else — like epilepsy patients, for example — will have to wait. Even if patients are legally allowed use medical marijuana, getting their hands on it might prove difficult. The drug will only be available at a few Luxembourg hospital pharmacies, which will likely make it difficult for some patients to acquire their medicine — especially if they are too sick to travel far. In order to supply these pharmacies, hospitals in will order cannabis from Canada. %related-post-1% Dr. Jean Colombera, who was investigated for allegedly prescribing cannabis-based drugs in Luxembourg in 2012, and who supports wider legalization of medical marijuana in the country, says the current law is too conservative. “I have the impression it will only be used for people whose illnesses are too advanced… For me it should be used well before they reach this stage,” he told Delano. “Cannabis medicines can be used to treat a far larger number of illnesses…for example, if you’ve problems sleeping or depression or pain.” The doctor is correct: Many other patients could, indeed, benefit from medical cannabis. And thankfully for them, the law will be reviewed in two years, at which point other health conditions might be added to the list. Elsewhere in Europe While frustrating, Luxembourg’s slow pace toward legalization mirrors the rest of Europe. The Netherlands and Switzerland have legalized medical cannabis, and make it easy for patients to get their medicine, but France only allows a few patients to use Marinol, and raw forms of marijuana are strictly prohibited. Other countries, like Romania, authorize marijuana for medical purposes, but patients can run into a few obstacles in getting their drugs — likely because researchers and entrepreneurs aren’t interested in serving them. Bulgaria, Slovakia, and the Baltic countries don’t allow any form of medical cannabis, whether it be in raw form or a synthetic substitute. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
While England’s medical marijuana laws are very strict — and will probably remain that way for the time being — change could be just around the corner. Right now, British police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 (about US$ 119) to anyone found with cannabis. While English law doesn’t recognize cannabis as having any therapeutic value — meaning all cannabis use is seen as recreational — Sativex can be prescribed and used in some cases. Most commonly used by multiple sclerosis patients, Sativex contains non-synthetic cannabinoids. Cannabis in any other form is currently (and strictly) prohibited in England. But a recent incident involving a 12-year-old boy could spur change very soon. The boy, who had been featured in British newspapers after he travelled to the United States to obtain CBD to treat his severe epilepsy, had his CBD seized by airport authorities upon returning to England. as a result, the boy suffered severe seizures which required him to be hospitalized. This is only one of many stories of (young) patients in Great Britain who could benefit from medical marijuana to treat medical conditions or alleviate associated symptoms. Time for Change Later this month (July 2018), doctors in Great Britain will be allowed to order medical marijuana for their patients in exceptional cases. The rules will remain very strict, as there must be “exceptional clinical need” — though it’s still not clear what will, or will not be, considered as exceptional clinical need. All we know is that the doctor must be able to proof that the patient can not be helped by any other form of medication. Despite the positive developments, however, doctors ordering cannabis would have to accept “full responsibility for risks and liability.” Also, as medical marijuana will be something new in England, many doctors will likely lack training and knowledge about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. As a result, it might become hard for patients to find physicians willing to take the risk of being held responsible in case something goes wrong. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
There is a creeping contention that legalization has made medical marijuana less important or less relevant. None of this is true. In Colorado, America’s first home for marijuana legalization and possibly one of the most permissive atmospheres for marijuana on the planet, medical cannabis is having a tough time. In June, shunning the desires of parents with autistic children camped outside his office, Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill passed by the state Legislature that would have added autism to the list of conditions qualifying someone for legal medical cannabis access. As with nearly every other condition for which marijuana has been shown to provide relief, the proof that cannabis can “treat” autism is almost entirely anecdotal. There are clinical trials underway in Israel, and pushes to fund similar studies in the United States. Still, what literature there is in America does note several instances where cannabis products seemed to improve symptoms. Medical cannabis can easily be stuck forever in circular logic — if it’s not researched, it’s “not medical,” but if it’s not legal, it can’t be researched. Bad Presidential Precedent Recognizing the faulty thought pattern inherent to the situation — plus repeated insistence from parents, who went ahead and gave their children cannabis out of desperation, that it in fact works — doctors in other states like New Jersey have signaled their approval to allow people with Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s, and other brain afflictions not unlike autism to have cannabis as an available treatment option. This is an ongoing issue in a delicate balance. As Leafly reported, only five states allow autistic people to legally access full-plant cannabis medications — and Colorado will not be added to that list anytime soon. Citing “concerns” from the “medical community” — which includes some mainstream doctors who have opposed medical marijuana at nearly every turn — Hickenlooper also echoed his own obvious reservations towards marijuana. “If we sign that bill we end up, without question, in some way encouraging more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems,” he said, according to The Denver Post. %related-post-1% Hickenlooper has presidential aspirations, and some see his continuing reluctance to embrace cannabis — he opposed marijuana legalization way back in 2012, you may recall, and was telling reporters as recently as 2014 that legalization was “reckless,” and that if he “could wave a magic wand” and make it go away, he could — as a way to shore up his law-and-order credentials with on-the-fence moderates and conservatives. But in the meantime, he is causing problems for medical cannabis’s continued existence and its necessary progress in the mainstream medical community — which is still in the very early stages, let’s not forget! — and is setting bad precedent other elected officials who would prefer cannabis remain illegal in any context (or, barring that, very hard to obtain) will almost certainly follow. An Over-the-counter Counterargument Only 93,000 people in Colorado are registered marijuana patients. This should not be interpreted to mean that medical marijuana is not popular or does not exist — just that most people for whom cannabis provides relief would just as soon not bother with a doctor’s visit before a trip to the dispensary. Anyone who buys basic medical supplies can surely understand this — just as they can surely understand why it’s silly to require a physician’s note before a purchase of Advil or over-the-counter cough medication, and that the fact that a doctor’s review was not necessary is somehow sign that the cold or headache tonics are somehow “not medical.” Yet that’s the argument you often hear, that somehow medical marijuana is going away or losing its grip. This may be true in terms of overall sales, but that cannot then be distorted to prop up bunk arguments that medical cannabis is “going away” or in any other way invalid. %related-post-2% Marijuana legalization sounds great for anyone involved in marijuana, but it’s not a given. Far from it: In Washington, cannabis patients were left scrambling for supply and emptying their wallets when they could find it thanks to the state’s legalization bill, which was slanted heavily towards regulating an adult-use market. Fair enough — legalization is good, and in most cases, it should be regulated — but it cannot be at the expense or hindrance of medical. The good news is that most voters in most places get this. Look at Oklahoma, where, according to former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Colorado’s legalization was causing untold problems. There, voters just approved what the Washington Post called “one of the most progressive” medical-cannabis laws in the country! That’s good! But, as Hickenlooper’s attitude in a marijuana-friendly place shows, it’s far from a given. Medical cannabis is real, necessary, and important. We need to remember that, and remind everyone else who can’t or won’t.
There are plenty of reasons why people want to legalize weed. And there of plenty of reasons why people want cannabis to remain criminalized. The reality, however, is that there are several distinct — and rather obvious— economic benefits of legalizing weed. These benefits are already noticeable in states that have already legalized recreation cannabis, like Colorado and Oregon. Let’s jump in and take a look at some of the most compelling economic reasons to legalize weed. Revenue, Revenue, Revenue We’ll start by stating this point plainly. Based on recent estimates, legalizing marijuana in the United States could raise more than $131 billion in tax revenue. Yes, billion. This data was compiled by an organization called New Frontier Data that specializes in vetting and analyzing unbiased data in the cannabis industry. Although tax rates are always subject to change, but clearly the data shows the government could benefit from billions of dollars they are currently completely missing out on. An Eye On Employment In states where cannabis is legalized, one of the biggest benefits has come in the form of reduced unemployment rates. For example, Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012. As of 2015, the state’s newest industry had generated $2.4 billion in economic activity and a whopping 18,000 new full-time jobs. From farmers and trimmers to dispensary staff and budtenders, legalization means more jobs for people handling and selling weed — and that’s just the people directly handling cannabis. One of the added benefits of legalized cannabis is the industries and businesses that pop up to support the farms and needs of retail organizations, including insurance and technology firms. Lower Law Enforcement Costs It's no secret that the war on drugs has been costly and less than effective. With prisons across the country facing overcrowding and federal marijuana enforcement costing more than $3 billion a year according to the American Civil Liberties Union, decriminalizing weed could drastically reduce government spending, not including court costs. What are your thoughts on legalization? Let us know.
Unlicensed marijuana producers and sellers haven’t gone away, even in areas with a regulated market, leading to a decision: Shun them or continue to patronize? In most cases, you shouldn’t have a problem with continuing to buy from “your guy.” Lost in the outrage over “Permit Patty,” the white owner of a San Francisco-based medical marijuana tincture company who called the police on an 8-year-old black girl for selling bottled water, was the inherent irony of the situation. Not too long before Treatwell Health CEO Alison Ettel destroyed her brand and her career in the nascent cannabis industry with her ill-advised phone call, she was in a nearly identical position: making and selling cannabis products without any government regulation or approval. And though Ettel has since announced her departure from the company — which may not yet survive after a slew of California dispensaries announced they had severed ties with the disgraced brand — you could make an argument that Treatwell still isn’t fully permitted. Though Treatwell does have a pair of manufacturing permits from the state of California, according to records, medical cannabis is still not officially approved for use on animals — the target market for most of Treatwell’s products. The arrangement nonetheless (until lately) had generated nothing but positive press for the company. It’s “kind of like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Etttel explained to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015. %related-post-1% The saga illustrates an ongoing concern within the marijuana industry. Not “should you call the cops on black people not committing crimes” — you should really, really, not ever do that, in case it weren’t blindingly obvious — but to what standards the cannabis industry should be held, and what standards marijuana consumers should demand. And the answer — and whether you, the marijuana user, should turn your back on “black-market” cannabis forever, and only demand regulated product from now until forever — is not as easy or as obvious as you may think. The Permit Problem Nearly everywhere cannabis is sold, sellers and manufacturers need a permit from some kind of licensing authority. That seems reasonable, given cannabis is a psychoactive drug with the potential to cause some harm (even though, by almost every metric, the benefits far outweigh any problems). But not every cannabis maker can qualify for a permit. They might be making edibles in a kitchen that’s not zoned for commercial use. They might be growing cannabis on a hillside that was graded incorrectly or is too close to a watershed. They might not be able to afford a permit. They could be the nice old hippie couple next door. They could be your friend from school. They could be your kids’ friends. There is a nearly endless list of possible permutations of a basic situation: Someone operating in good faith, doing things “the right way” with good intentions as well as good business practices and ethics, but for the lack of an official piece of paper attesting to the fact. Such cannabis is by default “black market,” even if the name conjures up the wrong connotations and is so broad as to capture pesticide-contaminated weed grown by stone-cold criminals in the same bucket as the edibles baked by your weird aunt in the same imperfect bucket. Further confusing the situation is the fact that such cannabis may be the only or the best available cannabis, even in an otherwise regulated market. In California, the tax toll at licensed dispensaries is so high that cannabis users — many of whom are low-income sick or disabled people, let’s not forget — have turned to underground sales out of sheer necessity. %related-post-2% So there it is. Maybe it’s “your guy” you’ve been buying from since forever. Maybe it’s someone you met at a sesh, or — hell — maybe you’re just buying an edible at the music festival. Should you? And either way, is it a problem? The simplest answer seems to be some version of “not necessarily — and the black market could, in fact, be mostly okay — but more information and context is needed.” A Question of Fairness One of the great consumer benefits offered by marijuana legalization is a continuous supply of lab-tested, regulator-approved product. Prior to legalization, contamination from toxins like pesticides even in established markets like California were endemic. But that’s no guarantee — in both Canada and in Colorado, even after pesticides were limited or banned outright from cannabis, they appeared in products sold on the legal market. In a way, this is a question of ideology. In another, it’s fairness. Cannabis was banned by the government for so long — what’s it to them that someone’s now exercising a right no libertarian would deny them? Why should the government be able to intrude into the affairs of the same people it sought to jail for decades — and if “Big Pot” backed by venture capital has a creeping monopoly, shouldn’t “the little guy” get a shot, in the same way that you can sell tomatoes from your garden at a farmer’s market or — dare we say — lemonade or water on a street corner? At the same time, if other producers go through an oft-laborious process and do everything “right,” why should shirkers be tolerated? And how can consumers, who may very well be very sick, be given a guarantee without the government’s stamp of approval? It’s hard to see the harm posed to anyone by selling water without a permit. A bottle of water is not a bag of weed, but there is an honest analogy to be made. Is the unlicensed cannabis product safe? Is the producer taking care of the environment—and is it the best or even just the preferred product available to the consumer? It may seem odd for a blog on a delivery company’s website to argue this, but given the totality of the circumstances, the black-market may be the best option, no matter what other blithely unaware Permit Pattys may say.
The surging legal marijuana industry could really benefit from traditional access to the banking industry. Unfortunately, the Senate disagrees. Americans’ support for marijuana legalization has never been higher. More than half of U.S. states legally allow cannabis in some form, and the nation’s current $6.7 billion cannabis industry is projected to balloon to $21 billion just three years from now. Despite this unprecedented momentum, however, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, which has forced those in the legal marijuana industry to deal almost entirely in cash. Introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, an amendment attached to a federal finance bill would have given the industry with access to banking services, but it was shot down by a U.S. Senate Appropriations committee on June 21 by a vote of 21-10. A parallel amendment failed in the House the week before. As we’ve outlined previously, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) oversees financial institutions, and since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, banks that do business with marijuana companies could expose themselves to money-laundering or racketeering charges under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In 2014, the Obama Administration issued revised guidelines that loosened the restrictions somewhat, but virtually all banks kept their distance, still fearful of serving canna-businesses. The amendment introduced by Merkley would have protected banks and other financial institutions from legal concerns, but the Senate panel’s no vote keeps both banks and state-legal pot businesses in legal and financial limbo. Until positive legislation is passed, buying — and selling — legal cannabis will be needlessly complicated, and legal marijuana businesses will remain prime targets for violent criminals. “The real losers from this action are our communities, who will remain less safe because of the cash that remains on the streets instead of in the bank,” Kenneth Berke, co-founder of cannabis payment and banking technology company PayQwick, told Marijuana Business Daily. “With so much of the country in favor of legal cannabis, it’s mind-boggling that our elected representatives remain unwilling to pass desperately needed legislation.” Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
Could the blatant contradictions of federal drug policies that categorize the cannabis plant as dangerous — but now consider the plant's most active compounds as safe — spur lasting change in federal cannabis policy? Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved GW Pharmaceuticals’s Epidiolex (Cannabidiol), ushering in a new and controversial era of cannabis medicine. Unlike prior pharmaceutical drugs based on synthesized compounds in cannabis, Epidiolex is a standardized plant extract designed to deliver a consistent dose of the sought-after “no-high” cannabinoid CBD. Epidiolex has not yet been scheduled, but has been approved for use in rare treatment-resistant epilepsy diagnoses such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. In a press release announcing the approval, GW says it expects to be scheduled and available for prescription within 90 days. It is possible that in the future it could be prescribed for off-label use. The cost is still to be determined. “These patients deserve and will soon have access to a cannabinoid medicine that has been thoroughly studied in clinical trials, manufactured to assure quality and consistency, and available by prescription under a physician’s care,” Justin Gover, GW’s Chief Executive Officer said in the press statement. A Long-Awaited Approval This approval has been both anticipated and feared in the cannabis community. The anticipators include the epilepsy community — especially those in states where medical cannabis is illegal — as well as investors and speculators, who have been hyping GW’s stock as the approval has loomed on the horizon. The fearful include activists and West Coast patient communities that see the approval of these drugs as the true end of state compassion programs. The decision also further highlights the federal government’s hypocritical cannabis policy, which views the whole cannabis plant as Schedule I with no accepted medical use yet has now approved a single plant derivative as medically efficacious. While much of the justification to prohibit cannabis has been the presence of the high-inducing THC, synthetic THC has actually been an FDA-approved Schedule III drug since 1985. The blatant contradictions of a policy that categorizes the plant as dangerous and its most active compounds, THC and CBD, as safe is already being used by advocates to push for federal change in cannabis policy. In a pre-emptive statement, the FDA immediately rebutted that claim and used the opportunity instead to stress the importance of clinical trials on isolated compounds saying: “This product approval demonstrates that advancing sound scientific research to investigate ingredients derived from marijuana can lead to important therapies. … This is an important medical advance. But it’s also important to note that this is not an approval of marijuana or all of its components. This is the approval of one specific CBD medication for a specific use. And it was based on well-controlled clinical trials evaluating the use of this compound in the treatment of a specific condition. Moreover, this is a purified form of CBD. It’s being delivered to patients in a reliable dosage form and through reproducible route of delivery to ensure that patients derive the anticipated benefits. This is how sound medical science is advanced. … It’s a path that is available to other product developers who want to bring forth marijuana-derived products through appropriate drug development programs.” The cannabis plant, even when it contains high amounts of THC, is non-toxic and non-lethal. Educated use is incredibly safe and the worst side effect of uneducated or naive use is anxiety and paranoia. As far as deaths or long-term health damage, cannabis is safer than alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, food additives, and most over-the-counter and prescription medications. Further, researchers have already determined that genetically diverse botanical cannabis markets (such as those in Colorado or on the West Coast) provide better options for patients because of “the entourage effect” and how the plant works in the human body. %related-post-1% Some commercial and home growers may be worrying about how this may impact them growing high-CBD varietals. While GW Pharmaceuticals holds a host of controversial patents on cannabinoid medicines, many farmers are not expressing concern, but those worried about plant patenting are saying now is a good time to protect common use genetics. “The more big pharmaceutical companies that we see coming on to the scene and the more patents that they hold, the harder it will be for everyone else,” says Beth Schecter. Schecter is the executive director of the non-profit Open Cannabis Project, which is currently working to open-source cannabis varietal data to prevent predatory patenting that would threaten genetics farmers are already growing. She says the OCP is sequencing botanical varieties, so extracts and pharmaceutical isolates like Epidiolex fall outside the realm of what they are covering, but more of the industry should be working to open source data before the impending wave of drugs that will follow this approval. She also points to the unfair nature of the foreign research that allowed GW Pharmaceuticals to be the first. In the United States, FDA drug approval costs anywhere from $500 million to billions of dollars. Naturally, only the best-financed firms can afford to research, develop, and market new drugs. In the U.S., in order to study cannabis, researchers must obtain the raw bud to study from the government itself. The government’s bud, grown on a single farm on the University of Mississippi, contains less than a third of the THC content found commercially in legal markets and is notoriously bad. Last year, researchers looking to study cannabis for the treatment of PTSD in war veterans were sent moldy samples to work with, stalling the project. GW Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, is located in Great Britain and enjoys government support and the exclusive legal right to grow large warehouses of botanical high quality cannabis to conduct its research and development. “[Epidiolex] was not subject to U.S. regulation in terms of testing and was able to do better testing than people in the U.S.,” Schecter says. What Does This Mean for the Market? Questions are mounting about the ramifications of the approval on the national CBD market. For Realm of Caring, the company that rode the biggest wave of demand for its high-CBD variety “Charlotte’s Web” after it was featured on CNN in 2013, the approval of Epidiolex is a good thing, but they stress that it is not the same as botanical cannabis. “Many of you ask us what we think about this news,” the company wrote on its social media pages. “We are happy that families will have a pharmaceutical option. History has been made with the first cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical in the U.S. The administration of a whole plant botanical extract is very different than the protocols for an isolated CBD. We look forward to continuing to serve the community as we always have! This means more options for families who don’t have any!” %related-post-2% The stories of children with treatment-resistant epilepsy that emerged in 2013 as a result of the CNN special generated an insatiable demand for “no-high medical marijuana” not just for epileptics, but for patients around the country still uncomfortable with the social stigmas of marijuana use but desperate to try it. Because of confusion and loopholes in federal law, international companies and unregulated small producers have capitalized on the demand for CBD medicines by selling “hemp-derived” CBD products. While there is no technical difference between “hemp” and “marijuana” because they refer to different uses of the same cannabis plant, “hemp” is legally classified as less than 0.3% THC allowing these companies to market their products as “legal.” Not all CBD stakeholders are as positive as Realm of Caring, however. Longtime federal hemp lobbyist Ben Droz told HEMP Magazine, “The federal government could increase enforcement against CBD companies not approved by the FDA, which is to say, everyone besides GW Pharmaceuticals.” The generic name of Epidiolex is simply “cannabidiol.” Whether or not having FDA-approved CBD will spur a crackdown on state-legal producers in medical and legal marijuana markets or ramp up crackdowns on underground producers remains to be seen. The DEA has previously reinforced that CBD is, in fact, not legal federally, but so far they have not cracked down on licensed and regulated producers in medical, recreational, and CBD-only states. They have busted up unregulated oil producers, but not to the extent that it has even made a dent in the supplies of oils being marketed as “hemp CBD” still making their way to consumers around the nation. Ideology, Not Science It’s important to note that the federal government’s policies here are ideological, not scientific, in nature. Much of the current approach to drugs and medicine in the U.S. is still rooted in an ideological belief in “good” and “bad” substances, with little regard to science and actual practical use. Richard DeGrandpre labeled this ideology as “pharmacologicalism” in his book, The Cult of Pharmocology: How America Became the World’s Most Troubled Drug Culture. “Technically speaking, pharmacologicalism, like racism, is an ideological system rooted in a set of assumptions that, although false and exaggerated, govern a whole range of perceptions, understanding and actions,” DeGrandpre writes. The idea that a single plant compound that has been tested in isolation is safer than a natural plant compound taken in the way other plants are consumed is an unproven theory, but one that remains incredibly profitable for pharmaceutical companies and the greater healthcare-industrial complex at large.
For cannabis companies, access to the world export market is the difference between success and wild, untold-of Wolf Of Wall Street-level success. Several years into the legalization era, marijuana remains the world’s most popular illegal drug, a status cannabis enjoys for two obvious reasons: It is popular all around the world, and all around the world, it remains illegal. The reasons why are — almost — just as obvious. Marijuana is popular because it is useful and enjoyable all while being relatively inexpensive and benign. Look at that: a plant with healing qualities and (almost) no hangover. There is no comparison. Yet it remains illegal because — among other reasons — it has taken until now for authorities the world round to admit to those four qualities despite ample data points. But lo, even that is changing, as the World Health Organization is demonstrating — although change is happening at a glacial bureaucratic pace that will almost surely prove too slow for frustrated cannabis entrepreneurs, who meanwhile are desperately seeking access to the final frontier, the Holy Grail of cannabis businesses, the difference between a weed unicorn and a mere “successful company”: access to the international export market. STATE OF THE MARKET At the moment, prohibitionist states have more in common with western European countries. This is because international law resembles American federal law, insofar as whenever an international treaty — such as the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — mentions marijuana, marijuana is classified as a banned narcotic that poses a threat to the health and welfare of the people. That same UN treaty repeatedly mentions cannabis in the same breath as cocaine and heroin — two drugs that have killed many people, compared to a grand total of zero deaths attributable to cannabis “overdose” since the dawn of human history, so clearly, the UN’s attitude on weed is due for a reboot. The WHO realizes this, and its official stance on cannabis is in the process of review — and, one expects, revision. %related-post-1% As Marijuana Moment reported, ahead of a public meeting scheduled for early June, the WHO’s “Expert Committee on Drug Dependence” released some initial “evidentiary findings” about the drug. These findings are what you would expect, in that the committee recognized what most of us already know. As we restated above, cannabis has killed nobody, and has medical benefits for sufferers of pain and cancer or AIDS-related wasting syndrome. The WHO acknowledged this, while also bemoaning the dearth of clinical trials and longitudinal studies — which is what happens when you ban a substance while also making it extremely difficult, time-consuming, and ultimately a waste of time for scientists to study it. Those keeping score at home will note that so far, the WHO’s take on weed — realized after the organization solicited worldwide comment on the drug — is almost identical to the National Academies of Sciences’s review, released in January 2017. WHO IS DRIVING POT POLICY? With such well-accepted and well-known facts trickling out of the world order’s health experts at a snail’s pace — the weed version of Chinese water torture — it is little wonder, then, that the WHO’s findings have already been oversold by the overzealous or the unscrupulous. Some of them have been claiming since last December — when another WHO committee found that CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, was nonpsychoactive — that the WHO has declared medical marijuana viable and safe, which it has not. It bears mentioning that the UN treaty on cannabis has never dictated national policy — at least not directly. It wasn’t the UN that compelled Richard Nixon to sign the Controlled Substances Act into law — and the UN didn’t do anything to stop or penalize Canada from legalizing recreational marijuana, or shipping it to eager patients and researchers in Germany, Australia, Croatia, and a handful of other countries. To put it another way: The UN is behind the times on drug-control policy. The lag is so bad that member countries have decided it’s better to buck the international order and pursue their own drug-policy reform, even if it violates the very treaties to which they are held — in theory, at least legally. But here’s the main thing: The UN has also demonstrated that it’s not interested in enforcing those international treaties. Its main enforcer, the muscle using threats of economic penury as its carrot and stick, was the United States—a country whose states are making an open mockery of its official policy. %related-post-2% Would a change in the United Nations’s attitude towards marijuana shift the US federal government’s attitudes? Could it, when uber-isolationist and renown UN-hater John Bolton is feeding Donald Trump policy advice? Probably not — but here, at least, is where the US matters less than the UN. The WHO is due to deliver policy recommendations to the UN secretary-general. There does not appear to be any way, scientifically or politically, that the WHO could justify the status quo — and the UN’s current secretary general, António Guterres, is the former prime minister of Portugal, where the drug (and all others) were successfully decriminalized. If cannabis comes before Guterres, it seems almost certain he will approve a weakening of the UN’s current draconian approach. That will accelerate countries’ already swift embrace of cannabis. That will be great for Canadian companies on the export market — and that, in turn, will compel American firms sick of having their country hobble their growth to demand a change in kind. That, more so than the cosmopolitan eggheads at the WHO, will trigger an update in US policy. But it has to start somewhere — and if those same eggheads finally come around to embracing weed, you know where things are headed.
Despite the unprecedented progress the legal marijuana industry has seen in recent years, some U.S. states are still refusing to fully legalize weed — even for medical consumption. As we’ve outlined previously, medical cannabis creates jobs, generates tax revenue, shrinks the black market, and reduces crime. It’s biggest benefit, however, is the relief it provides to millions of people suffering from numerous medical conditions. Unfortunately, while numerous states have legalized medical marijuana in recent years, others remain unswayed. Here are five of the worst states to live in if you need medical marijuana to help treat an illness or medical condition: Indiana Indiana might just be the worst state to live in if you need medical marijuana, as only a few patients with epilepsy are allowed to use CBD oil — and this minuscule bit of access didn’t go into effect until 2017, long after other states acknowledged the benefits of medical marijuana. While Indiana lawmaker voted to study the issue of legalizing weed earlier this year, the state is a long way away from doing so — if it ever does. Georgia Georgia has a confusing policy when it comes to medical marijuana. While they recently expanded their list of qualifying conditions, there’s a problem: The state doesn’t have a distribution system. Patients who need medical marijuana are forced to find the drug on their own — which is hard to do when, again, the production and sale of medical cannabis is illegal. Mississippi Lawmakers in Mississippi have little interest in even talking about legalization, and only patients suffering from severe epilepsy are allowed to use medical marijuana. Alabama The Alabama Medical Marijuana law gives legal protection to patients with severe illnesses and conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, cerebral palsy, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you need medical cannabis containing a high level of THC, you probably shouldn’t be living in Alabama. Wyoming Wyoming has very strict laws when it comes to cannabis. While a 2015 law allows the very limited use of CBD oil, medical marijuana is illegal and pretty much impossible to obtain. The Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative, which would have legalized the cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana for medical purposes, failed to make this year’s ballot just as it did in 2016. (Dis)honorable Mentions The list doesn’t stop there. Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Kentucky are also behind the times when it comes to medical marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana patients in each of these states continue to struggle to get the medicine they need, and the chances of recreational pot being made legal any time soon is pretty much out of the question.
California started 2018 by legalizing recreational weed, and a few states might follow its lead before year's end. For those wanting or needing legal marijuana, times have never been better. Recreational cannabis is legal in nine states and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states. More Americans — including, for the first time, a majority of Republicans — support legalization than ever before, and a growing number of lawmakers are coming around to the idea of legalization. Lawmakers support legal weed for a variety of reasons. Many cite the drug’s ability to help people coping with myriad illnesses. Others cite the revenue it can generate for rehabilitation programs, schools, roads, and other community projects. Still more support for all of the above. Despite this forward progress on pot, however, marijuana in all forms is still illegal in more than 20 states. But hat number could soon change. Let's take a look at three states that might be legalizing weed sometime this year: Michigan Medical marijuana is already legal in Michigan, which is often considered as a first step towards legalization of recreational weed. This could be the case for Michigan because, at the end of 2018, legalization of recreational marijuana will be put on the ballot. More than 365,000 signatures have been gathered to get the initiative on there. How many more are willing to make weed legal? Oklahoma Marijuana in all forms is currently illegal in the Sooner State. Only the use of medical cannabis with a very low level of THC is currently allowed. On June 26, however, Oklahomans will vote on Oklahoma State Question 788, referred to as the Medical Cannabis Initiative. If Question 788 passes, stronger strains of medical marijuana — weed containing high levels of THC, and not only CBD — would become legal. New Jersey While New Jersey legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2010, only 18,000 people are currently using the drug as there are only five authorized dispensaries in the state. The state’s new governor, Phil Murphy, has not only moved to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, but he says he’d also like to see recreational weed legalized and taxed by the end of the year. The only question is whether he can overcome polls that show a lack of public support, as well as members of his own Democratic party, who don’t see eye to eye on the matter of legalization.
America’s fatal overdose apocalypse is opening minds to cannabis — and resurrecting the absolute worst and most punitive drug-war attitudes. Last month, as most of the internet-connected world was witnessing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg alternately charm, dodge, and bamboozle Congress, another hearing was underway nearby — one that could potentially affect more people more strongly. The Hearing You Didn't Hear About Less splashy and less shareable than a semi-investigation into social media’s toxic effect on our democracy, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Defeating Fentanyl,” the synthetic opioid blamed for the steep increase in fatal opiate overdoses over the last few years of the crisis, was arguably more important for some of the very places Zuckerberg had taken pains to visit during his carefully choreographed tour of America the preceding year. It was certainly more immediately relevant. While it is no longer possible to claim that, unlike prescription opiates, “at least Facebook hasn’t gotten anyone killed,” surely it’s true that fentanyl kills more Americans than are killed by likes and shares — even shares of patently false or inflammatory hate speech. Fatal drug overdoses eclipsed the 60,000 mark in 2016, with the rate of overdoses due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids doubling. It was a counterfeit pain pill laced with fentanyl — fentanyl easily obtained over the internet from black-market supplies — that killed Prince, and tens of thousands. %related-post-1% The take that “drug overdoses are bad” is neither fresh nor hot. Nor is the observation that the drug overdose crisis is, in a perverse, overly optimistic way, good for marijuana legalization. Because, so far, a drug-induced apocalypse has helped inspire long-overdue drug policy reform. An Unfortunate Path to Reform Opiate dependency is now a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis recommendation. Mainstream researchers state, plainly, that marijuana can be effective in treating chronic pain, the condition for which opiates are most often prescribed — and this basic link is also being made by policymakers, who are more open than ever to considering medical marijuana, thanks in no small part to other research that found, hey, states where a non-addictive, mostly benign alternative like cannabis is available see fewer opiate overdoses and fewer opiate deaths! Not every researcher agrees — a few, writing in a recent issue of Addiction, made a bizarre analogy to ice-cream sandwiches and drownings, two unrelated things, to argue that two drugs used to treat pain are also not related — but it seems clear that the zeitgeist has been altered. Marijuana legalization is more popular than ever. Medical marijuana's acceptance is near universal. Would this have happened without a drug-overdose crisis? You can hope, but we live in a world with one, and it's hard to separate the two phenomenon. %related-post-2% Change, and a reorientation of ideas, often requires chaos, or disorientation — and it’s hard to imagine a more chaotic, disorienting phenomenon than pharmaceutical companies’ eagerness to flood economically depressed areas of the United States with addictive, life-altering, potentially deadly medication. For these reasons, you can claim to have found some good in the fentanyl crisis and not be seen as ghoulish or foolish. But there is also ample reason to worry, well beyond the health and welfare of the opiate user next door — which, following a freak accident or unfortunate turn of health, could soon be you, as the opiate crisis is also stirring some of the worst and most beastly impulses unleashed by the drug war. A Fatal Flood In December 2016, following an award-winning report from the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette Mail that showed how pharma companies flooded the state with hundreds of millions of opiate-based pain pills, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that the only solution was a new “war on drugs.” Egged on by President Donald Trump, who has openly admired Rodrigo Duterte, the cheerfully murderous president of the Philippines, where police and political gangs conduct open extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users, U.S. lawmakers are openly considering the death penalty for fentanyl providers (despite having “drug-induced homicide” laws on the books since the 1980s, to no appreciable positive effect). Opiates have even inspired American law-enforcement agencies to cut videos in which they dress and behave like… well, you be the judge. There have been some measured approaches in Congress. A bipartisan push to fund both more treatment and more sensitive equipment to aid law enforcement’s ability to intercept fentanyl shipments is a good example of carrot and stick together, in reasonable proportions. But too much of what little the Trump Administration has done to confront the situation is punitive in nature, emphasizing policing and punishment over treatment — or reasonable alternatives, an approach drug-policy reform advocates know as “harm reduction.” Indeed, the central cause of the April 11 hearing was a bill Republicans are pushing that would lower the amount of fentanyl necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. The ideological divide on this — between whether the solution is stricter punishments or something else — is sadly and predictably partisan. If the last 50 years and counting of the war on drugs has demonstrated anything, it’s that filling prisons and courtrooms with drug offenders doesn’t do much to stop drug users. Meanwhile, the albeit limited research on opiate use and marijuana as an alternative for pain management at the least strongly suggests that cannabis is a viable alternative. State legislatures, voters, and some federal lawmakers grasp this. But if old-school, lock-em-up attitudes also reemerge thanks to fentanyl, the disaster will be compounded.
We focus much of our attention on the state of marijuana legalization in the United States. But how are things progressing in Europe? European countries can’t seem to agree on policy when it comes to marijuana legalization. Some have decriminalized the drug, while others are looking to prosecute every user they can get their hands on. Here’s a quick overview of the state of cannabis legalization across the pond. The Netherlands The Netherlands is known for, among other things, coffee shops where you can buy and consume weed and edibles. While cannabis is still technically illegal in this country, the government has decided to tolerate coffee shops, which must submit to a set of strict regulations. Buying or selling weed on the street can still get you in trouble with the police, however. Not only that, but growing and transporting cannabis (with a few exceptions) is also illegal, which means that all the steps necessary to stock coffee shops with weed could get you arrested. France If you don’t want to get arrested, don’t buy or smoke weed in France. While there is never-ending debate in France about making marijuana legal, it’s not likely to happen any time soon, as too many people are still opposed to it. In the meantime, street dealers, trafficking, and grow houses remain a big (and needless) drain on French law enforcement. As for medical marijuana, it’s still very hard to get a prescription, and only a few synthetic cannabis drugs are allowed for medical use. Germany Germany legalized medical marijuana in 2017. And while Berlin is known for its party scene and easy access to illegal drugs — and while Many Germans, including the Association of German Criminal Officers, would love to see recreational cannabis legalized, as well — there is no indication that this is close to happening. While possession of small amounts of weed for personal use isn’t criminally prosecuted, we can’t encourage you to use cannabis in Germany. %related-post-1% Switzerland Obtaining CBD-dominant cannabis (with less than one percent THC) in Switzerland is rather easy. Switzerland is also considering legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Studies and pilot programs are now allowed, which means legalization is likely getting closer. For now, however, it remains illegal to consume recreational cannabis, although possession of 10 grams or less has been decriminalized. Public consumption will get you a fine, so be careful. Ireland Ireland has strict laws when it comes to cannabis consumption. While some politicians are rallying for legalization — or at least the decriminalization of the possession of a few grams — recreational use remains illegal. You can get arrested for possession even if you only have a couple of grams on you, and trafficking and possession with intent to sell will get you put in front of a judge in criminal court. Medical use is allowed in some cases, but special approval is mandatory, and rather hard to obtain. %related-post-2% The United Kingdom While support for decriminalization is growing in the United Kingdom, possession of marijuana can still get you in a lot of trouble. Obtaining medical marijuana can be a hassle, too, as only the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone and the cannabis-based medicine Sativex are licensed for medical use. The UK’s marijuana laws are among the strictest in the European Union, though things could change after Brexit has been completed, as the government will no longer have to follow the European Union’s directives. Scandinavian Countries Scandinavian countries are well known for their healthy lifestyle and good education system, but Sweden prohibits medical marijuana from being prescribed. If you happen to be there on vacation, avoid buying or using weed — even a small amount — as law enforcement is aggressive with its prosecution efforts. Cannabis isn’t legal in Denmark, either. But in Copenhagen it’s possible to find weed quiet easily in the Christiana section of Copenhagen. Essentially a small town, Christiana has a history of squatters and street dealing, and it’s still possible to buy weed there today without any hassle, as the cops seldom visit. Use at your own risk, however, as cannabis is still technically illegal there. Portugal Portugal likes to do things differently. In 2000, they decided to decriminalize individual possession and consumption of cannabis, as well as a handful of other drugs. The results have been positive, making Portugal an example for other European countries.
The law is the law — except when it isn’t. And very often, it is not. This is a good way to explain how marijuana legalization works in the United States. This isn’t a value judgment about you. It’s a recognition of exceptions created around you. If you are reading this on a device, or using a piece of software — and you are doing both — you are party to a contract. Chances are good that the terms of this agreement, to which you are bound, are unknown to you. So often do end-user license agreements go unread—and so often do their terms conflict with basic consumer-protection laws — that the contracts technology users routinely agree to with a simple click, and no review, constitute what some experts have called a “parallel legal system.” In other words, the law is the law — except when it isn’t. And very often, it is not. This is a good way to explain how marijuana legalization works in the United States — and why cannabis remains a black market commodity in much of the 29 states in which some form of the drug is legal. Ripping Up Your Rights There’s wide recognition now that longstanding American drug policy is bad. Weakening harsh drug laws and moving to regulate and tax cannabis — capturing revenue for the public that would otherwise go to the black market — is proving to be winning public policy. But across the country, from coast to coast, in states where the law provides for legal cannabis access, governments are creating exceptions. Municipal and county lawmakers are passing strict laws banning commercial cannabis activity, or regulating personal rights meant to be guaranteed to all citizens so strictly that they cannot be enjoyed. %related-post-1% In a real way, this is worse than the end-use license agreement hustle. What local governments are doing is taking a contract you voted for — a binding voter-approved ballot initiative — and then ripping it up. In California, where 57 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana legalization in November 2016, having cannabis delivered to your home — in the same way you can have a carton of cigarettes or a case of whiskey dispatched to your door — is strictly prohibited in 75 percent of the state, according to a recent review from the state Legislature. This is because the Adult Use of Marijuana Act grants broad powers to local governments to regulate commercial marijuana activity — or, if they chose to, ban it outright. But even the minimum personal freedoms granted by marijuana legalization are restricted, or restricted away entirely. An Untenable Situation If a locality chooses to outlaw marijuana stores, citizens are still guaranteed cannabis access through a personal allowance of six plants grown at home. Yet in nearly 15 percent of the state’s more than 300 cities, citizens are required to obtain a permit before they can grow. In some cases, they are required to submit detailed site-plan drawings, submit to police inspections, and pay permit fees of $1,400 or more, according to the Orange County Register. Instead of embracing an industry that will sell more than $1 billion worth of product in its first year of existence, more than 65 percent of cities in the state have elected to ban it. This led the newspaper to ask the question: “Are some cities trying to regulate away Prop 64?”’ As far as state lawmakers are concerned, the answer is absolutely yes. This is partially why the California Legislature is pushing a bill, SB 1302, that would make it clear that local governments’ powers to regulate cannabis does not extend to banning delivery services. Bill sponsors state outright that “local bans on delivery substantially undermine” many of the goals of legalization. But to see these undone, and to change state law to allow citizens to enjoy it, they’ll have to beat opposition from powerful law-enforcement lobbies. %related-post-2% Other states could learn from this untenable situation, and create some minimum guarantees for cannabis access. Doing so would fulfill legalization’s main goals of ending criminal activity around the world’s most popular illicit substance. It’s hard to find an argument in favor of keeping cannabis legal. But the situation in California, often considered one of the friendliest climes for commercial marijuana activity in the country, demonstrates that marijuana legalization can remain an abstraction even after a big win at the ballot. It’s also typical. An “Entry Fee” for Basic Freedoms? Across the country, local governments are moving to create local carve-outs, or declare outright that cannabis friendly state laws end at city limits. In some cases, local governments aren’t even waiting for marijuana legalization to pass before passing bans. Try to imagine an analog in which basic rights and freedoms can be exercised only after rigorous inspections or an “entry fee.” Surely liberals and libertarians alike would bristle at the idea of a police inspection or onerous fee levied on a would-be home brewer. Examples of similar limits that come to mind are poll taxes and other nefarious “exceptions” to democratic rights — a banned practice that’s enjoying a comeback. %related-post-3% This situation was in many ways predictable. Legalization ballot initiatives were deliberately written in such a way to grant local authorities broad powers — seen as a necessary move without which legalization wouldn’t have had any support from leery mayors, city councils, and hostile sheriffs or police departments. But this also shows the dangers of involving enemies to the negotiating table. Clearly, at least some local governments have approached legalization “regulation” in bad faith, using it as a cover to continue prohibition. This could be merely a temporary reaction, the expected resistance to changing entrenched policy. But it is also a clear sign that a successful legalization initiative is only the beginning — and that it will take years of work post-legalization for a regulated commercial cannabis industry to replace the black market.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly claimed that marijuana legalization drives violent crime. A new study finds that, yet again, Sessions’ claims are unfounded. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Bologna in Italy and recently published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, focuses on a two-year window (2013 and 2014) when recreational marijuana was legal in Washington, but still illegal next door in Oregon. During that period, researchers studied a variety of data on violent crime rates and substance abuse in 11 counties in Washington and 10 in Oregon. Instead of an increase in crime, as Sessions would have likely predicted, researchers found that the legalization of recreational marijuana was linked to a 15 to 30 percent decrease in the number of reported rapes, as well as a 10 to 20 percent decrease in the number of thefts. %related-post-1% As Herb reports, researchers concluded that legalization itself “reduces the likelihood of [cannabis users and growers] engaging in violent activities.” They concluded that it also reduces the chances that people growing and selling marijuana will be involved in gang activity, and added that legal, regulated marijuana markets free up police to focus on other crimes. Researchers also found that access to legal weed caused residents in states where pot is legal significantly reduce their binge consumption of “violence-inducing” substances like alcohol and cocaine. Sessions has frequently echoed the concerns of the Attorney General of Nebraska, Doug Peterson, who has claimed that Colorado’s legal marijuana market has led to increased crime in neighboring Nebraska. In 2014, Nebraska brought a case before the Supreme Court, claiming damages caused by Colorado’s legal weed market. The court dismissed the case, however, and, as Herb notes, Sessions’ claims were debunked by Snopes, which found very little evidence that legal weed boosted violent crime in either Colorado or its neighboring states. Not only does the study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization also debunk Sessions’ claims, but it also mirrors a 2016 study, which found that legal medical cannabis had “no negative spillover effects” and resulted in significant decreases in violent crime across 11 western states.
Switzerland isn’t a European Union member, which creates a great opportunity to set rules that differ from other European countries. If the Swiss play their cards right, they could become a major player in the European cannabis industry. While cannabis producers aren’t allowed to export their medical cannabis, several politicians are fighting for change. Exporting medical marijuana would be a huge deal for the Swiss economy. Because European Union members can’t set their own rules, Switzerland would likely be the lone European nation exporting marijuana, giving the country a significant advantage. CBD Products in Switzerland In 2011, Switzerland legalized the sale of cannabis with no more than 1 percent THC — a percentage that won’t get you high. This means that all products contain a high percentage of CBD. According to KannaSwiss, a legal cannabis producer, sales of CBD products have risen quickly the last few years. It’s also rather easy to buy CBD products in Switzerland. The number of registered companies manufacturing or selling CBD has exploded. In January 2017, there were five. At the end of the same year, the country counted as many as 410 such companies. CBD products are now available in every local pharmacy, as well as in dispensaries. A New Amsterdam? The Netherlands is home to coffee shops where you can buy cannabis just like you would order a cup of coffee. Several cities are looking to launch pilot programs to test a similar coffee shop system in which THC strains would be allowed. If the programs are approved, Switzerland could begin attracting another type of tourist. A Possible Setback Recreational cannabis consumption is still illegal in neighboring countries like France. If you’re tested positive for driving under the influence of marijuana, you could go to prison for up to two years and be fined as much as $5,572. Since marijuana can be detected in your system long after you’ve used it, French tourists might want to avoid the risk of smoking during their Swiss vacation and just drive home instead.
Let’s face it: If Attorney General Jeff Sessions had his wish, there would be no such thing as marijuana legalization in the United States. And while former House Speaker John Boehner held a similar view just a few years ago, times have changed. It feels weird to say this, but former House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a company with cannabis cultivation, processing, and dispensing operations in 11 U.S. states. Boehner’s about-face is turning heads, as the former House speaker says he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization nine years ago. “Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner told Bloomberg. “I find myself in that same position.” From Speaker to Spokesman Boehner, who says he has never tried pot, says he changed his position on marijuana after being convinced about its potential to help veterans and after watching cannabis help a close friend suffering from back pain. He also says he’s long been troubled by problems within the U.S. criminal justice system. “When you look at the number of people in our state and federal penitentiaries who are there for possession of small amounts of cannabis, you begin to really scratch your head,” he says. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.” Boehner is being joined on Acreage Holdings board by former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. Neither has made a financial investment in the company, though Held says he has considered it. For now, Boehner says, they will be focused on providing Acreage with advice on how to deal with the “murky legal issues and political issues” that come with working with federal and state governments. Saying No to the Nanny State As Bloomberg notes, Boehner and Weld say the debate over legalization hinges on a discussion of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives states the freedom to act as they see fit. “If some states don’t want marijuana to be legal, that’s their prerogative,” Weld says. “But that shouldn’t be dictated by the nanny state in Washington.” %related-post-1% Sessions’ dislike of pot — as well as his desire to ramp up the powers of the nanny state by rolling back Obama-era protections on legal marijuana — has done little to dissuade Boehner or Weld from getting involved with the industry. In fact, Boehner actually finds the move kind of funny. “When I saw the announcement, I almost chuckled to myself,” Boehner says, referring to the January reversal of the Cole Memo. “I don’t know why they decided to do this. It could be that the attorney general is trying to force the Congress to act.” Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
It is possible to simultaneously reject John Bolton’s view of the world and to be rightly dismissive of the United Nations — though not for a reason to which America’s walrus-faced reactionary would be sympathetic. A reflexive though ultimately cynical nod towards the UN’s international order is how the United States helped scotch Canada’s efforts to decriminalize marijuana a lifetime ago, during President George W. Bush’s first term. Today, Canada’s flagrant dismissal of such scruples — and the resulting international trade in cannabis, in which it is the unquestioned leader — is yet another example of the low regard with which much of the world regards its supposed peacekeeper. For this, you can lay most of the blame at the foot of the United States, which is responsible for pushing its hard line on drugs to the rest of the world at a time when it was the dominant power — and which has never had much use for the UN except for as a rubber stamp, and one that it doesn’t always bother to get. %related-post-1% Borne out of the calamity of World War II — which itself was the result of previous internationalist failures — the UN’s main function has been to provide a semblance of international decorum. The UN dispenses a sort of global “conventional wisdom” (though one only rarely considered beyond a small coterie of think-tank eggheads and Foreign Policy subscribers) and provides a venue in which to air grievances. Not a court — that body, to which neither the US nor China are parties, is in The Hague — but a sort of agora of the world, where a wrongdoer can be identified and publicly denounced, provided they are are unpopular or isolated enough, or insufficiently wealthy. In other words: an international coffee klatch, enfeebled and farcical, replete with corruption. The Case For Revisiting Dusty Treaties This is a good starting point from which to consider the UN’s blanket prohibition on certain narcotic drugs — including cannabis, the world’s most popular illegal drug where it is illegal, and a real-life game of Monopoly where it is not. Three international treaties prohibit or restrict access to most drugs: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and 1988’s Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Like in the US’s Controlled Substances Act, exact restrictions on drugs depend on their categorization, or “scheduling.” Like the CSA, these international treaties classify cannabis as a “Schedule I” substance, meaning it is the most dangerous and subject to the tightest controls. According to the terms of the 1961 Single Convention, the world’s citizens agreed to work to end cannabis use worldwide by 1989. You could say that it didn’t quite work out, and that in itself would justify revisiting these dusty treaties. Yet in many countries, the passage of laws outlawing or restricting cannabis was justified in part by adherence to these treaties. And to this day, the Drug Enforcement Administration claims, with a straight face, that it must consider illegal non-psychoactive cannabis oil high in the compound CBD — a product derived entirely from hemp, which is legal to import into the US — because of these treaties. Meanwhile, Canada has become the global leader in medical cannabis. With the imprimatur from Canada’s federal government and its health ministry, 84 companies grow medical marijuana, several of which have received export licenses. By the end of this month, Canadian companies are expected to have exported some 528 kilograms of dried cannabis flower and 911 liters of marijuana oil. That’s about the annual output of a medium-sized marijuana farm in California, but the mere fact that Canada is shipping weed to Germany, Australia, and the Czech Republic was unthinkable not that long ago. A Conventional Lack Of Weed Wisdom If you were logical, you might assume that Canada’s global cannabis trade makes a mockery of the three UN agreements. It does, but it’s not nearly as problematic as Canada’s domestic marijuana policy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize recreational marijuana, a vow that’s on track to be fulfilled this summer. Allowing cannabis for medical or research purposes is forgivable under the UN treaties. Allowing citizens to smoke weed for fun isn’t, leading those UN-Foreign Policy egghead types to fume and fulminate that by legalizing and taxing a popular drug that has never killed anyone, is safer than alcohol, and will be used all over the globe until the end of time regardless of what international law may say, Canada was on course for some kind of international reckoning. %related-post-2% “Canada cannot pick and choose which international laws to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same,” insisted Steven J Hoffman, a law professor and columnist at Vox. In a perfect world, Hoffman may have a point. In our world, the world in which the UN exists, member nations freely do as they please, all but daring the UN to do anything about it. The UN rarely ever does, and the world continues to turn. (In sharp contrast to the early 2000s, when Bush Administration officials made the absurd claim that Canadian marijuana decriminalization would destabilize the two countries’ border, one of the world’s safest and most boring, Trump Administration officials have barely acknowledged Trudeau’s plan. Not that the US is abrogating its self-appointed role as the world’s drug cop.) In 2009, Bolivia altered its constitution to allow for production of coca leaves, the raw material from which cocaine is manufactured. This violated the conventions, eggheads howled. About the worst the UN can do is subject scofflaws to a browbeating or a cold shoulder at the next meetup. “This can be embarrassing in international diplomatic circles,” observed Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University law professor and frequent commentator on drug policy, “but no nation has ever collapsed due to embarrassment.” And in Bolivia’s case, it didn’t even do that. Not that it should. Considering the UN, the protectorate of human rights and the environment, has on its Security Council nations with deplorable human rights records and has its headquarters in a country whose leadership includes climate-change deniers, marijuana is the least of its worries. But at the same time, its outmoded, antiquated stance on drugs is yet another example of how easily its dictates can be ignored without serious consequence.
President Trump has promised to protect the marijuana industry in states where the drug is currently legal, potentially putting an end to the legislative limbo set in motion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent rolling back of the Obama-era Cole Memo. While on the campaign trail, presidential candidate Donald Trump pledged to respect the rights of states that legalized marijuana. He also called recreational pot “bad,” however, seemingly implying that he’d be open to the idea of stiffer regulations. %related-post-1% While the legal marijuana industry has continued to boom since Trump took office, tensions within the industry increased further with Sessions’ decision in January to rescind the Obama-era policy of non-interference toward pot-friendly states. But while Sessions gave prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, he stopped short of directing them to do so. And now, President Trump appears willing to support legislation that would block them from even considering it. Some form of cannabis is now legal in 30 states, and more Americans — 64 percent — now support legalization than at any time in American history. Seemingly aware of the growing public support for cannabis, Trump recently pledged to Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado that he would support a federalism-based legal solution that would protect the drug in states where it is legal. The pledge, which was verified by White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, came during a recent meeting between Gardner and Trump. Trump had previously singled out Colorado as having “some big problems” related to recreational weed, and those comments, coupled with Sessions’ actions in January — after Sessions had promised Gardner he would do nothing to interfere with the state’s legal weed market — prompted Gardner to make a deal with the president regarding the future of legal weed. %related-post-2% In exchange for the President Trump’s promise that he would protect pot-friendly states from federal interference, Gardner agree to lift his blockade on U.S. Department of Justice nominees — a move he made after Sessions’ move in January. Gardner was pleased with the deal. "President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all," he said in a statement. Legalization advocates are cautiously optimistic, as well. “We may now be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mason Tvert, who launched a 2012 ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado, told the Associated Press. “This is one more step toward ending the irrational policy of marijuana prohibition, not only in Colorado but throughout the country.” While Gardner plans to introduce bipartisan legislation that would block the federal government from interfering with state marijuana markets, there could still be cause for concern. As we reported previously, Trump has hinted at replacing the prohibitionist Sessions with EPA head Scott Pruitt. If there’s anyone who’d like to crack down on legal weed more than Sessions, it’s him. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
President Trump has hinted at replacing prohibitionist Attorney Jeff Sessions with EPA head Scott Pruitt. But could Pruitt’s confirmation actually make the legal climate around the marijuana industry even more hostile for the nation’s growers, retailers, and users? As Marijuana Moment reports, President Trump’s desire to remove Sessions has to do with the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump believes the decision made him susceptible to scrutiny by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and, as Vanity Fair speculates it could cause Trump to remove Sessions in the wake of the recent dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Back in January, Politico reported that Pruitt told those close to him that he’d interested in the attorney general post. His record on pot, however, could make Sessions look like a legalization advocate by comparison. So, Who Is Scott Pruitt? While Sessions claims that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and overturned the Obama-era Cole Memo, Pruitt’s might actually have a more prohibitionist track record than Sessions. While serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt’s disdain for cannabis was on full display when he filed a federal lawsuit against marijuana policies of the neighboring Colorado. (The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided not to take the case.) In another case, Pruitt tried to rewrite the ballot title for an Oklahoma medical cannabis measure to make voters think it was actually a recreational initiative. Ultimately, advocates sued and the state Supreme Court overturned the attorney general’s changes, but Pruitt’s actions the delay caused the measure to be bumped from the 2016 general election ballot to this year’s primary at the end of June. Last year, as EPA administrator, Pruitt moved to block approval of pesticides for use on marijuana in states where it is legal, claiming that “any economic, social or environmental costs associated with pesticide use on cannabis would not be reasonable or justified in light of the fact that such use is in furtherance of an illegal act.” As of this time of this writing, Trump has avoided shaming Sessions publicly, and says that he isn’t considering replacing Sessions with Pruitt. Those close to the situation aren’t so sure, however, claiming that Trump’s criticism of Sessions behind closed doors is as aggressive as ever. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
Which countries are poised to lead the globe in cannabis production? The answers may surprise you. While the United Kingdom maintains an aggressively prohibitionist stance on medical and recreational marijuana, a new United Nations study cited by Cannabis Now shows that Great Britain is the world’s biggest producer of legal cannabis. According to a new annual report issued by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a United Nations body, the UK produced 95 tons of legal cannabis in 2016 — more than double the amount it produced the previous year. That total accounted for roughly 45 percent of the global total. A Cannabis Now notes, Great Britain also exported 2.1 tons of legal weed — of 67.7 percent of the world total. Trailing Great Britain in the INCB report was Canada, which produced 80.7 tons of legal marijuana in 2016, followed by Portugal (21 tons), Israel (9.2 tons), and the Netherlands Chile (1.4 tons each). The Netherlands was the world’s second-biggest exporter of the crop — and a distant one at that — shipping out 16.4 percent of the global total. (The United States federal government did not submit any production data to the INCB.) The UK’s top total can be traced to the pharmaceutical industry. British drug firm GW Pharmaceuticals uses legal cannabis in the manufacturing of both Epidiolex, an epilepsy treatment, and Sativex, a drug that treats muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The production of Sativex accounts for most of the UK’s legal pot productions, and GW’s operations likely account for the bulk of country’s legal cannabis exports. As Cannabis Now notes, Sativex is shipped to corporate and university laboratories around the globe, instead of the retail medical market. While Colombia is also looking to be a major player in global marijuana production, Canada might be best poised to surpass Great Britain as the world’s greatest pot producer. Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 1991, and with the nation’s annual legal pot production only trailing the UK by a mere 15 tons, our neighbors to the north could soon be the next worldwide weed leader. As the Motley Fool explains, Canada appears to be on the verge of allowing recreational cannabis sales to adults in late summer or early fall, which has sent the nation’s growers angling to grab as much of Canada’s medical and recreational markets as they possibly can. Despite warnings from forecasters about the potential for severe oversupply, Canada’s pending legislation has prompted a flurry of organic expansion, strategic partnerships, and acquisitions, with four of the five largest marijuana acquisitions of all-time occurring within a four-month span. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
While new Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam says legal marijuana could help boost New Jersey’s economy and increase tourism — especially along the Boardwalk — the legislative barrier between gaming and weed in Las Vegas casinos could cause Gilliam to reconsider his vision for economic revitalization. Four decades ago, Atlantic City, New Jersey, bet its economic future on casino gambling. But while gaming remains the city’s leading industry, a handful of casino closures have put hundreds of people out of work and done a number on the city’s tax base. Among the ideas to improve the city’s fiscal fortunes is the planned construction of a college campus in the city, as well as the renovation of one shuttered casino and a new owner for another. And if Gilliam and other legalization advocates get their way, pot could also play a key role in the area’s resurgence. As WHYY reports, the New Jersey Assembly recently held its first meeting to discuss whether marijuana should be legalized and sold in retail shops across the Garden State. While many towns have already begun debating whether to ban dispensaries, some, like Atlantic City, view cannabis as a way to boost their economies. %related-post-1% One of New Jersey biggest legalization advocates, Gilliam says he would like to see “adult entertainment districts” in Atlantic City, where visitors could enjoy restaurants, bars, spas, and marijuana. “I don’t have the appetite to just be a pusher of the product. I don’t want people to think that they should just come here, buy it and leave,” Gilliam told WHYY. “I want it to be…a destination, where folks can come here and enjoy it in a controlled area.” In an attempt to determine the feasibility of his idea, Gilliam recently visited Las Vegas to see firsthand how that city has mixed legal weed with its casinos and nightlife. And what he found was likely disappointing. Las Vegas casinos have not embraced legal cannabis in the same way the rest of Nevada has. While recreational pot has been legal in Nevada since last summer, users have been forced to use it in their homes. Nevada’s Gaming Policy Committee has voted to not allow direct relationships between the gaming industry and marijuana distributors, and while Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has signed an executive order requiring the cannabis industry and casino heads to discuss a way that casinos could host pot-themed conventions and trade shows, casinos are concerned that they could be charged with racketeering and/or money laundering due to the fact that cannabis use is still technically a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. %related-post-2% As The Fresh Toast explains, pot’s illegal status at the federal level means the vast majority of banks won’t accept cash from canna-businesses for fear of losing their licenses. As a result, employees of cannabis companies convert their cash into chips, gamble a bit, then convert whats leftover into casino checks they can then deposit into a bank. While this practice is legal at the state level, it puts banks at risk for money laundering at the federal level. As of now, Vegas casinos are prohibited from housing marijuana smoking lounges. Financial deals between companies or marijuana providers are prohibited, as well. And while casinos can host conferences or conventions where members of the cannabis industry discuss business, companies are prohibited from bringing any cannabis products to those events. Despite what he learned during his visit to Las Vegas, Gilliam appears to be committed to the idea of creating pot-friendly areas in Atlantic City. Before that can even happen, however, New Jersey first needs to decide if it will even allow recreational marijuana. The odds are it could be awhile before that happens. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
California’s historically high tax rates have, at times, driven people and businesses out of the state. Not surprisingly, the excessive taxes associated with the state’s burgeoning legal marijuana industry have driven a steady number of California’s cannabis consumers to the black market. Now, a couple of lawmakers want to do something about it. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November of 2016. And while adult-use weed is projected to bring in an additional $1 billion in California marijuana taxes, the additional taxes that come with it are also causing many pot buyers to buy their supplies from less-than-legal suppliers. As we’ve mentioned before, a Motley Fool report shows that California’s cannabis growers are subject to a state cultivation levy of $9.25 per ounce of cannabis flowers, or $2.75 per ounce of cannabis leaves. There is also a 15 percent excise tax added onto the final product. Both of those taxes are on top of the nation’s highest base sales tax rate of 7.5 percent, as well as local business taxes that range from 7.75 percent to 9.75 percent. According to Fitch Ratings, the total state, local, and other taxes can make the aggregate tax on weed more than 45 percent in some regions of California. In an attempt to bring some of California’s canna-biz out of the shadows, two state lawmakers have introduced a measure to lower the state’s cannabis tax rate. %related-post-1% As Marijuana Business Daily reports, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican from Southern California, and Oakland Democrat Rob Bonta have co-sponsored an amendment to an existing bill, AB 3157, that would lower the cannabis tax rate for three years, which should lead to retailers charging less for legal products. Three other Democratic lawmakers helped to write the measure. The bill would drop the state excise tax on cannabis products from 15 percent to 11 percent for the next three years, as well as suspend the state’s cultivation tax. According to analysis by New Frontier cited in a news release from Lackey’s office, the measure would essentially cut the prices that consumers pay for medical and recreational cannabis products by roughly 9 percent. AB 3157 “reduces the tax burden on the licensed cannabis market during this transition period, keeping customers at licensed stores and helping ensure the regulated market survives and thrives,” Bonta said in the release. Stay tuned for the Sugar Leaf for updates on this and other pending legislation.
While industry experts have a good idea why wholesale marijuana prices continue to drop, the drop could soon stop. According to a new report by cannabis industry analysts, the price of a pound of legal cannabis has been falling since the middle of 2016. The report by Cannabis Benchmarks, an independent price reporting agency, shows that the U.S. spot index for legal marijuana fell 13 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. A subsequent report by the agency found that marijuana prices had continued to dip slightly during the first month of 2018. The spot index, which averaged $1,789 per pound in 2016, opened 2017 at $1,562 per pound and closed the year at $1,436 — a decline of 6 percent. By January of this year, the price had fallen to $1,292 per pound. While the marijuana industry has been operating under a cloud of uncertainty in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescinding of the Obama-era Cole Memo, analysts say that drop in wholesale marijuana prices has nothing to do with the perceived threat of federal interference, but rather simple supply and demand. As report author Adam Koh told The Cannabist, the spot price uncertainty of cannabis is in line with other commodities, though pot prices are more susceptible to factors such as politics, varying state guidelines, and natural disasters. While the overall drop in wholesale prices was primarily driven by significant overproduction in Oregon, most of the nation’s major Western marijuana markets — with the exception of Colorado — have seen decreases in their composite prices. As Koh adds, however, while the drop in prices has been steady, it has also been relatively calm. “While prices declined in (Colorado and Washington), they did so fairly gradually,” he told The Cannabist. “The landscape in those two markets is pretty settled on the whole, so you didn’t see a lot of abrupt regulatory changes like you’ve had in the past — no big overhaul of rules like what took place in the first couple of years of those markets. So businesses were just able to go about their day-to-day operations with less turbulence.” While the different markets across various states make predicting pot prices a bit of a challenge, Koh believes the continued lack of overall market turbulence will help the prices of pot to level off sooner than later. “I think we’re getting close (to the bottom),” he says. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
Marijuana advocates have long touted the economic benefits of legalization. A new study helps their case. For years, thousands of residents of Pueblo, Colorado, enjoyed solid, middle-class jobs at the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill. When the mill left in the early 1980s, however, many Puebloans without high school or college degrees struggled to find work — struggles that lasted for 30 years. The Great Recession lingered far longer in Pueblo than elsewhere in Colorado. Unemployment rates stayed in the double digits in Pueblo through spring 2013, while the unemployment rate elsewhere in the state hovered just below 7 percent. However, as the Colorado Springs Gazette reports, preliminary data show that Pueblo’s unemployment rate had dropped to 4.9 percent. And as a new study from the Colorado State University-Pueblo Institute of Cannabis Research shows, the marijuana industry has been a key factor. The study, which is the first of its kind, finds that legal cannabis provides a net positive economic benefit to Pueblo County, even when additional costs associated with law enforcement and social services are taken into account. %related-post-1% The report indicates that the legal marijuana industry had an estimated economic impact of more than $58 million in 2016. The county also saw added related costs of roughly $23 million, leaving a positive net impact of more than $35 million. The report projects that figure to reach nearly $100 million by 2021. According to Chris Markuson, Pueblo County’s director of economic development and geographic information systems, the recreational marijuana industry’s explosive growth “literally saved” Pueblo’s construction community during the latter part of the Great Recession, accounting for more than half of the county’s construction-related revenue over the past three years. As the Gazette notes, taxes on legal cannabis have helped to fix up schools, parks, and roads, while generating $3.5 million in marijuana-related tax revenue and fees last year alone. On top of that, roughly $1,000 in scholarship money also will be available to each qualifying high school senior who graduates in Pueblo County and who attend either Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo. %related-post-2% Pueblo’s economy has long trailed that of Denver, Fort Collins, and the state’s numerous well-to-do mountain towns. Last November, after ballot measures were introduced put a halt to Pueblo’s growing cannabis industry, voters renewed their commitment to the industry. As a result, advocates say, the Steel City has become a sort of Napa Valley of Weed. “The rest of us have been getting ignored,” longtime Pueblo diner owner and cannabis advocate Jim Parco told the Gazette. “So when they legalized cannabis in 2014 and started taxing it, it changed the game. Now we have a chance.”
Weedmaps and California are in a jurisdictional tussle. What does it mean for the marijuana industry in the Golden State? On February 16, Lori Ajax of California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control sent a cease and desist letter to Weedmaps, informing the online marijuana directory and search platform that it needs to stop running ads for unlicensed pot retailers. A few weeks later, Weedmaps responded, claiming the bureau lacks the authority to police who can advertise on the site. While the tussle could lead to disciplinary action for the site, it could also lead to clearer rules for canna-businesses. %related-post-1% In Ajax’s letter, she explained that Senate Bill 94 requires that ads for cannabis retailers must include a California license number showing they’re permitted by state and local authorities. The license number is also intended to ensure that, when all regulations are fully enacted later this year, all marijuana sold by a particular retailer has been tested for safety, properly labeled, and is otherwise in compliance. If Weedmaps doesn’t immediately drop ads for unlicensed businesses, Ajax says, the company could be subject to criminal and civil penalties, including civil fines for each illegal ad. While Weedmaps competitor Leafly.com announced that it was dropping ads for all unlicensed retailers as of March 1, Weedmaps denied Ajax’s request to cease and desist running such ads. Online advertising giant Weedmaps, which was founded in 2007 and has offices from Denver to Berlin, helps visitors locate dispensaries and browse their selections of cannabis. Its site and app use a Yelp-like system to rate cannabis retailers — many of which are unlicensed. As Marijuana Business Daily reports, the company responded to Ajax’s letter with a letter of its own, claiming that it is “not a Licensee subject to the Bureau’s purview,” and that he bureau is “putting the cart before the horse” by focusing on enforcement while the vast majority of existing canna-businesses are still unlicensed or in the process of obtaining permits. %related-post-2% While Weedmaps hasn’t publicly commented on its letter, company president Christopher Beals was defiant about the issue of unlicensed retailers during an interview in February. “The thing is, at the end of the day, we’re an information platform,” Beals said. “We’re showing the same information that Google and Yelp and Craigslist and 30 other websites are showing.” Beals went on to say that if states and cities really want to control the illegal market, they need to establish a solid regulatory framework and issue permits to enough licensed marijuana businesses to meet demand. “To sort of say, ‘Let’s pretend an illegal market doesn’t exist’ or that people can’t just type ‘dispensary’ into Google and find this information… isn’t really realistic,” he added. Lawyers close to the industry are split on the issue. %related-post-3% One attorney, Omar Figueroa, told Marijuana Business Daily that the bureau has jurisdiction over all “commercial cannabis activity” in the state, up to and including Weedmaps. He also says, however, that it’s unclear what that means in terms of disciplinary actions. Another attorney, Khurshid Khoja, says that, according to his reading of state law, the bureau only has legal jurisdiction over licensees, not ancillary businesses like websites that serve as advertising platforms. Khoja says that since the main punishment the bureau can impose is suspending or revoking licenses, its disciplinary procedures won’t apply to Weedmaps. While bureau spokesman Alex Traverso told the Orange County Register that there is “no immediate action planned” against Weedmaps, the company’s current strategy and defiance could be damaging its reputation among its California clients. “It’s not just the legal concerns that they have to consider. It’s goodwill among licensees,” Khoja told Marijuana Business Daily. %related-post-4% As Khoja explains, the bureau’s cease and desist letter was written at the request of current licensees, who are also customers of Weedmaps. In addition, Figueroa says, Weedmaps could be angering customers by charging licensed retailers thousands of dollars a month, while potentially charging unlicensed competitors far less. Some licensed retailers, he said, have already complained. “Weedmaps could also get sued by its advertisers who are licensed for unfair business practices,” Figueroa said. “California has pretty strong protections for that. There’s definitely a risk of that.”
From new laws to lawsuits from the Trump administration, there’s been a lot of movement as of late regarding the movement toward marijuana sanctuary states. Shortly after President Trump was elected, California lawmakers passed a “marijuana sanctuary state” bill that blocked state and local police from helping the federal government enforce federal anti-pot laws that conflict with state law. %related-post-1% California legalized recreational pot the same month Trump was elected, and lawmakers passed the law because they were uneasy about how the new administration — specifically, prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions — would deal with states like pro-pot states like theirs. And while it has generally been business as usual for the marijuana industry since Trump took office, Sessions’ decision in January to rescind the Obama-era Cole Memo has prompted even more states to consider what they should do should the feds start targeting their canna-businesses. Cannabis is still technically illegal at the federal level, and Sessions’ move reversed a 2013 policy that protected the legal marijuana industry by limiting federal prosecutors’ power to go after pot producers, retailers, and users as long as states prevented the products from getting to places where outlawed, as well as keeping them out of the hands of gangs and children. As the Reno Gazette Journal notes Sessions’ move has also unsettled the industry and spooked some potential investors. It also caused more lawmakers to take proactive steps to protect their state’s pot industries. Alaska state Rep. Adam Wool, who owns a restaurant, movie, and concert venue with a liquor license in Fairbanks, says he introduced his own protectionist bill as both a statement and a precautionary measure. %related-post-2% "If the federal government wants to prosecute someone for breaking federal law, I guess they have every right to do that," Wool, a Democrat from one of Alaska's major marijuana-growing areas, told the Associated Press. "I'm just saying, we will have no obligation to assist them." When voters in Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana in 2016, the legislation included language blocking state law enforcement from assisting federal agents in prosecuting legal cannabis users. A new bill pending in the state tightens things up even more in light of Sessions attitude toward the drug. As High Times explains, the creatively named “Refusal of Compliance Act,” would prohibit state law enforcement from cooperating with federal marijuana agents. Designed to protect the legal marijuana trade, the legislation would block state police from partnering with the Feds to target federally illegal operations. Co-sponsor Rep. Mike Connolly says the bill reflects the will of the people of his state. %related-post-3% “Massachusetts voters have gone to the polls and expressed their support for what I’d call a sensible drug policy and an end to marijuana prohibition,” he told CityLab. “I can appreciate the parallel between this and more typical sanctuary-state-type stuff. I think the comparison is pretty clear. We are a state government responding to the will of our own voters and people in our community.” While California already passed a marijuana sanctuary state bill, the Berkeley City Council doubled down by passing a new resolution declaring the California city a sanctuary for recreational weed. Under the resolution, High Times reports, “no department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the City of Berkeley shall use any City funds to assist in the enforcement of Federal drug laws related to cannabis.” The resolution also states that the city “does not support cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration in its efforts to undermine state and local marijuana laws.” While Sessions hasn’t directly pushed federal prosecutors to go after the legal marijuana industry, the Justice Department has sued California over its protection of unauthorized immigrants, leading many close to the issue to believe that Sessions would take similar measures against states that declare themselves sanctuaries for the marijuana industry. %related-post-4% During prepared remarks, Sessions told the California Peace Officers’ Association recently that federal law is "the supreme law of the land," and added that “bragging about and encouraging the obstruction of our law enforcement and the law is an embarrassment to this proud and important state." Sessions repeated his view that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to public safety, echoing his past comments drawing a connection between immigrants, marijuana, and violence. Undaunted, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has already sued the Trump administration numerous times, has vowed to take action if the federal government tries to crack down on cannabis. "You take a look at everywhere you can to protect your people and your interests," he told the Los Angeles Times. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates about marijuana sanctuary states .
The days of single-issue cannabis voters are gone. What to do when you find cannabis common ground with someone you otherwise disagree with? Nothing. On a visit to the Florida Panhandle in early February, President Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stopped to pose for a photo op with the May family. %related-post-1% The Mays operate a commercial plant nursery. Not all farmers are known as wise and careful stewards of the land — farms use a colossal amount of water, as well as chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the Mays don’t advertise their operation as organic — but they are conservative businesspeople. Thus they qualified politically as “#TrueEnvironmentalists,” as Pruitt gushed in a photo briefly posted to Twitter. Any doubts the Mays were MAGA-friendly were assuaged by the schoolboy-age May in the photo, who wore his red Make America Great Again hat for the occasion. But someone had blundered. The Mays are also partners in a Florida state-licensed medical marijuana grow — the exact kind of business operation Attorney General Jeff Sessions has spent much of his time in office antagonizing. Pruitt’s desire to take over the Justice Department from Sessions is an open secret in Washington. And, as Nebraska attorney general, it was Pruitt who attempted to convince the Supreme Court to end Colorado’s experiment with legal recreational marijuana. Pruitt’s lawsuit failed, but his ideology is apparent. Within an hour of Pruitt’s being informed his photo op was pot-friendly, his knee jerked round the other way and the post was deleted. On Friday, @EPAScottPruitt did a press stunt at a farm in Havana, FL called May Nursery. Pruitt tweeted a photo of him with the May family, calling them #TrueEnvironmentalists. Turns out May Nursery grows cannabis. An hour after I tweeted that fact, Pruitt deleted his tweet. pic.twitter.com/cqizA2BiMf — Nick Surgey (@NickSurgey) February 5, 2018 Whether it was ignorance or miscalculation, Pruitt should have known better. The panhandle is indeed one of the most conservative Congressional districts in the country, and does qualify as a safe space for Trump Cabinet members. Its representative in Congress is Matt Gaetz, who has pushed to eliminate the EPA entirely, backed Trump’s efforts to remove healthcare from millions of Americans, and has vigorously defended the state’s lax gun laws. But medical marijuana is also vastly popular in Florida. More than 70 percent of voters supported Amendment 2, the medical-marijuana initiative passed on the same night Trump was elected. Weed is more popular than the president in Florida, and so Gaetz is also author of a bill, with Democratic co-sponsorship, that would defy Sessions and Pruitt and remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (a bill that appears bound to die for want of a hearing, thanks to other, more obstructionist lawmakers). Pruitt has far more in common with Gaetz than he does, say, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, the Massachusetts Congressman and grand-nephew of President JFK who gave the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address. But if Pruitt was looking for a bipartisan “solution” to the country’s widening and popular marijuana legalization trend, he’d be more likely to hit up Kennedy. %related-post-2% Kennedy has consistently voted against marijuana legalization, putting him out of step with both the rest of his state’s Congressional delegation, and a majority of his state’s voters. All this represents a sea change in how lawmakers treat cannabis — and how cannabis voters should see their lawmakers. For many years, medical cannabis and legalization advocates were universally maligned by government, and so looked for sympathizers anywhere they may be found — however unlikely, or however low. Marijuana drew out single-issue voters like few other issues, which is how you saw libertarians like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson become vastly popular in certain circles within the cannabis movement, despite regressive approaches to education, healthcare, and the environment that violated everything else central to a counterculture ethos. Or central to some. Here’s the hard reality — the days when you could consider anyone and everyone a Rainbow Gathering-friendly friend just because they liked weed are long gone. The truth is that kind of unity was never really true to begin with. %related-post-3% Common enemies create uncommon friends. Legalizers looked to champions like Paul or Johnson because they had no other choice. Now that cannabis is more popular than ever before, not only is a wider and more disparate selection of politicians pushing the issue, deep and possibly irreconcilable schisms are appearing within “the movement,” if there ever truly was such a thing. If your values skew anywhere from moderate to progressive, if presented the inescapable choice between a Kennedy and a Gaetz, you would pick Kennedy, no matter how central cannabis was to your life — unless, of course, you subordinate everything else on earth to cannabis, in which case your singlemindedness is ideologically self-defeating on the whole. Nuance has arrived to the cannabis scene, and with it, gray areas and more difficult choices — and the growing realization that you can have something in common with someone and still hate everything else they stand for. Few humans have hated another with the totality that Hunter Thompson detested Richard Nixon, to whom the gonzo journalist referred as a “swine of a man” possessed of an “ugly, Nazi spirit,” “evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it.” Nixon, Thompson wrote in a “eulogy” printed in the Atlantic, possessed an uncommon quality, that of the unifier. “My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together,” Thompson wrote, words were printed in The Atlantic, on the occasion of Nixon’s death. %related-post-4% Once, Thompson was asked if he had anything in common with the disgraced ex-president, the object of his loathing for half his life. The journalist thought a moment. “We both wear belts,” he ventured. “We both use American money.” The sole time the pair met in person, the only topic of conversation was football — and, against all odds, when Thompson forced himself to forget everything else about the man, they had a pleasant conversation. All this to say that if you try, you can find common ground even with your worst enemy, with your polar opposite, with your antithesis, who stands for everything that you find hateful and hurtful in the world — minus that one thing or another. Yes, you can. It is possible. Not that you should.
While Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn’t specifically directed federal prosecutors to go after legal marijuana businesses, the mere fact that he has given them that option has already started impacting the canna-biz. And not in a good way. As we’ve noted time and time again, the current legislative limbo between federal and state marijuana law is doing more than anything to keep the legal marijuana industry from reaching its full potential in this country. %related-post-1% Marijuana in all forms is still illegal at the federal level, and while dozens of states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis in some form, all of them are operating with the fear that the feds — empowered by Sessions’ recent rescinding of the pot industry-protecting, Obama-era Cole Memo — could come after them at any moment. In Colorado, for example, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) says he wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeff Sessions “sow doubt” about legal marijuana by pushing for the federal closure of some marijuana facilities in states where it’s legal. “He does not think in any way that it’s a good thing for this country to have legal marijuana, so when he rattles his saber, I wouldn’t be surprised if he closes down one or two of these facilities just to make that statement,” Hickenlooper told The Hill’s Power Politics podcast. Hickenlooper, who is in his final year in office, cites numerous back market vendors coming out of the shadows, as well as a lack of escalation in cannabis use among teens and people driving high, as reasons why legalization has been a good thing. He also praised the economic benefits of the industry. %related-post-2% “Now, look at all these people who are involved in the marijuana business and are paying taxes,” he said. “They’re not breaking the law.” Despite his support of the industry, when officials in other states often consult Hickenlooper regarding the pros and cons of legalization, he tells them to “wait another year or two.” Hickenlooper says that while public demand for cannabis is reaching “critical mass,” there will continue “no predictability” within the industry unless Congress and President Trump take action — action that would counteract Sessions’ perceived plans. Among the items that need to be resolved, Hickenlooper says, is the ability of to banks to serve marijuana businesses without fear of facing criminal charges and civil liability for “aiding and abetting” a federal crime and money laundering. As Vice reports, the Twin City Bank inn Longview, Washington, which has been serving cannabis dispensaries and other pot-related businesses, has been getting nervous calls from people considering closing their accounts. The owner of a Seattle medical and recreational dispensary sent out an email to customers assuring them that it was still operating as usual and that it would advise of them of any changes. And last month, a bipartisan group of 16 Senators asked the Department of Justice to maintain its guidance so banks could continue serving the industry. %related-post-3% But while one of the senators who co-authored the letter, Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, has also proposed legislation that would make it legal for banks and credit unions to provide full banking services to marijuana businesses, nobody knows exactly what Sessions’ influence over the industry will ultimately be. How do we put this? Sessions needs to quit or lay off of pot. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates. As long as Jeff Sessions is attorney general, there will likely be many.
While the Peach State has traditionally been one of the most prohibitionist states in the nation, the tide is slowly turning for proponents of legalized Georgia medical marijuana. According to a recent Georgia College survey, more adults (78 percent) in the state support the possibility of legalized Georgia medical marijuana than support the governor, state legislature, charter schools, or same-sex marriage. Another poll conducted this year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that 77 percent of registered voters want to see Georgia’s medical marijuana program to be expanded to allow harvesting and distribution. %related-post-1% Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer to get their wish, as the Georgia medical marijuana saga continues to be a two-steps-forward-one-step-back ordeal. As High Times notes, Georgia doesn’t have a citizen-initiated ballot initiative process. As a result, any and all progress toward marijuana legalization must come via state lawmakers. Luckily, Georgia lawmakers have been largely receptive to the will of the people on the issue, showing support for legalization in numbers never before seen. Last October, Atlanta lawmakers put an end to criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession, and, in January, state representatives reviewing the Georgia’s medical marijuana laws voted unanimously to advance a bill allowing cannabis oil dispensaries. State Rep. Allen Peake, a self-avowed conservative Christian, chairman of the House Medical Cannabis Working Group, and one of Georgia’s chief advocates for medical marijuana, told the Journal-Constitution that there are now upwards of 3,400 Georgians registered with the state to use medical marijuana oil — oil they have no way of legally obtaining. %related-post-2% “There’s still a huge issue,” said Peake, R-Macon. “People come to the Department of Public Health (and say), ‘OK, I’ve got my card now, what do I do? Where do I get the product? Where do I go to access medical cannabis oil that the state has said I can legally possess?’” In 2015, Peake presented a bill (later signed by Gov. Nathan Deal) that legalized the possession of medical cannabis oil for patients with certain serious medical conditions. Since then, he has helped shepherd cannabis oil to hundreds of sick people in the state who are legally allowed to possess it, but who have no legal way of obtaining it. “The only way to legally get the THC oil here to dispense is to produce it here in the state of Georgia,” Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, told the Journal-Constitution. If signed into law, Peake’s new Georgia medical marijuana legislation — House Bill 645 — would allow up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute medical marijuana oil to registered patients. Up to two universities or businesses would also be licensed to cultivate, harvest, and produce the oil. %related-post-3% But while Gov. Deal recently said he supports adding PTSD and chronic pain to Georgia’s existing medical marijuana program, he has openly come out against Peake’s effort to allow the in-state cultivation of medical marijuana this year. Supporters of HB645 have no choice but to wait to argue their case until Deal’s successor takes office next year. And Deal isn’t the only one leaving office. Peake, who is also the CEO of one of the nation’s largest restaurant franchises, says he will not run for re-election for another term as state representative. He told The Telegraph of Macon that he plans to continue working as an advocate for medical marijuana, as well as working to help families with children with special needs. We hope that before he leaves the legislature, he’s able to spend a little more time convincing his friends in the state capitol to also consider legalizing recreational marijuana — an industry that, as High Times points out, could generate an additional $340 million of tax revenue for Georgia annually.
The new Virginia medical marijuana bill is only a governor’s signature away from becoming a law. Doctors in Virginia are now one step closer to be being allowed to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. As the News Leader reported, the Virginia Senate voted unanimously February 12 to pass SB 726 — the Joint Commission on Health Care bill — which will permit physicians in Virginia to recommend the use of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil to patients suffering from any diagnosed condition or disease. The vote came on the heels of the unanimous passing of companion bill, HB 1251, in the Virginia House of Delegates. Both bills were recommended by Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care, which is tasked with researching health policy options for the state. %related-post-1% The Virginia medical marijuana bills’ progress through the state legislature was swift. Just two months ago, Nikki Narduzzi, patient coalition director at Cannabis Commonwealth and an advocate for medical marijuana legalization in Virginia, met with Delegate Ben Cline at a Starbucks in order to ask him to patron a Let Doctors Decide medical cannabis bill. He agreed, and as the News Leader rightly declared, public policy history was made. “Today’s passage of the HB 1251 is a monumental win for patients across Virginia,” said Narduzzi. “Cannabis Commonwealth is ready to transition from educating our legislators to educating patients and healthcare providers about what this means for them. We are excited to help patients achieve their goals of pain management, reducing prescription opioid use and a better quality life via cannabis therapies right here in their home state.” Physicians in Virginia currently can issue medical marijuana certifications only to people with intractable epilepsy. Once signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, however, the new law would allow doctors to issue cannabis certifications to treat any condition. Northam, a Democrat and physician, has already pledged to sign such a measure into law. %related-post-2% While the new law is a little tricky, it will help scores of Virginians who will benefit from access to medical cannabis. Here’s how it works: Virginia has already approved a regulatory program for the in-state production of medical cannabis oil by five licensed providers — one per Health Service Area — which will grow, extract, dispense, and deliver the oils. Once the program is operational, patients who register will be able to fill their recommendation at one of five licensed facilities in Virginia. Physicians will recommend the oils, not prescribe them as they do with traditional pharmaceuticals. As the News Leader explains, “prescribe” is reserved for FDA-regulated products, and legally denotes writing a prescription on a DEA-numbered prescription pad. While the new laws technically don’t make medical marijuana compounds legal in Virginia, they do provide an affirmative defense for possession by patients and caregivers with written certification, as well as an affirmative defense for production by licensed providers. %related-post-3% “Medical cannabis oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients manage pain,” Cline told the News Leader. “With Virginia fighting a growing opioid crisis, this is smart legislation to reduce dependence on addictive narcotics. By expanding the ability to recommend medical cannabis oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a decision based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe. I am pleased to see this bill pass the general assembly, and I look forward to the governor signing it into law.” Zach Mauldin, the Marijuana Policy Project’s legislative council for the state, expects Gov. Northam to sign the Virginia medical marijuana legislation “without issue.” Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
Federal law blocks canna-businesses from accessing traditional banking services. So officials in California want to create a state-run cannabis bank. California became the sixth state in the nation to offer recreational pot sales earlier this year — sales that are expected to generate upwards of $7 billion in just a few years. But while those sales will be a boon for the state’s cannabis retailers, antiquated federal laws that block those retailers from traditional banking services require all of that business be done in cash. %related-post-1% As we’ve mentioned previously, the federally created Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) oversees financial institutions, and since marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, any banks that do businesses with marijuana companies could expose themselves to money-laundering or racketeering charges under the federal Controlled Substances Act. As a result, cannabis consumers and businesses must handle all of their transactions in cash, which is not only a hassle for everyone involved, but can also make both buyers and retailers prime targets for violent criminals. In an attempt to make California’s booming legal marijuana business easier and safer for everyone involved, State Treasurer John Chiang (D) and Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) are looking into the possibility of creating a taxpayer-backed cannabis bank to handle the canna-billions generated in the state. “We are contending with the emergence of a multi-billion dollar cannabis industry that needs banking services, and a private banking industry that is stymied by federal law in meeting the needs of the new industry,” Chiang told The Hill. %related-post-2% Chiang says that California and other states will need to take the lead in “bringing the cannabis industry out of the shadows so that it can be properly regulated to prevent sales to minors, to protect the public’s health and safety, and ensure cannabis businesses behave as legitimate tax-paying members of our economy.” In 2016, Chiang established a Cannabis Banking Working Group, which held a handful public meetings with industry stakeholders around the state. The next step will be a feasibility study to determine if such a bank could work. As Fast Company reports, Chiang’s office has already a request for information — a step toward conducting such a study — and Becerra’s office will handle the legal side of things. Only one other state, North Dakota, has ever opened a state-run bank. In 2010, Massachusetts considered opening a state-run bank similar to the one proposed in California, but ultimately scrapped the idea because it would have cost billions of dollars. %related-post-3% As Fast Company notes, such a cannabis bank would likely be subject to less oversight than a private bank — an arrangement, opponents warn, would create opportunities for scandal and abuse of taxpayer dollars. But while a lawyer who specializes in the cannabis industry disagrees, calling a state bank a good idea, the attorney also says “any bank solution is a future fix, not an immediate solution.” What that immediate solution might be, nobody knows. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
All but one of the states that have legalized recreational marijuana also allow marijuana gifting. As a result, scores of clever entrepreneurs are using — and some abusing — this legal gray area. While cannabis companies in some states wait for their opportunity to sell weed via retail locations, some have already been selling the substance for months via a legal loophole known as “gifting.” According to this provision, small amounts of cannabis can be exchanged — or “gifted” — from one adult to another. %related-post-1% As the Associated Press explains, marijuana gifting makes it legal to, say, share a joint at party or put a little weed in your brother’s Christmas stocking. Some budding bud entrepreneurs are taking things a little further than that, however, seeking to use the loophole to establish themselves in a fast-growing industry. In cities where legal pot retailers exist, those running gifting operations don’t face the same oversight or pay marijuana sales taxes. Not only does this practice undercut licensed retailers, but it also creates a legal limbo in states which have legalized, but have no plans for regulated storefronts. So, what does gifting look like in practice? In Boston, for example, you can order a $55 bottle of juice that comes with a “free” bag of marijuana. In Washington, D.C., you can get a gift of pot with the purchase of a $60 t-shirt, $80 Pokemon action figure, or with the purchase of an in-person motivational speech. (We’re not kidding.) %related-post-2% While this is not exactly what lawmakers intended when drafting gifting provisions, police generally haven’t hunted for violators as long as the practice stays low-key and neighbors don’t complain. “We serve the citizens and if they say there’s a problem on this or that block, we’re going to do something about it,” Lt. Andrew Struhar of the Narcotics and Special Operations division of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department told Washington D.C. radio station WTOP. “If you’re going to flaunt it and you’re going to stick it in our face and force us to take action against it, then we’re going to take action.” And, unfortunately, the habitual line-stepping of some “ganja-preneurs” has caused police to do exactly that: In 2015, police in D.C. arrested Nicholas “Kush God” Cunningham, who handed out edibles from a fleet of cars covered in pot-leaf decals in exchange for “donations.” Police in Massachusetts investigated a Craiglist ad offering plastic bags filled with “free” weed for as much as $325. (They stopped their investigation when they couldn’t identify the seller. Reports of socks — yes, socks — being sold at a D.C. nightclub for $300 a pair led to a recent police raid that netted 17 pounds of pot, 10 pounds of edibles, and two quarts of oils infused with THC. %related-post-3% For now, the gray area surrounding gifting is likely to exist — if not get even more fuzzy — until legislation changes. Complicating already-complicated matters is U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to give federal prosecutors more freedom to go after marijuana business in states where the drug is legal. While Sessions stopped just short of directing prosecutors to go after the marijuana industry, as the Cannabist points out, any pressure from the feds could prove to be a boon for underground marijuana gifting operations. Check back later for updates.
For 14 years, Montana medical marijuana patients have had to get by on a limited supply. New legislation is (hopefully) about to change that. In May 2011, there were 31,522 legal Montana medical marijuana cardholders. But when the state enacted a newer, stricter MMJ program later that year, the number of legal users started to plummet. %related-post-1% However, as a recent report by the Montana Legislative Services Division’s office of research and policy analysis indicates, the number of cardholders in Montana has nearly tripled and the number of MMJ providers has increased by 17 percent since a 2016 ballot initiative and 2017 state Senate bill relaxed restrictions. Montana first legalized medical marijuana in 2004, allowing patients with debilitating medical conditions to legally possess the substance. In 2011, the state legislature approved a new medical marijuana program which placed more restrictions on the drug and implemented tougher requirements for Montana’s physicians, caregivers, and patients. The new program — SB 423 — has been roundly criticized by patients, who claim it has made obtaining medical marijuana needlessly complicated. In 2015, a medical marijuana patient submitted a petition to get the legalization of pot on the ballot in the state. The proposed amendment, which would have allowed adults to legally purchase, possess, and consume marijuana, failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. While SB 423 would ultimately be upheld by the state Supreme Court and go into effect in August 2016, Montana residents successfully voted to expand the state’s medical marijuana program in November of that year. %related-post-2% As the Great Falls Tribune explains, voters approved the the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative in November 2016, and the Legislature passed Senate Bill 333 in 2017. The ballot initiative and senate bill removed a stifling three-person limit on the number of patients per marijuana provider, added post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of approved medical conditions, broadened the production parameters of cannabis products, and allowed licensing and testing laboratories and dispensaries. The final version of the medical marijuana program’s rules, which go into effect April 10, clarify testing procedures, how providers will secure their businesses, and how marijuana will be labeled, among other tweaks. While some of Montana’s 600-plus cannabis caregivers are concerned about the potential costs associated with the new regulations, many are already getting ready for the expected influx of business. According to Marijuana Business Daily, many of the state’s caregivers have moved to open dispensaries or make first-time expansions into retail chains. As one MMJ business owner estimates, there are now between 120 and 150 dispensaries in Montana — up from roughly 50 a year ago — as well as another 50 or so modest medical marijuana delivery operations. %related-post-3% Progress is still progress, even if it happens slowly. Kudos to Montana for finally getting with the program with their MMJ program. Is it too soon to suggest that they consider legalizing recreational pot legal, too? Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
In the age of gradual legalization, past marijuana convictions can be a sticky subject. Some locales, however, are making moves to erase convictions for now-legal activities. If you have past marijuana convictions on your record, we don’t have to tell you how difficult it can be to take out a college loan, obtain a professional license, get a job, or qualify for housing. Often compounding the frustration is the fact that the offense you were busted for back in the day may no longer be illegal today. %related-post-1% While some prohibitionist hardliners say you should have to live with the consequences of your actions, other bigger-picture thinkers in a few bigger-city governments are moving to make it easier for you to move on from your past pot convictions. In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64 — the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — which not only legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21, but also gives those convicted of pot-related crimes an opportunity to reduce or expunge their criminal records. As MERRYJANE explains, Prop 64 allows anyone who has been (or is currently) behind bars, on probation, or on parole to petition for resentencing or redesignation. Felonies can become misdemeanors, and misdemeanors can be reduced to infractions or erased altogether, depending on the amount of weed in question and if those convicted have completed their sentences. San Francisco and San Diego, however, have taken things up a notch. While Prop 64 allows Californians with prior pot convictions to petition for expungement, those two cities are doing the heavy lifting for many of them. %related-post-2% As the New York Times reports, the San Francisco district attorney’s office plans to automatically erase 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back 40 years. Prosecutors will also examine another 4,900 felony marijuana charges to determine if they should be retroactively reclassified as misdemeanors. San Diego has selected another 4,700 felony and misdemeanor cases for possible clearance or reduction. And California’s move to expunge convictions mirror similar efforts in other states. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed a bill allowing people to retroactively clear their marijuana convictions. Colorado passed a similar bill in 2017, Virginia passed one this year, and Seattle’s mayor and city attorney recently announced that the city will nullify hundreds of misdemeanor convictions for pot possession that occurred in the years before the drug was legalized in Washington State. %related-post-3% “Seattle is doing the right thing,” says Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It is important that states considering legalizing marijuana, as well as states that already have legalized, acknowledge the past harms of the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws, and work to repair them. Repairing the harms of marijuana criminalization, especially in communities of color that have been hit the hardest by our destructive drug laws, is an essential piece of properly implementing marijuana legalization. It is exciting to see a city like Seattle doing all it can to improve what the state of Washington approved in 2012.” While Vermont also allows cannabis offenders to petition to have their cases expunged, current state law makes them wait a minimum of five years to become eligible to do so. According to MERRYJANE, the state legislature has introduced a proposal that would expedite the process and allow anyone arrested recently for marijuana possession to immediately apply for expungement. While these are all moves in the right direction, we hope more states follow suit, and that the cities and states making incremental moves today erasing past marijuana convictions, make bolder ones in the future. We’ll keep you posted.
The increased production of legal weed in the United States, coupled with Mexican marijuana prohibition, has created a new market for drug smugglers. The growing availability of legal pot in the United States over the last decade has all but killed American demand for illegal, Mexican-grown cannabis. Cartels have adjusted, largely abandoning growing pot and shifting their attention to the production of heroin and fentanyl, and zeroing in on theft and extortion schemes. %related-post-1% According to figures from the Mexican government, federal forces wiped out 74,531 acres of pot crops in 2006. In 2016, that figure dropped to 13,537 acres. This steady drop in Mexican weed production has contributed to a sustained fall in the amount of weed being smuggled north. A recent report by the Los Angeles Times showed that seizures of pot by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have steadily declined for a decade. Last year, 861,231 pounds of marijuana were seized at U.S. ports of entry. That figure is down from 2.4 million pounds in 2013 and 4.3 million pounds in 2009. During one recent seizure of a drug shipment in Ensenada, just 85 miles south of San Diego, Mexican police found considerable amounts of fentanyl, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. They found no marijuana. %related-post-2% But while there isn’t much Mexican pot heading north these days, there is still plenty of pot crossing the border. The production of Mexican pot might have dwindled, but Mexico’s demand for pot remains significant — a demand the cartels are all willing to meet. As KPBS reports, Mexicans are quite fond of American-grown cannabis due to its superiority over the weed typically grown by the cartels. As a result, Tijuana residents with dual citizenship have been driving into California to buy American weed and smuggle it back home. While it is technically illegal to smuggle pot from the U.S. into Mexico, doing so is much easier than smuggling it from Mexico into the U.S. Drivers heading south are seldom subject to the same border stops as those heading north, making it virtually risk-free for smugglers to carry a modest supply of herb with them on each and every trip. %related-post-3% The trend of reverse smuggling started with the legalization of medical marijuana in the United States, and is expected to skyrocket now that California and other states have legalized recreational weed. And while Mexico has dragged its feet when it comes to full legalization, an increasing amount of legislators and citizens south of the border have rightfully made the case that it makes no sense for both countries to pursue such widely conflicting drug policies. As more and more of Mexico’s lawmakers and residents realize the positive impact legal marijuana can have on both crime and the country’s coffers, the push to end Mexican marijuana prohibition will only intensify. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
In conservative Texas, lawmakers have crafted such byzantine and heavily restricted rules that very few people can access Texas medical marijuana. The hole drilled in Sierra Campbell’s skull is a prelude, to see if doctors might not drill additional, more invasive holes. Holes, but no guarantee of healing. All this, plus a pharmaceutical regimen of ten pills a day — plus a few more, whenever the 27-year-old Texas woman suffers a seizure — hasn’t solved her intractable epilepsy. %related-post-1% She still has two or three seizures a month. And every time she has a seizure, she suffers further “neurological damage,” a fancy clinical term for brain damage, like what happens when you suffer a blow to the head, a fall from your bicycle sans helmet, or other serious trauma to the organ that controls your consciousness and your body’s basic functions. Her IQ drops, and the likelihood that she may be able to live a life without constant care drops with it. Data from the “intracranial monitoring” device implanted in Sierra Campbell’s head will tell her doctors if she’s a candidate for brain surgery — for now, this is unclear — but in the meantime, her mother, Laura Campbell, would like to try something Texas law currently considers even more radical, and harder to acquire. Yes: medical marijuana. Earlier this year, “new” Texas medical marijuana program launched. “New,” because lawmakers approved the Texas Compassionate Use Act in 2015, but it took until earlier this year for the first patient to receive the first delivery. Entry is strictly limited. Patients must have intractable epilepsy that hasn’t responded to at least two other FDA-approved treatments. Then, the patient must find two doctors willing to sign off on the cannabis regimen. Then, and only then, may a patient access low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil, delivered to their home by a nurse or a social worker. You’d think Sierra Campbell is an ideal candidate for participation. She is — so are the other 160,000 Texans, less than one percent of the state’s total population. But just as strict as the patient requirements are, so too are the standards to which doctors who might want to recommend cannabis are held. %related-post-2% As the Texas Tribune reported, there are only 18 doctors in the entire state eligible to enroll patients in the state’s medical marijuana program. Sierra and her mother, Laura, live in Austin. If they want to try cannabis, they need to find a doctor who specializes in epilepsy and has a national certification. As it happens, two of the doctors in Austin are pediatric neurologists, and are unlikely to see Laura’s daughter, the newspaper noted. Another doctor, in nearby Fort Worth, told the Tribune that he’d only recommend cannabis to a “handful” of his patients — because, he said, he’s just not convinced if cannabis is medicine. The tiny number of doctors coupled with institutional reluctance to experiment a low-risk, high-reward plant-based medicine leaves Laura Campbell worried that, despite her daughter’s empirically serious health condition, going through the motions of trying to get her cannabis will be a waste of time. “I’m going through this list thinking that I’m going to have to call these doctors and see if they even accept new patients,” Campbell told the site. “Then if we’re lucky enough to get in, how am I going to pay for these doctors? I’m not sure insurance will cover it.” %related-post-3% It’s for reasons such as these that other families with sick children, whose lives might be quickly and drastically improved with medication — like cannabis — have left the state rather than wade through an inhuman bureaucratic struggle, while watching their loved ones suffer and die for lack of access to care. In the context of the country’s healthcare scene, where people die avoidable deaths every day for want of care they’ve either can’t afford or been outright denied, what’s happening to Campbell — and anyone in Texas with chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many other maladies for which cannabis has been shown to grant relief — is a uniquely American experience. To date, 29 states allow their citizens some measure of access to medical marijuana. Another 17 states don’t allow access to cannabis, but do allow low-THC, high-CBD oil in certain circumstances. These programs vary vastly in size and scope, but do have some commonalities: And unlike, say, prescription pain pills, what cannabis there is extremely difficult to access. Nearly every “new” medical-marijuana program has draconian restrictions, on the number of doctors allowed to recommend cannabis, on the producers allowed to grow cannabis, or on the health problems suffered by patients to make them eligible. These have been instituted as a knee-jerk reaction to the examples set by states like California, where — we’re told — medical marijuana is simply too easy to access. %related-post-4% This is a textbook example of a solution without a problem causing additional unnecessary harm and suffering. It is true that medical cannabis is available in California to anyone who wanted it — and had the $40, or sometimes half that, to give to a doctor willing to give a five-minute exam and write a recommendation. It’s also true that this situation did not lead to any serious problems. There was no public-health crisis, there was no crime wave, there was no spike in youth cannabis use. Literally nothing bad happened — except bad medical-marijuana laws. In crafting a law so narrow and so strict as they did, what Texas lawmakers did was add insult upon injury. They have raised false hopes among vulnerable and desperate people. They have admitted that there may be a solution to medical conditions modern medicine has been unable to solve. They have a cure for hopelessness and despair. They know it exists — and like Medicare for all, they know it’s massively popular with their people. But like a cruel and twisted stepparent toying with a child, they’re dangling this promise in sight but out of reach of their charges. Yeah, we know about this, they seem to tell their citizens, but we don’t think you can be trusted with it. You can blame entrenched biases against cannabis for some of this reluctance, but only so far. That argument breaks down under the slightest scrutiny, because we know too much by now. We know weed hasn’t killed anyone, we know alcohol and cigarettes are far more damaging, we know that among the 60,000 fatal drug overdoses a year in America, marijuana is responsible for exactly zero. Texas lawmakers know all this. They also know that rather than make it easy for people like Sierra Campbell to maybe try some legalized Texas medical marijuana, they’re asking her to drill some more holes in her head first. The Texas medical marijuana program is insufficient to the point of inhumanity. It needs immediate improvement, and needs to be used as a case study of how not to do medical marijuana.
The amount of black market weed being smuggled through states like Idaho, North Dakota, and Minnesota is on the rise. But a closer look at current marijuana trafficking numbers nationwide tells a better story. While the legal marijuana industry is exploding across the nation, recreational marijuana remains illegal in all but eight states and marijuana in all forms is illegal in 21 states. States like Oregon, California, Colorado, and Washington are largely responsible for spearheading the growth of the nation’s legal marijuana industry. They are also potentially responsible for propping up pot’s black market. %related-post-1% Growers in pro-pot states on the West Coast produce more legal pot than their residents need — pot that is highly sought after by buyers in prohibitionist areas of the country. As MERRY JANE reports, with customers on the East Coast still willing to pay big bucks for West Coast bud, several northern states have become “prime thoroughfares on weed’s black market pipeline.” According to a report by CBS affiliate KBOI, and cited by MERRY JANE, Idaho State Police seized more weed between 2016 and 2017 than in the previous three years combined — a trend they trace to the legalization of weed in neighboring Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. "We're seeing a huge increase in possession throughout the state of Idaho and also seeing an increase in trafficking cases," ISP Trooper Jason Maxfield told KBOI. "It's no coincidence at all.” Interestingly enough, while law enforcement in North Dakota and Minnesota have reported similar increases in the number of smuggling arrests in their states, a recent report from the United States Sentencing Commission shows that the number of trafficking arrests has actually dropped significantly nationwide in the years since states began legalizing recreational pot. %related-post-2% When residents of Colorado and Washington voted to end cannabis prohibition in 2012, the report says, nearly 7,000 people were found guilty of trafficking marijuana. By 2016 — with recreational use allowed in eight states — the number of convictions had dropped by more than 50 percent. So, what to make of this? Well, it’s pretty safe to assume that as long as weed is legal in some states while remaining illegal in others, marijuana trafficking will continue (supply and demand, ya know). The solution to reducing cannabis trafficking, as MERRY JANE notes is not for authorities to continue pursuing their “outmoded policing procedures,” but rather for more states to legalize this highly profitable, taxable, and medicinally beneficial drug. Here here. We agree.
In an effort to get medicine into the hands of more patients, new legislation coupled with new products could bring welcome change to the New York medical marijuana scene. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent move to rescind the Obama-era Cole Memo may have given federal prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, but it stopped just short of directing them to do so. Unfazed by this token anti-toking gesture, pro-pot legislators and canna-biz leaders are continuing to work to expand the availability of legal marijuana to those who need it and want it. Such is the case in New York. %related-post-1% While New York is one of 29 states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, its program — signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 under the Compassionate Care Act and launched in 2016 — was initially one of the most conservative in the nation. At first, only patients with illnesses including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease were permitted to consume smokeless forms of cannabis. The state added chronic pain to that list of qualifying illnesses in 2016, and post-traumatic stress disorder last year. Not surprisingly, the slowly expanding list of qualifying conditions has hampered New York’s medical marijuana from attracting patients. According to Health Department data cited by the Daily News, only 40,286 patients currently use the program. However, new regulations announced last summer expanded the methods New York medical marijuana could be offered, and at least one company is seizing the opportunity to launch new products — and attract new customers. The 2014 law limited forms of the drug to capsules and liquids and oils for vaporization. According to the Daily News, Etain Inc. has become the first grower in the state to receive preliminary approval from the Health Department to offer newly permitted products, including pot lozenges and ground marijuana flowers for use in vaporizers. %related-post-2% A health department spokeswoman told the paper that the new products must still undergo “rigorous testing” before they can hit the market. Hillary Peckham, Etain’s founder and chief operations officer, is hopeful that the products will hit shelves in March. “Whether you’re the parent of a child with epilepsy, a cancer patient, or a veteran dealing with PTSD, you shouldn’t have to live in fear when seeking legal medical treatment for a debilitating illness,” she says. If recently introduced legislation is enacted, all of those patients listed by Peckham — and more — could have access to medical marijuana with as little as a doctor’s note. Introduced by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Assembly Bill 8904 would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any serious condition — not just those currently allowed per the state’s medical marijuana program. %related-post-3% "I have always opposed a restricted conditions list for medical marijuana," Gottfried told MERRY JANE. "No other medication has a statutory list of what conditions it may be used for because healthcare professionals, not the state, should make prescribing decisions." While it’s too early to tell if or when the bill will actually pass, support for it is building across the state due to the marijuana program’s potential to provide patients with a safer alternative to dangerous painkillers. "That's crucial for us in New York right now, facing the opioid crisis," says Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "In this moment, it's clear that New Yorkers are sick and tired of marijuana prohibition getting in the way of people's ability to access medication and to be able to live as healthfully as possible." Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates about New York medical marijuana laws and other legalization efforts across the nation.
Washington D.C. is full of cannabis roadblockers, powerful legislators who needlessly prevent cannabis progress from occurring. But who are the worst cannabis roadblockers? Start with these five. One need not be a hardened cynic to grasp that Congress, on the whole, is not in the business of doing the people’s business. If it were, the United States would years ago have had single-payer healthcare (58 percent popular support, according to Gallup), student-loan debt relief, stricter gun laws (55 percent), and repeal or reform of the Controlled Substances Act’s blanket prohibition on marijuana (there’s 60 percent support for legalization, and far more for medical cannabis). %related-post-1% We have none of the above items, which suggests something is amiss. And yet, Capitol Hill lawmakers more interested in donors than voters cannot resist forever. The “bums,” they do get thrown out: In 2006, Tom DeLay and his crew exited, helped along by scandal; in 2010, smug Democrats succumbed to the Tea Party “revolution”; and, if current indications hold true, if not quite a blue “tidal wave,” some force will send select enablers of Donald Trump from Washington’s august halls to post-electoral careers as K Street rainmakers or think-tank flunkies. At the same time, only a bitter and ignorant cynic would declare everyone in Congress a corrupt monster. Let’s look at the cannabis question. At the time of this writing, there are 42 marijuana-related bills currently in Congress. There are bills to speed along marijuana research, reform banking and taxation restrictions, and legalize cannabis outright. This is a popular issue with bipartisan support. And yet these bills aren’t going anywhere. They’re either dead or doomed to die in limbo — for want of a committee hearing. Here, then, is the rub. Not Congress as a whole, not the Civil War reenactment running the Justice Department, and not the president (not on this one). Bills only become law if the bill receives first a hearing in committee — and a bill only gets a hearing if it’s called by the committee chair. In this way, a handful of select lawmakers can block popular measures that impact millions of people from becoming law — and, if the committee chair is from, say, Texas, there’s very little the people of, say, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine he is maligning can do about it. Who are these folks? Glad you asked. Walk with us, won’t you, through the garden of cannabis roadblockers. %related-post-2% Cannabis Roadblocker #1: Pete Sessions Perhaps nobody in Congress is more responsible for the current unpopular cannabis stalemate. A Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Sessions (no relation to Jefferson Beauregard III) has represented the northern neighborhoods and suburbs of Dallas for more than 20 years. It’s not the most conservative place — Sessions was recently re-elected with 71 percent support, but his district narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in November 2016 — but Sessions behaves as if a MAGA hat is glued to his head, voting with the Trump agenda more than 97 percent of the time. As chair of the House’s Committee on Rules, Sessions is also one of the most powerful people in Congress. If a bill manages to make it out of another committee, the Committee on Rules can hold it up, or send it to another, unfriendly committee. In September, it was the Sessions-chaired Rules Committee that refused to allow the rest of Congress to even vote on a host of marijuana reform measures, some of them very modest. Opposition is one thing. Under Sessions, the Rules Committee is engaging in pure obstructionism — a tyranny of the minority. Cannabis Roadblocker #2: Chuck Grassley Remember the CARERS Act? What a big deal it was. There was Cory Booker, there was Kirsten Gillibrand, and there was Rand Paul, pushing bipartisan cannabis reform in the U.S. Senate. The days of marijuana bills coming from isolated back-benchers were over forever — but so was CARERS’s chances of becoming law, thanks to a lawnmower-riding lad from Iowa farm country. Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley is chair of the Senate Judiciary committee. In a disingenuous op-ed co-written with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a legendary foe of drug-policy reform in her own right, Grassley declared his support for expanded marijuana research, not long after declaring his opposition to just that. Grassley could have had everything he asked for in that op-ed, had he not used his position as chair of the Judiciary to block CARERS from a hearing. Grassley is secure in his position as long as Republicans hold the Senate, which is bad news for cannabis reform. Also: That infamous remark about “good people” not smoking marijuana from Jeff Sessions, then an obscure and extremist senator from Alabama who nobody else in Washington really took seriously? That was entered into the record at a committee hearing called by Grassley. Thanks, Chuck. %related-post-3% Cannabis Roadblocker #3: Greg Walden You might not expect a Congressmember from Oregon to be a roadblock obstructing progress on cannabis. But Greg Walden is Oregon’s token Republican in Congress. He’s promised to be a reliable Republican in Washington, as befits his conservative district, and as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce — the oldest and longest-standing committee in the Congress — he’s more than doing his bit. Twenty of the cannabis-related bills in Congress have been assigned to Walden’s committee, more than any other in Congress. Of these, a perfect, round zero have advanced to a hearing. Walden does this despite going on fact-finding hikes to Mount Hood with Portland’s Earl Blumenauer, a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Does Walden ever explain why Blumenauer’s bills — bills from others — don’t get anywhere around the campfire? Cannabis Roadblocker #4: Bob Goodlatte Cannabis reform is popular in Virginia, and yet a recent decriminalization measure died in the state legislature, after representatives from the state prosecutors’ association claimed, on record, that decriminalization would lead to toddlers eating weed. Who would say such a patently insane and absurd thing? Why, the kind of groups coalescing behind U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has chaired the House Judiciary committee since 2013. Behind Energy and Commerce, no committee receives more cannabis-related bills behind Judiciary, which is currently “considering” 18 such pieces of legislation. We use that verb loosely, because those bills, like the ones in Energy and Commerce, are languishing. While Goodlatte refused to allow impeachment proceedings of Barack Obama to proceed — laudable, in the same way a police officer who does not allow murder to proceed is laudable — he has proven himself not above backdoor dealing: It was he who oversaw a vastly unpopular effort, undertaken in secret, to gut Congress’s independent Office of Ethics. The good news for cannabis advocates is that Goodlatte is retiring. %related-post-4% Cannabis Roadblocker #5: Jim Sensenbrenner One of the most modest — yes, you could say conservative — marijuana-related bills currently in Congress is H.R. 2273. Introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania), the “Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2017” would excluded cannabidiol and other CBD-rich, low-THC plants from the DEA’s definition of marijuana — thus easily allowing access to plant-based medicine useful in treating intractable epilepsy. So much around medical marijuana would be made easier if this bill became a law. And lo, it, too, is nearly a year old and has yet to receive a hearing. What, why, and who? It’s been referred to the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Its chair is Jim Sensenbrenner. A lifetime lawmaker who has represented suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 1978, it’s Sensenbrenner whom we have to thank for the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act. Sensenbrenner notably voted against providing post-Katrina aid to New Orleans, and was forced to apologize to Michelle Obama after referring to the then-First Lady’s “big butt” during a church meeting. And he’s the definition of a cannabis roadblock, since Rep. Perry’s law allowing CBD oil to not be classified as more dangerous than heroin is not becoming law, thanks to Jim Sensenbrenner. Of course there are other cannabis roadblockers in our nation's capital. But these five, they are some of the most problematic.
Laws regarding marijuana are quickly changing in the U.S. But what about marijuana in Europe, where some countries are known for being rather liberal? Well, European cannabis progress isn’t advancing as fast as in the U.S., especially on the recreational side. Even medical marijuana can be very hard to get. So, what could Europe learn from the United States about marijuana? %related-post-1% The recreational use of marijuana in Europe First, let’s have a look at the laws in some European countries regarding the recreational use of marijuana. Austria decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of marijuana for personal use. Growing, selling or distributing are punishable by up to five years imprisonment, depending on the quantity of product. Belgium allows adults (18+) to possess up to three grams of marijuana. Selling or transporting the product, however, is still illegal. In Finland, recreational marijuana is illegal. In The Netherlands, the sale of marijuana outside of licensed coffeeshops is illegal. Inside the shops it’s still technically illegal, but it’s tolerated. One can grow up to five plants at home for personal use, though if discovered, the plants will most likely be destroyed. But even in that scenario the owner will not be prosecuted. In France, whether you consume marijuana or heroin, the law is the same. An individual could be sent to prison for a year, and be forced to pay a € 3,750 ($4,642) fine for consuming marijuana, or any other drug. But in reality, judges tend to take into account whether you’ve been arrested for the first time, and the danger of the drug in question. %related-post-2% Medical marijuana in Europe Now, let’s focus on the medical marijuana laws in the Netherlands, Germany, and France. These are three countries in which there’s always a lot of debate about whether or not to soften the cannabis regulations. Other countries, like Italy, Finland and Spain have also legalized the use of medical marijuana, even though they all have their own complex rules. In the Netherlands, medical marijuana is legal, but you have to get a new prescription every time you go to the pharmacy. In 2017, doctors prescribed medical marijuana more than 50,000 times — this in a country of roughly 17 million people. Germany now allows medical marijuana to be prescribed by doctors for over 30 ailments. However, German medical marijuana can only be distributed through pharmacies, and only doctors get to decide which cannabis consumption method you're entitled to. In France it’s a lot harder to get medical marijuana. Only a few dozen people have a prescription for synthetic THC. Dried flowers can also be prescribed, but they don’t have an official authorization to be sold. Therefore, doctors risk being prosecuted if the patient has any ill side effects. %related-post-3% What Europe can learn from the United States The first step for European countries would be to allow more open and regular access to medical marijuana. Second, medical marijuana laws should allow patients the opportunity to access a myriad of products, so they can test them and see which ones deliver the best outcomes for them individually. And third, taxes collected from medical marijuana sales should help fund addiction treatment programs as they do in a handful of U.S. states. Although not all American states allow medical marijuana, the states that have more liberalized regulations are able to better promote the well-being of patients in need. And that’s something we should all care about. Legalization of recreational use would be a big plus, of course, and by watching how the matter is being addressed in the U.S. — not to mention by their Canadian neighbors — Europeans have multiple roadmaps to emulate.
Legal American marijuana is killing the market for Mexican-grown cannabis. It’s also making a noticeable dent in violent crime on the border. Legal marijuana has helped countless people deal with numerous health conditions. It has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and generated millions of dollars in tax revenue. It has also helped to slow down drug trafficking and other drug-related crime. And perhaps nowhere is that reduction in crime more evident than on the border between the United States and Mexico. %related-post-1% According to data from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, Mexico rakes in between $6 billion and $8 billion each year from the drug trade. The center estimates that 15 percent to 26 percent of that revenue comes from marijuana. As significant as Mexico’s marijuana revenues are, however, they used to be higher — much higher. And the increased availability of legal American marijuana is the reason. As the Los Angeles Times reports, seizures of pot by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have steadily declined for a decade. Last year, 861,231 pounds of marijuana were seized at U.S. ports of entry. That figure is down from 2.4 million pounds in 2013 and 4.3 million pounds in 2009. With their pot profits dropping, Mexico’s drug cartels have increasingly dropped out of the marijuana business. According to figures from the Mexican government, federal forces wiped out 74,531 acres of pot crops in 2006. In 2016, that figure dropped to 13,537 acres. %related-post-2% During a recent seizure of a drug shipment in Ensenada, just 85 miles south of San Diego, Mexican police found 100 pounds of fentanyl, 914 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 88 pounds of cocaine, and 18 pounds of heroin. They found no marijuana. Not only has the falling demand for Mexican marijuana taken money from cartel pockets, it has also contributed to a significant (and welcome) drop in drug-related crime. Of the the four U.S. states that border Mexico, three — California, New Mexico, and Arizona — have some form of marijuana legalization. According to a recent study published by the Economic Journal, the rate of violent crime fell by 12.5 per cent in counties nearest to the border after the introduction of medical marijuana laws. As the Independent notes, data from the study shows that robberies in these counties have dropped by 19 percent, murders by 10 percent, and assaults by nine percent. The most notable number is in the number of drug-law related murders, which have fallen by almost 41 percent. %related-post-3% While the cartels are increasingly abandoning the marijuana business and shifting their focus to the production of heroin and fentanyl — as well as extortion schemes and fuel theft — pockets of pot production and pot-related crime still exist south of the border. Some within the Mexican government are pushing for legalization, looking to further stamp out violence, as well as replicate the streams of newfound revenue that are currently being generated in the United States. With drug enforcement agents now seizing more and more illegal shipments of legal American marijuana bound for Mexico, it’s safe to say the demand is there. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.
New Jersey’s new governor supports legalization. But when will the state’s lawmakers get on board and pass New Jersey marijuana laws. During former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s time in office, marijuana legalization didn’t stand a chance. Christie, a Republican, called the idea of cannabis legalization “beyond stupidity,” and penned a letter deriding the movement as chairman of President Trump’s commission on combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis. %related-post-1% New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, couldn’t disagree more. A former Wall Street banker and ambassador to Germany under former President Obama, Murphy values the medicinal benefits of the drug, and has pledged to make the possession and sale of marijuana legal in the state. In a Jan. 23, 2018 tweet, Murphy touted medical marijuana use in treating “chronic and debilitating pain, epilepsy, glaucoma, PTSD, ALS, side effects of cancer treatment, side effects of HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other painful illnesses.” “We will not deny people compassionate care any longer,” he added. As Entrepreneur reports, Murphy calls the state’s current marijuana legislation unfair, blaming it for the incarceration of a disproportionately high number of people of color. On his website, Murphy says he will “end mass incarceration by pursuing the legalization of marijuana and comprehensively reviewing all criminal sentencing laws.” %related-post-2% First enacted in 2010, New Jersey’s medical marijuana program only allows patients suffering from a limited number of conditions to legally use medical marijuana, including multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, and muscular dystrophy. As Entrepreneur reports, Murphy has blamed Christie for severely hindering patients’ access to the drug, noting that only five dispensaries serve the program’s 15,000 enrollees across the state. Murphy has already issued an executive order directing the New Jersey Department of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners to review the existing program in order to “eliminate barriers” to access for patients suffering from conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana. State lawmakers are also drafting a bill that would create a legal adult-use cannabis market, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has already introduced a companion bill that would allow a single household to grow up to 12 marijuana plants if and when recreational cannabis becomes legal in the Garden State. Murphy says he’d like to see a legalization bill passed “sooner than later.” But despite his enthusiastic advocacy of legal marijuana — and the fact that Democrats now hold the governor's office and a majority in both chambers of New Jersey’s Legislature — the governor is facing opposition to his plans from members of his own party. %related-post-3% Not only have 11 of 15 Republican state senators said they would vote "no" on any bill legalizing weed, but half a dozen Democratic state senators told NJ Advance Media that they also intend to vote against any bill legalizing pot for recreational use by adults. Some of those who oppose legalization have expressed concerns about potential public safety issues on the state’s roadways. Others are concerned about the message legalization might send to New Jersey’s youth. Most, however, are concerned about the aforementioned unfair pot-related prosecution and incarceration of people of color, and want to see that discrepancy fixed before any new laws are passed. Given Murphy’s insistence that "a stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces comprehensive criminal justice reform — including a process to legalize marijuana," the senate and the governor’s office might not be as far apart as they think. Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates about New Jersey marijuana laws and other legalization efforts across the nation.
Sure, the fact that Americans can purchase some form of cannabis in many states is great. But, the mere legalization of marijuana is not enough. Here’s why. As “legalization” has transformed from concept to reality, more and more pro-marijuana activists and patients are coming out against it. With so many more people having positive interactions with the cannabis plant and such obvious willful ignorance on the part of the U.S. government, why is it so hard for us to agree that it should “just be legal already”? Why are so many stoners voting against legalization? %related-post-1% Because, legalization is not enough. The definition of “legalization” is flexible from state-to-state, yet all of it (including the non-intoxicating hemp crop) remain federally illegal for no good reason. None of the goals of legalization — safe access for the sick, a diminishing black market, social justice, research and innovation, stemming the tide of overdose deaths, personal and public profit — will be truly free and fair until the entire cannabis plant is federally decriminalized and completely de-scheduled. As it stands, the gray area legal businesses operate in today is a complicated landscape with so many legislative holes and backdoors that it creates unchecked opportunities for big business to dominate the financial opportunity at the expense of the small businesses that have traditionally served the demand. The social justice goals that propelled legalization are all but lost when freedom and fairness take a back seat to commercialization and pay-to-play licensing. Or, as attorney and political commentator Angela Rye put it, “Legalizing weed does not go far enough to end the War on Drugs. White folks are making money from the same marijuana that put black and brown people in prison. Even though more than half of the states in the country have legalized weed in some form, the actual victims in the War on Drugs are still being left out.” %related-post-2% Earlier this month, Privateer Holdings completed a $100 million Series C funding round, which is now being called the “single largest raise in the U.S. cannabis industry.” Privateer, whose portfolio includes Leafly.com, Marley Natural and Tilray (a Canadian licensed producer) beat its own record for an earlier funding round that closed at $75 million. Who exactly is behind that money is unknown, except that it was invested via Silicon Valley enigma and one-time Trump supporter Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. A fraction of this money probably could have bought off the entire U.S. Congress by now, whose support comes pretty cheap in comparison to the magnitude of their power. Why is there enough money to fund federally illegal cannabis businesses but not to make cannabis federally legal? This sort of legalization is not enough. Not when prisoners like Luke Scarmazzo are still serving 20-year sentences (the last year of which has been in solitary confinement) for “crimes” — opening a California medical dispensary — that are now further enriching the already wealthy. This sort of legalization doesn’t prevent parents, even in states where it is legal, from losing custody of their children for choosing to use it. This sort of legalization does not increase safe and affordable access for the chronic and terminally ill, although it does tend to usurp state medical programs. %related-post-3% The legalization of marijuana is not enough when the uneducated and willfully ignorant opponents to legislative reform — those who profit off the suffering; the police, legal drug companies, court mandated rehab facilities, alcohol companies — are allowed heavier hands at writing legislation than suffering patients and the disenfranchised victims of a failed and pointless war. When the legalization of marijuana was an intangible concept, there were only a handful of people willing to affiliate themselves with the cannabis plant. None of these investment groups would be profiting today if it had not been for people like the late, great Dennis Peron. Peron, who died in late January, publicly led the drive to put the first medical marijuana law, California’s Proposition 215, on the ballot in 1996. He did so as a gay man in San Francisco’s Castro District in the 1980s, when he started to publicize the concept of “medical marijuana” amid the deadly AIDS epidemic. He didn’t care if it would make him rich or even land him in jail, he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do. %related-post-4% Peron was vehemently opposed to legalization, because as he put it, “All use of marijuana is medical.” He believed that using cannabis to relax in place of alcohol, pharmaceuticals or any other intoxicating and otherwise less-safe substance is a medical choice every American citizen should be free to make. Proposition 215 was criticized for being broad; it provided none of the regulatory framework of today’s medical and adult use legislation. If you asked Dennis, that was by design; all use is medical and the initiative made medical use “legal” without imposing any special interest on what that should mean. Maybe there was something to be desired in that vagueness, it was a declaration of a human right rather than a revenue stream for corporations and governments. Today’s medical and adult use legalization is big business, but as long as average citizens remain criminals in any way, then legalization will not be enough. Science and reality point to the same solution; federal decriminalization and descheduling.
Two Republican lawmakers in the Volunteer State think residents should have access to Tennessee medical marijuana. The governor doesn’t agree. Last year, State Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and State Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby headed Tennessee’s Medical Cannabis Task Force, a panel created by House Speaker Beth Harwell to explore the possibility of marijuana legalization in the state. As the Johnson City Press reports, the task force drafted legislation based on testimony from hundreds of experts like doctors, patients, and officials from other states where marijuana is already legal. %related-post-1% Dickerson, a physician, and Faison, a lawmaker who has travelled to Colorado multiple times to research medical marijuana, have filed a bill which would legalize oil-based medical marijuana products for an estimated 65,000 Tennesseans suffering from a variety of health conditions. Faison has chided the Senate for being too “scared” to pass previous Tennessee medical marijuana bills. This time around, he and Dickerson are taking a softer approach, dubbing the latest bill the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018 as way to remind people that the bill would legalize only cannabis oil products, not the recreational use of marijuana. Dickerson told Knoxville’s WATE that legalizing the cannabis oil “will help Tennessee’s sickest citizens,” while Faison calls the bill “an alternative to opiates.” According to the Tennessee Department of Health, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 1,186 people in Tennessee in 2016. Despite the fact that a recent Vanderbilt University poll indicates that nearly 80 percent of registered Tennessee voters support doctors having at least the option to prescribe medical cannabis to patients battling opioid addiction and other conditions, Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t too keen on the idea. %related-post-2% Just a day after Dickerson and Faison introduced their bill, Haslam introduced TN Together, a plan to battle the state’s growing opioid epidemic by focusing on prevention, treatment, and expanded law enforcement capabilities. Medical marijuana is not part of the plan, and, if Haslam has his way, it never will be. “I think our position on medical marijuana has been the same, and I don’t think you’ll see our administration be in favor of that,” he told WATE. Haslam, along with other top Senate Republicans, have indicated they would be a “no vote” on the marijuana bill, citing the need for more research on the benefits of cannabis, as well as a need for the Drug Enforcement Administration to change marijuana’s prohibitive federal classification as a Schedule 1 substance. Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones, who has sponsored numerous medical cannabis bills, told WATE that Haslam and Republican leadership need to re-read the existing research. %related-post-3% “If the governor is not for medical marijuana and for helping the people that studies have proven it will help, then he is wrong,” she says. As of the time of this writing, several members of Senate leadership say that, instead of Tennessee medical marijuana, they are focused on the governor’s opioid bill. Will the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018 ever pass? Your guess is as good as ours. If it does pass, Tennessee would join 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana. But only If…
Public support for marijuana legalization in the U.S. has never been higher — and it looks like it will only keep growing. Will that translate into more political change? A recent Gallup poll showed that 64 percent of Americans now favor marijuana legalization, as do a similar percentage of Americans surveyed in three other recent polls by CBS News, Quinnipiac University, and the Pew Research Center. Even a majority of Republicans support legalization for the first time in history. %related-post-1% But public support for marijuana doesn’t always mean political action. While the legal marijuana industry has never been bigger, recreational pot remains illegal in 41 states, medical marijuana is still illegal in 21 states, and both forms of marijuana are still technically banned at the federal level. And it is that federal ban — held up by a Republican complacency regarding the ban—which is ultimately doing the most to keep cannabis out of the hands of voters who want it and need it. As the Motley Fool outlines, cannabis is a Schedule I drug at the federal level. This classification makes marijuana illegal, like heroin and LSD, and also keeps it from being legally recognized as having any medical benefit. It also labels the drug as having a high potential for abuse. Marijuana’s Schedule I classification hinders medical cannabis researchers from conducting research, as there is only one federally approved grow facility in the entire nation. The classification also blocks cannabusinesses from traditional banking services. The federally created Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) oversees financial institutions, and any banks that do businesses with marijuana companies could be at risk of fines and criminal charges. On top of that, U.S. tax code disallows businesses that sell federally illegal substances from taking standard corporate income-tax deductions. As a result, marijuana companies can see their profits taxed anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent. %related-post-2% Despite pot’s Schedule I designation, the Obama-era Cole Memo established a federal policy of non-interference toward pot-friendly state laws. The policy, designed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, allowed the nation’s legal marijuana industry to pick up steam. Yet, current prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions has since rescinded the policy, and while he hasn’t directed federal prosecutors to go after the pot industry, he has given them carte blanche to do so at their own discretion. Not only has this legislative limbo soured some investors on the domestic marijuana market, it has also given obstructionist Republican lawmakers an excuse not to reconsider their stances on legalization. The fact that the majority of Republican voters supporting legal marijuana is the mathematically smallest majority possible — just 51 percent according to Gallup — doesn’t do much to move the needle, either. With that said, there are encouraging signs that an increasing number of those on the political right are also on the right side of the legalization issue: %related-post-3% South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield has co-sponsored legislation that would pave the way for medical marijuana to replace opioid painkillers, helping curb an epidemic he's seen destroy families of all economic levels — including his own. Bedingfield’s fellow South Carolinian, Senator Lindsey Graham, has been a major backer of the CARERS Act — aka, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015 — which, if passed, would do a number of things, including reclassifying marijuana to maximize its medical value, allow banks to handle money from legal marijuana businesses, and prevent the government from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs. In Georgia, Conservative Christian lawmaker, State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, presented a bill in 2015 (later signed by Gov. Nathan Deal) that established the state’s medical cannabis program, which now allows more than 1,000 people with qualifying diagnoses to possess cannabis oil. He also drafted a bill (awaiting Gov. Deal’s signature) that would expand previous bill’s list of qualifying conditions. Peake, who is the CEO of one of the nation’s largest franchise restaurant businesses, also helps to shepherd cannabis oil to hundreds of sick people in the state who, according to state law, are allowed to possess it, but who have no legal way of obtaining it. Two Kentucky Republicans, Senator Rand Paul and Representative Thomas Massie, have been outspoken in their support of pro-marijuana legislation, and noted marijuana advocate and State Senator Perry Clark has been aggressively pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana. While Clark’s Cannabis Freedom Act bill failed to pass in 2016, he has filed two new legalization bills, SB76 and SB57, which, if approved by lawmakers, could eventually be voted on by the people of Kentucky. Sen. Paul, along with Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are part of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives who introduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislation that would block the federal government from interfering with medical marijuana activity legal at the state level, permit Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis, remove cannabidiol from the Controlled Substances Act, and expand research on marijuana. Vermont’s Republican Governor Phil Scott recently signed House Bill 511 into law, making Vermont the first state in the nation to authorize recreational marijuana use via the act of a state legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure. New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Joel Giambra unveiled a proposal to legalize cannabis and use the resulting tax revenue to pay for subway repairs and other transportation projects. Tennessee State Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) have introduced the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018, which would allow Tennessee patients with specific health conditions access to safe, regulated medical cannabis oil-based manufactured products. %related-post-4% Seventy-two percent of Democrats now support marijuana legalization. And while the 51 percent of Republicans supporting legalization might seem a bit underwhelming, that number was 17 points lower just two years ago. As legal marijuana continues to create jobs, generate tax revenue, help people cope with numerous diseases, and combat the nation’s opioid epidemic, the percentage of voters — Republicans and Democrats, alike — who support legalization will only continue to increase. The number of Republican legislators who are responding positively to voters on this issue is encouraging. So, encourage your local elected officials to join them. It's about time political action matches public support for marijuana legalization.
It's becoming more evident by the day that NFL marijuana rules are antiquated and do more harm than good. Yes, it's (past) time for those rules to change. Until red-and-blue lights flashed behind the SUV in which Carlos Henderson was riding in West Monroe, Louisiana on Jan. 14, it had been more than seventeen years since a member of the Denver Broncos had been arrested for marijuana charges. %related-post-1% Initial reaction from some corners was surprise. Why had it taken this long? Denver, Colorado is home to the first legal commercial sales of marijuana in the U.S., and since sales there began on Jan. 1, 2014 up until now, Denver has been the most cannabis friendly tourist destination in America. Well before all that, in 2007, marijuana activists paid for a billboard outside Mile High Stadium exhorting running back Ricky Williams — whose career was very nearly derailed for marijuana use — to come to more welcoming climes in Denver. But this arrest “gap” is no aberration at all, and shouldn’t be surprising. Dealing with cannabis outside of the criminal justice system — if at all — is what a majority of Americans want. And it’s how they do it in Denver. If Henderson had been pulled over in Colorado (or California, or Oregon, or Maine or Nevada or Massachusetts or Alaska) and not Louisiana, he might be dealing with a citation for public consumption instead of a misdemeanor possession charge and potential discipline from the NFL. It would have never made the news; we wouldn’t know his name. What happened to Henderson should be the exception; such a state of affairs is what marijuana legalization is all about. But there’s another way of looking at Henderson’s unfortunate off-season encounter, one we should consider during the run-up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 4. It’s the same way you should interpret freak occurrences like the saga of T.J. Ward. %related-post-2% Police responding to a report of a tripped burglar alarm at Ward’ s apartment discovered some cannabis in glass jars — and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety ended up arrested on marijuana charges. That’s a disgrace, and an indictment of law-enforcement — and not T.J. Ward, who, at the extreme worst, was an adult who allegedly wanted to possess marijuana in the relative safety of his home. If what police say is true, Ward felt comfortable enough to do that while pursuing an NFL career. That’s the rub. For most NFL players, marijuana isn’t a big deal anymore. It’s not considered a career risk. It’s certainly not considered bad, or dangerous, or something to be avoided. For the entire league, for all 32 billionaires who own franchises, cannabis should be their last concern. The league still has the professional sporting world’s strictest and most punitive rules against cannabis use — and that’s a problem — but the players clearly know how to work around those NFL marijuana rules, and, if anything, are feeling more and more empowered to use cannabis in peace. As they should — they don’t want to live in the pain and confusion they absolutely know is waiting for them on the other side of their career, should they be lucky enough to have a long and fruitful one that involves championship rings and Heisman Trophies. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> The former football players above have names that even casual fans know, and they’re making a salient point: The NFL’s prohibitive rules on marijuana are dumb and outdated and need to go. But they also need to go because nobody cares about them anymore — not the players, and certainly not the owners or the league. The league’s power structure entered the 2017 season believing that they’d weathered football’s ongoing concussion scandal. Look at that — they put out a product that absolutely threatens the health, safety and welfare of the people who play it — and everyone knows it and still goes along with it! They thought they were invincible. Instead, after blackballing Colin Kaepernick and compelling their close personal friend and recipient of their largess, a certain Mr. POTUS, to call the man out by name, they very nearly lost control of their shop. Digging in on a lost cause like cannabis prohibition — an issue unpopular with Republicans in Congress — is not something NFL owners have the luxury to do, even if they truly cared about whatever “family values” or “moral character” principles are supposedly violated by marijuana use. %related-post-3% Cannabis is banned in the NFL because of the contract the NFL Players Association signed with the league. The conventional wisdom is that removing the marijuana ban, a sensible thing and a thing the players want, will almost certainly require the players giving something up in return. Money, maybe, or work rules? Or, maybe not. Late last year, Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson returned to the team after a layoff of more than a year. Henderson had been sick — he has Crohn’s disease, an incapacitating inflammation of the intestines. He used cannabis for the pain, got caught, and served a lengthy suspension. But the Bills want him, and welcomed him back without so much as a word about what had him sitting out. More and more, it seems that the NFL has declared a de-facto truce on marijuana use. The war may not be over, but it’s ending. All that’s left is getting the belligerents to admit it, get them to the negotiating table, and change those NFL marijuana rules.
After a false start in 2017, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative process. Now, Vermont marijuana can be enjoyed by the masses. The last time we checked in with Vermont, the state’s Senate and House had approved a bill that would allow adults to possess and grow recreational marijuana. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has now signed House Bill 511 into law, making Vermont the first state in the nation to authorize recreational marijuana use via the act of a state legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure. %related-post-1% One of the most politically liberal states in the nation, Vermont marijuana — of the medical variety — became legal in 2004, and recently they decriminalized possession of small amounts of recreational pot. While state lawmakers passed a recreational marijuana bill last year, Gov. Scott vetoed it, arguing that it didn’t do enough to shield kids from the drug or protect against stoned drivers. Legislators made his requested changes, and Scott signed the new version into law “with mixed emotions” on January 22. The law will go into effect on July 1. "As I said when I vetoed S. 22 in May, I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children," the self-described “libertarian” Scott said in a statement after signing the bill. The new law, which is unrelated to the state’s existing medical marijuana program, will go into effect on July 1, 2018. Adults over 21 will be permitted to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, two mature marijuana plants, and four immature marijuana plants. %related-post-2% Laura Subin, director of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, told USA Today that residents will likely be permitted to give marijuana, seeds, or plants to one another as gifts. But while New England neighbors Massachusetts and Maine are preparing for recreational weed sales this summer, the recent Vermont marijuana law limits pot sales to its registered medical marijuana patients — a regulation that Scott has little interest in changing. As the Huffington Post reports, Scott has serious concerns about how a regulated recreational marijuana commercial market would work in Vermont. As a result, he has created his own marijuana task force, which is examining Vermont’s involvement in recreational pot sales and focusing on developing comprehensive strategies for education, prevention, and highway safety. “There must be comprehensive and convincing plans completed in these areas before I will begin to consider the wisdom of implementing a commercial ‘tax-and-regulate’ system for an adult marijuana market,” he says. “It is important for the General Assembly to know that – until we have a workable plan to address each of these concerns – I will veto any additional effort along these lines, which manages to reach my desk.” Vermont is now the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana.
A few weeks after cannabis advocates celebrated one set of underage sting results, news broke that numerous Oregon dispensaries were caught selling marijuana to minors. Toward the close of December 2017, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) formed a special team of state inspectors and a group of volunteers, ranging from the ages of 18 to 20 years old — with some of the volunteers coming from police cadet programs — to conduct a series of stings to make sure cannabis retailers were checking IDs before allowing customers in to their shops. OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger said, “they would enter the stores and ask for pre-rolled joints.” %related-post-1% During the December sting operations, inspectors visited 66 marijuana retailers throughout Oregon and caught 16 stores illegally selling marijuana to minors, showing a statewide compliance rate of 76 percent. To put this in perspective, Pettinger said, “the compliance rate for those places refusing to sell alcohol to minors is 78 percent statewide as of June 30, 2017, though alcohol-related stings are somewhat random due to the sheer number of licensees. Problematic retailers can expect repeat visits, just like alcohol retailers.” Selling marijuana to minors — unintentionally or intentionally — is one of the more serious violations a marijuana retail licensee can face. The violation can result in the retailer being fined $1,650 or being smacked with a 10-day license suspension. If a retailer piles up enough violations the state can revoke their license. “It works much like a points system on someone's driving record,” Pettinger said. The OLCC’s executive director Steven Marks said, “this is a wake-up call to our licensed retailers.” %related-post-2% With this round of stings showing a clear failure on the part of some dispensaries to check IDs, at least one in the state is taking notice and instilling contingency plans to ensure that their staff does their part to keep cannabis out of the hands of underage consumers. Swed.Co, a Gresham-based dispensary, has programmed their point of sale (POS) system to require a date of birth be manually entered before a sale can be executed. Will Biggs, co-owner of Swed.Co told me, “we ask for a customer’s ID as they enter the sales floor and our POS system will not allow a sale to go through until a DOB has been entered and the customer is verified to be 21 or older. It is safe to say our procedure is not a single check age verification but a double check.” Whatever action plans are pursued by individual dispensaries, these recent sting results provide a stark reminder that dispensaries everywhere need to be extra-vigilant in carding all customers. And when they do, we’ll all be able to celebrate the results together.
Passing pro-MMJ legislation is just the first step in getting cannabis to patients. From there, the journey can take a very long time. Example: Just try getting Detroit marijuana. The birthplace of the American auto industry, Detroit, Michigan (aka, Motor City) was once the wealthiest city in the nation. By the 1950s, it had the highest median income and the highest rate of home ownership of any city in the country. %related-post-1% Sadly, the collapse of Detroit’s manufacturing sector — coupled with white flight — decimated the place, and while the city has begun to rebound a bit in recent years, full recovery remains quite a ways away. One way for the Motor City to speed up that recovery would be to fully embrace the legal marijuana industry. And while some have set out to do just that, Detroit marijuana businesses have faced shifting regulations, padlocked doors, and, now, a legal battle that threatens to bring the fledgling medical marijuana industry to a halt. While voters first approved legalized medical marijuana back in 2008, the Michigan Legislature let canna-businesses in Detroit and other Michigan communities operate in a weird grey area for several years. Then, as the Detroit News explains, the City Council finally adopted a strict set of zoning and licensing requirements in 2015 which required all dispensaries — both new and existing — seeking to operate within the law to apply online, submit plans, meet rules, and obtain licensing, or risk being shut down. The rules, which went into effect in March 2016, also stipulated that medical marijuana dispensaries could not be within 1,000 feet of another dispensary, church, day care facility, school, or park. %related-post-2% In November of last year, voters pushed back on the tougher regulations, voting in support of yet another new ordinance that reduced the distance between dispensaries and churches from 1,000 to 500 feet, and expanded the areas in which dispensaries are allowed to operate. Dispensaries’ legal hours of operation were extended, as well. While voters passed the new ordinances, many city officials didn’t support the vote, concerned that the relaxed rules would lead to an explosion of pot shops across Detroit. As the Free Press reports, a group of citizens and a medical marijuana firms have filed a lawsuit in response. According to Michael Stein, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a handful of disgruntled applicants, city officials actually welcome the injunctive action because it gives them an excuse to challenge the new ordinances approved by voters. Dizzy yet? Stay with us. There's more to the Detroit marijuana sage. "Their plan all along was to not take the applications so no one could stay open," he told the Free Press. "But the new ordinance gives the clear direction that they have to take the applications." %related-post-3% In order to get a license, a business must have proof that the city where it wants to locate has an ordinance allowing medical cannabis, as well as proof that it has received approval from that city. While Detroit says it won’t accept any applications for city approval under the new ordinance until the lawsuit is resolved, the state, which doesn’t want to harm medical marijuana patients in the interim, has declared that existing dispensaries with approval from Detroit can remain in business as long as they submit applications by June 15. The temporary reprieve, which was issued before the the city’s new ordinances went into effect on January 4, applies to 62 dispensaries, and could expire on June 15 if Detroit hasn’t moved past the legal impasse by then. Stay tuned for updates from Motor City.
While Massachusetts steams ahead with recreational marijuana legalization, two other New England states are fast on their heels. While U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions may have recently given prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, he didn’t explicitly direct them to do so. In the days and weeks since that move, states that were planning to implement or expand marijuana legalization appear to be moving ahead with their plans despite the current legislative limbo. %related-post-1% The same day that Sessions took steps to roll back federal guidelines protecting state cannabis laws, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana. A mere five days later, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to legalize the substance for recreational use as well. Vermont legislature approves recreational marijuana legalization As USA Today reports, the Vermont Senate agreed by voice vote to a proposal that would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up an ounce of pot and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in their homes. The state House has already approved the bill, and Gov. Phil Scott has said that he plans to sign it. The legislation would make Vermont the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana via a legislative act instead of a citizen referendum. Vermont passed a similar bill in the spring of 2016, but Scott vetoed it due to fears that it didn’t do enough to shield kids from the drug or ensure highway safety. Legislators made the governor’s requested changes, and when Scott signs the bill into law, Vermont will join eight states (along with the District of Columbia) where recreational pot is legal. While the law, which would take effect July 1, does not include a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug, lawmakers hope the bill will encourage the legislature to add such a system down the road. %related-post-2% New Hampshire gives marijuana legalization another legislative try Neighboring New Hampshire has taken a similar approach to Vermont in its path to legalization. As Forbes explains, the New Hampshire House in 2014 became the first legislative chamber in the nation’s history to approve a marijuana legalization bill. That bill died in the Senate, but the latest bill, which is expected to move forward once it leaves the state’s House Ways and Means Committee, would allow people over 21 to possess three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and home cultivation of up to three plants. While retail sales would not be allowed initially, the bill would also create a regulatory system permitting the eventual cultivation and distribution of taxed cannabis sales. As Forbes points out, a handful of other states are expected to vote on ballot initiatives to legalize medical and recreational cannabis this year, as well. Unless Sessions directs — and not merely suggests — that prosecutors do more to crackdown on states where pot is now legal, it looks like it will be business as usual for the nation’s growing canna-biz.
As frustrating as Jeff Sessions' move was to rescind the Obama-era Cole Memo — which since 2013 had enabled the legal marijuana industry to flourish — we really need Congress to act. Tensions within the legal cannabis industry have been ablaze since Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to kick off 2018 by kicking to the curb the Obama-era policy of non-interference toward pot-friendly state laws. But while Sessions has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the cannabis industry, Congress’ inaction has been the real stumbling block when it comes to legalization of pot at the federal level. %related-post-1% As we’ve discussed previously, in 2013 former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. sought to reform America’s prisons via simple changes to the way drug cases were prosecuted. He issued a memo — called the Cole Memo, authored by his deputy, James Cole — designed to prevent decades-long prison terms for people who were arrested with a small amount of drugs and who weren’t dangerous, hard-core, and habitual criminals. Holder rolled back the default position of the harshest possible jail term in all drug cases, while still keeping the option on the table in cases involving, say, defendants who were living a life of crime as part of a large-scale drug trafficking organization, cartel, or gang. Sessions — who has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and that the Justice Department was working toward a “rational” marijuana policy — rolled back the Cole Memo on January 4, 2018, essentially giving federal prosecutors across the country carte blanche to decide individually who should be prosecuted when it comes to possession, distribution, and cultivation of pot in states where the drug is legal. But while Sessions gave prosecutors the power to go after the pot industry, he stopped short of directing them to step their efforts. Without such a mandate, the confusion produced by conflicting state and federal marijuana laws is only more, well, confusing. And the fact that President Trump appears to be wholly uninterested in the issue does nothing to clear things up. %related-post-2% With the Cole Memo, the Obama administration essentially kicked the issue of legalization down the road. President Trump is essentially doing the same thing, despite the pseudo-aggressive tactics of his prohibitionist attorney general. While this legislative limbo has led to the current legal pot boom in the United States, urging the executive branch to simply look the other way when it comes to enforcing unpopular laws is not quite the best way to build an industry. Those laws actually need to be changed. With public support for marijuana legalization at an all-time high, now would be a great time for Congress to actually start listening to — and acting on behalf of — the public. Please forward this article to your nearest elected representative.
As 2017 drew to a close, Oregon marijuana dispensaries aced a sting operation by state regulators aiming to bust underage sales. Back in November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department was working toward a “rational” marijuana policy. A few weeks later, when Sessions rolled back three Obama-era rules that held the federal government back from interfering with marijuana-friendly state laws, he said the “finite resources” of the DOJ required federal prosecutors to “weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community" when deciding which cases to prosecute. %related-post-1% Well, if there’s any justice in the way Justice ultimately decides who should — and shouldn’t be — prosecuted when comes it to weed, it will consider a recent sting operation in Oregon. As Marijuana.com reports, one of the biggest hurdles for national marijuana legalization has been the prohibitionist argument that widespread availability of cannabis would lead to wider use of the drug among young Americans. A handful of recent undercover sting operations in two Oregon cities would seem to refute those claims, however. According to a press release from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, OLCC marijuana inspectors visited 20 cannabis retailers in central Oregon, and all passed a check for prohibiting pot sales to a minor volunteer decoy. During each undercover sales check, the release explains, a minor volunteer attempted to enter a licensed marijuana retailer and/or purchase marijuana products from a licensed business to see if staff were checking ID’s correctly and refusing entry to anyone under 21. OLCC inspectors supervised the minor volunteers. The volunteers carried their own legal ID that identified them as being under 21, and did not disguise their age or lie to encourage the sale of marijuana. %related-post-2% In all instances, the Oregon marijuana dispensaries were found to be complying with state laws. “That our licensed retailers in central Oregon scored 100 percent on refusal to sell marijuana to a minor is a sign that this segment of our regulated industry understands the importance of compliance,” says Steve Marks, Executive Director of the OLCC. “As we continue these checks I hope that these results will be reflected across the state.” While there will always be unscrupulous business owners in any industry, the nation’s cannabis retailers are showing their willingness to play by the rules just as much as, if not more than, anyone else. With that said, it sure would be nice to know what the rules actually are. Paging Mr. Sessions.
With 29 states, as well as Washington D.C., already having passed medical marijuana laws — not to mention the nine states where recreational marijuana is legal — the demonization of the substance in the eyes of the American public, as well as legislators, continues to wane. How far will the prohibition of pot ultimately be pushed back, though? It’s too early to tell, really. We can, however, make an educated guess regarding the pace of progress by studying how marijuana law has changed in the United States during its history. Colonial cannabis use The use of marijuana in the United States dates back to the 17th century. Before a single marijuana law was created, the American government promoted the production of hemp to create clothing, sails, and rope, and marijuana — a mixture of dried flowers and leaves derived from the hemp plant — became a widely used ingredient in numerous over-the-counter medicines by the late 19th century. %related-post-1% Below the border fears Things began to change as the century turned, though. Mexicans were using cannabis for relaxation and medicinal purposes, and in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the immigrants flooding into the U.S. from south of the border brought their marijuana with them. Fear and prejudice regarding the new immigrants extended to a dislike of their use of marijuana, and those openly protesting its use blamed it — as well as the Mexicans who used it — for any number of crimes. Not only was marijuana possession then seen as a good reason to deport Mexican immigrants, but by the time the Great Depression rolled around, massive unemployment fueled even more resentment toward Mexicans (as well as other foreign-born residents) and increased public and governmental outcry about marijuana. Spurred by bogus research linking pot use with violence, crime, and other socially deviant activity among (mostly) “racially inferior” communities, 29 states had passed legislation banning the substance by 1931. And in an effort to further curb the drug’s use nationwide, Congress passed a dagger of a marijuana law called the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which effectively banned virtually all sales and use of the substance. Mid-century marijuana crackdown During the 1950s, the federal government established tougher sentences for those convicted of drug-related offenses, including first-offense marijuana possession. A decade later, however, reports commissioned by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson found that pot use did not induce violence or serve as a gateway to harder drugs. These findings, coupled with increased use of marijuana among the white upper middle class, paved the way for increased discussion and increasingly lenient attitudes toward the drug. By 1970, Congress, recognizing that the harsh minimum sentences had done absolutely nothing to slow down the nation’s drug culture, repealed most of the mandatory penalties for marijuana-related offenses. However, that year also saw Congress pass the Controlled Substances Act, which placed drugs into various categories — or schedules — based on their potential medical value and abuse potential. %related-post-2% Nixon nips it in the bud Clouded by his dislike for the counterculture associated with marijuana, President Richard Nixon disregarded scientific, medical, and legal findings pointing to the benefits and actual effects of the plant, and instead pushed for cannabis to be placed under Schedule 1, the most restrictive category reserved for drugs like heroin and LSD that the federal government deemed as having virtually no positive benefits. Not even the findings of the Shafer Commission, an investigative body appointed by Nixon himself, could convince the president that marijuana should be decriminalized and removed from Schedule 1. Nixon rejected the commission’s report, and the Schedule 1 designation would continue to cause those convicted of marijuana-related offenses to receive needlessly harsh sentences. Also, since Schedule 1 meant that the federal government categorized the drug as basically worthless, physicians and scientists were blocked from obtaining marijuana for the purpose of studying its medical, scientific, and pharmaceutical usefulness. The "War on Drugs" Still, while Nixon himself rejected the commission’s recommendation, the remainder of the decade saw eleven states decriminalize marijuana and most others drastically reduce penalties for marijuana-related offenses. But while states were moving to lessen the penalties related to marijuana, the creation of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973, as well as a concerted effort by concerned parents across the nation just a few years later, was very effective in shifting public sentiment back toward stricter regulation and stiffer sentences. As part of his war on drugs, President Ronald Reagan built on this newfound momentum, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 combined to increase federal penalties for pot-related crimes, including a "three strikes and you're out" policy, which required life sentences for repeat offenders, and the death penalty for those deemed to be "drug kingpins." But while President George H.W. Bush declared his own War on Drugs in 1989, by 1996, things started to loosen once again. %related-post-3% Turning the tide That year, California voters passed Proposition 215, a marijuana law that allowed the sale and medicinal use of marijuana for patients suffering AIDS, cancer, and numerous other serious diseases. While opponents of the measure claim there is too little evidence to establish the medicinal benefits of marijuana, advocates cite the thousands of years the drug has been used as medicine by countless cultures — a reality that far exceeds the danger associated with it. While the details vary from state to state, millions of Americans suffering from a wide variety of medical conditions can, with a physician’s order, obtain marijuana to help treat their symptoms. An increasing number of Americans — mainly in western states — also have access to marijuana to use for recreational purposes. *Since this article was originally published, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memo, a document issued by the Department of Justice in 2013 that helped pave the way for the growth of the recreational marijuana industry. Sessions' move has unleashed confusion across the cannabis landscape, and its full effect is yet to be seen. As always, The Sugar Leaf will keep you posted on legal developments related to marijuana.
More and more police forces are taking an increasingly lenient approach to the past pot use of their recruits. In some places past marijuana use is no longer a disqualifying foul. Just a few years ago, if you wanted to become a police officer, your application would be rejected if you had ever used marijuana. Now, with public attitudes changing toward cannabis and police forces across the nation struggling to recruit new officers, an increasing number of police chiefs and sheriffs are rethinking their stances toward recruits’ past pot use. %related-post-1% When Colorado Springs Police Department Spokesman Lt. Howard Black first joined the force, pot use among police officers was a big no-no. “Thirty-five years ago when I started it was you never could have smoked it,” Black told the Denver Post. “That was a question on the polygraph.” Today, however, growing public support for marijuana legalization — coupled with a growing economy that offers potential recruits alternative job opportunities, less stress, and higher pay — has caused many departments to relax their hiring rules when it comes to applicants’ marijuana use. For years, applicants looking to become police officers in Maryland could not have used marijuana five times since turning 21 or more than a total of 20 times in their lives. Earlier this year, however, the state’s Police Training and Standards Commission, which establishes hiring policies for all of Maryland’s law enforcement officers, relaxed its policies on pot at the request of the Baltimore Police Department, which had complained that the more stringent standards were negatively affecting the recruitment of new officers. Under the new rules, applicants will only be barred from consideration if they’ve used marijuana in the past three years. %related-post-2% That three-year window is similar to one in Denver, Colorado, as well as the requirements that were part of nearby Aurora’s until last year. As the Denver Post explains, there is no statewide standard for applicants’ marijuana usage in Colorado. Instead, individual agencies, or their commissions that make hiring rules, and the state’s sheriff’s offices create their own policies. In 2016, the Aurora Civil Service Commission reduced the amount of time that applicants to its police and fire departments must be marijuana-free from three years to one. Elsewhere, the window for applicants in Colorado Springs is a mere 18 months. Facing a similar challenge in attracting new recruits, the military has also become more lenient toward prior marijuana use. As we’ve reported previously, the U.S. Army has begun issuing hundreds of waivers to enlist people who used marijuana in their youth. Those who receive waivers must vow not to use it again. “The big thing we’re looking for is a pattern of misconduct where they’re going to have a problem with authority,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, who oversees Army recruitment, recently told USA Today. “Smoking marijuana in an isolated incident as a teenager is not a pattern of misconduct.” While both the nation’s police forces and military still have a long way to go before their internal policies toward cannabis are more in line with public opinion and the growing trend toward legalization, shrinking windows and issuing waivers are both signs of progress.
At time of this writing, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, while eight have legalized the recreational use of the drug by adults. Despite the trend toward legalization, however, the United States government classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 illegal drug. But what does that mean? And what are drug schedules, anyway? %related-post-1% In classifying marijuana under Schedule 1, not only has the government declared pot to have no health benefits, but it also says the drug has a higher potential for abuse than drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines, and Vicodin. To better understand the legal, medicinal, and cultural ramifications of pot’s Schedule 1 designation, it’s important to understand what drug schedules are, where they came from, and why they’re important. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five categories (or schedules) based on the drug’s acceptable medical use, as well as its abuse or dependency potential. The current drug schedules date back to 1970, when Congress, recognizing that harsh minimum sentences did little to slow down the nation’s drug culture, repealed most of the mandatory penalties for marijuana-related offenses. As a result, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which placed drugs into various schedules. Here’s how the DEA’s schedules are currently broken down: %related-post-2% Schedule I consists of drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” including heroin, LSD, peyote, ecstasy, and (the government says) marijuana. Schedule II are “also considered dangerous” and carry a high potential for abuse. They include Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin. Schedule III drugs possess a “moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence.” This group includes products with less than 90 mm of codeine, ketamine, testosterone, and anabolic steroids. Schedule IV substances — like Xanax, Darvon, Valium, Ativan, Soma, and Ambien — have a low potential for abuse or dependence. Schedule V includes products that contain low levels of narcotics, such as cough syrup. As we’ve written previously, President Nixon harbored a strong dislike for the counterculture associated with marijuana and, despite scientific, medical, and legal findings pointing to the benefits and actual effects of the drug, pushed for cannabis to be placed under the very restrictive Schedule 1. Not even a conflicting report by the Shafer Commission — an investigative body appointed by Nixon himself — could convince the president that marijuana should be decriminalized and removed from Schedule 1. Congress approved its placement, and it’s stayed there ever since. %related-post-3% Since then, those convicted of marijuana-related offenses have received needlessly harsh sentences, and since Schedule 1 classification means the federal government deems the drug as basically worthless, physicians and scientists have been blocked from obtaining marijuana for the purpose of studying its medical, scientific, and pharmaceutical usefulness. During a 1971 “special message” to Congress, Nixon characterized America’s drug problem as “a national emergency,” and he was largely successful in shifting public sentiment toward stricter regulation and stiffer sentences when it came to all kinds of drugs — including marijuana. Hopefully, with an increasing number of states — as well as citizens — now favoring legalization, Congress is now getting the message that pot use isn’t quite the emergency the late president made it out to be.
January 1, 2018 is a big day for cannabis consumers in the Golden State. But exactly where (and when) will you be able to buy California marijuana? California is the largest state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, but, with the first licenses in the state being issued as we speak, a majority of California’s 482 cities still haven’t authorized recreational pot sales — and aren’t likely to do so anytime soon. %related-post-1% As we’ve discussed previously, California was already one of the nation’s biggest pot producers when it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Residents in the Golden State voted to approve the legal sale and possession of an ounce of pot for recreational use in November of 2016, but now, with growers wanting to seize the opportunity to make some bank in the booming industry, most cities and counties won’t be allow commercial cannabis sales by the January 1, 2018 target date. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the November 2016 initiative immediately allowed Californians age 21 and older to possess and transport up to an ounce of marijuana for use for recreational purposes, as well as grow up to six plants for personal use. And sales of recreational cannabis were slated for January 2018. In order to sell recreational California marijuana, the Times explains, retailers must first get approval of their individual cities or counties before they can be licensed by the state. Los Angeles will allow retailers to sell recreational weed in January, joining other major cities like San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and San Jose. Cities and counties can opt out of allowing commercial cannabis sales, however, and most have, including Riverside, Fresno, Bakersfield, Pasadena and Anaheim. Other cities, like Long Beach, say they will take another look at the issue after they see how the new system works elsewhere. %related-post-2% “It’s going to be months, maybe even a year before a majority of the state has access that is less than a half-hour drive away,” Nate Bradley, a representative of the California Cannabis Industry Association, told the Times. He estimated that only about a third of the state will initially allow the sale of recreational weed. As of the time of this writing, it appears that the 150 medical marijuana dispensaries already in Los Angeles will be the some of the first places that can apply for recreational sales licenses from the state in January. Being able to apply for a license doesn’t mean they will be able to sell pot right away, however. Licensed retailers will still have to deal with delays brought on by a flood of other applicants, staffing issues, and a huge set of new rules for cannabis growers, sellers and distributors. In the interim the state has issued temporary licenses to a short roster of California marijuana dispensaries, and our friends over at Leafly have compiled a running list of these. Click here, to view them. “The first few weeks, the first month, I do think people need to be patient,” Lori Ajax, director of the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, told the Times. Some will need to be more patient than others. Like, way more patient.
Massachusetts recreational marijuana (the legal kind!) becomes reality in the summer of 2018. In the meantime, policy-makers are issuing mountains of rules. Residents of Massachusetts voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2012, but legal challenges and lawmakers’ hand-wringing over regulations delayed the opening of the Bay State’s first dispensaries until June of 2015. And while voters voters approved Massachusetts recreational marijuana last November, the regulatory groundwork needed to bring it to the marketplace could mean another wait for cannabis consumers. %related-post-1% The passage of last November’s ballot question makes it legal for Massachusetts residents to buy or grow limited amounts of recreational pot. Where they will be able to buy or grow it, and how much they will be able to possess, has yet to be finalized, however. While the state is supposed to issue the first Massachusetts recreational marijuana licenses by July of 2018, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission and the Marijuana Policy Committee still have considerable details to work out. Here are some of the rules the CCC has come up with so far: Regulators have agreed on guidelines for when, where, and how people can use recreational cannabis in social settings and other establishments. The commission settled on two types of on-site consumption licenses, one for businesses like cannabis bars or cafes that derive more than 50 percent of their income from cannabis sales, and another for places like restaurants, movie theaters, or yoga studios that make smaller amounts of cannabis available to consumers. Home delivery would be limited to $3,000 worth of cannabis, and would have to be done during a store’s normal operating hours. Buyers would have to show proof they were 21 or older, as well as sign for delivery. In order to join a craft co-op, members must have been residents of Massachusetts for at least a year. While co-ops could brand and package cannabis products and deliver them to retailers, they couldn’t sell directly to consumers. The co-op would also have to organize as a limited liability company or similar business organization. %related-post-2% Marijuana research facilities would be licensed under a special license category. They could cultivate or buy cannabis, but not sell it, and all testing must be done on humans age 21 or older and would have to be approved by an institutional review board. Lawmakers want to provide opportunities in the legal marijuana industry to economically disadvantaged residents, especially those harshly affected by the so-called “war on drugs.” The commission has agreed to designate as yet undefined “areas of disproportionate impact,” and offer priority status to applicants for cannabis business licenses from those communities. According to industry analysts, Massachusetts could see upwards of $1.7 billion in combined recreational and medical cannabis sales — as well as 17,400 full- and part-time cannabis industry jobs — in 2021. The state also projects state and local tax revenue of approximately $240 million for that fiscal year. The commission is slated to vote soon on the above preliminary regulations. The regulations will then be subject to public hearings over the next few months. Any necessary revisions that result from those meetings would have to be made before any retailers would be allowed to open. Stay tuned for updates.
Anyone who keeps up with marijuana headlines couldn’t have missed the Sweet Leaf saga that unfolded earlier this month. The Colorado dispensaries were shuttered when authorities found them in glaring violation of “looping” rules. According to KUSA-TV, 13 employees of Sweet Leaf dispensaries were arrested after undercover police detectives were able to buy as many as 16 ounces of marijuana in a single day from eight of the popular cannabis retailer’s Denver locations. %related-post-1% "The operation is the result of an extensive, year-long criminal investigation into illegal distribution of marijuana at those locations," the Denver Police Department announced in a statement regarding the arrests. The statement goes on to explain that Amendment 64 of Colorado law “allows for the personal use of marijuana, and specifically allows the possession, use, display, purchase, and transport of one ounce or less of marijuana.” The 13 employees who were arrested are accused of selling marijuana in excess of that limit by a practice known as “looping.” What’s looping? As Westword explains, looping occurs when a dispensary customer buys the maximum amount of cannabis allowed — in this case, one ounce for recreational customers and two ounces for medical patients — and then leaves the store, only to return soon after to buy more. While Colorado has a state tracking system in place for medical patients, none exists for recreational purchases, which makes the looping practice easier to exploit. Arrest affidavits indicate that during each undercover buy, a detective carrying a hidden video camera would enter the store and show their ID to an employee behind a glass window in the lobby. The employee would then give the ID to the “budtender,” who would escort the undercover detective to the sales floor. Court documents show that, at some of Sweet Leaf’s locations, the same undercover detectives were able to walk in and buy weed anywhere from seven to 16 times a day. In one case, a budtender sold pot to the same detective nine times in less than two hours — sometimes ringing him up a mere 15 minutes between purchases. %related-post-2% Nine times in less than two hours? Whoa. Five of the 13 arrested face felony charges, as they sold more than four ounces of marijuana to undercover detectives in one day. The rest face misdemeanor charges. None of the chain’s owners were arrested, though all 26 of their licenses to cultivate, process, and dispense pot were suspended by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. A hearing to decide any additional action is expected in a few weeks. Sweet Leaf has 10 of its Colorado dispensaries in Denver and one in nearby Aurora. While all 11 of their Colorado dispensaries are currently closed, their dispensary in Portland, Oregon is still open. The company had planned to open another location in Thornton, Colorado in 2018, but the city is now reviewing the matter in light of their troubles elsewhere in the state. And so dire is the financial situation facing Sweet Leaf employees, all out of work now, the Colorado marijuana community is holding fundraisers for them. There are lots of lessons in all this.
As 2017 draws to a close, it's time to cast an eye forward to 2018 and predict which marijuana issues we'll be hearing about frequently. There isn't much new under the sun in the cannabis reform movement. Namely: It should be legal, but it isn't. Should be easy to agree on what to do, but it's not. And as you'll read in our preview of 2018, you should be prepared for discourse that devolves into dispute merely on the size and shape of the negotiating table. %related-post-1% Here are 5 major marijuana issues to watch next year. Medical Marijuana Legalization That Isn’t Merely Symbolic Statistics are great for fooling yourself. You could look at how many states allow medical cannabis and believe that sick people all over the country are easily and safely able to access their preferred medicine. You would be wrong. Medical cannabis programs are not created equal. Both California and Texas “have medical cannabis laws” on the books, in the strictly literal sense — but in Texas, what cannabis there is can be prescribed by one of only eight doctors statewide, and only to someone with intractable epilepsy who has tried at least two other treatments with no success. Marijuana is already illegal. Passing symbolic medical-cannabis access laws that leave the black market as the most reliable and reasonable source of medicine defeats the purpose. If cannabis is going to be legal — and the honest argument to keep it classified as a more deadly and less medically useful alternative to Oxycodone has yet to be made — then it needs to be LEGAL, and not accessible only after navigating an epic Crusades-level quest for healing. If a legalization law arises that’s overly restrictive, or if a medical cannabis bill is introduced that won’t result in anyone obtaining cannabis, then it may be time to take a pause, or a pass, and wait for a better option. Advances in (or at Least Fewer Barriers Towards) Research As a general rule, when something is unlawful, a series of barriers, literal and metaphorical, arise around that thing. That thing becomes harder to obtain. You can’t find that thing in stores. The less corporeal and more mythical that thing becomes, the harder it is to discuss and to know much about it. "What do you know about that thing?" "Well, I’ve never seen it myself, but I hear tell…" You see? This is how rumors start. %related-post-2% Now, cannabis isn’t exactly the Sasquatch, but it would seem clear that marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I controlled substance creates serious difficulties for anyone — a researcher, say — desiring to discover more about it. In case it was unclear, or up to debate, researching cannabis can indeed be “extremely onerous,” as Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told Congress. NIH would love to research the connection between legal cannabis and a drop in opiate use, Collins informed a Senate committee, but… well, this whole Controlled Substances Act thing. Even when scientists do, at last, win a hard-fought struggle for research, they can’t always do much with it. The federal government’s official supply of research-grade cannabis is weak and moldy stuff bearing little resemblance to dispensary-grade cannabis. How much longer can this broken status quo continue, especially in the light of recent findings like the World Health Organization’s, that cannabidiol, or CBD, does in fact have health benefits; and mounting pressure from the medical community to allow for more research on marijuana, on people and on pets? Fixing this gaping hole in logic and our knowledge will take a long time — it will require reforming medical school curricula as well as federal law — but there will be more calls for progress, and quickly, in 2018. Banking Reform If you’re in the marijuana industry, you know full well how difficult it is to make payroll, pay the taxman, and set aside enough liquid assets in your operating fund to keep the lights on — because all of that routine business must be conducted without the ease and security of that modern-day innovation, a “bank account.” Cannabis is a cash-only affair, but it’s not that marijuana businesses can’t bank. It’s that banks won’t have them. In 2014, the Obama Administration released guidelines that offered cannabis operations a path to the bank teller line, as long as they were following state law. But since marijuana is still federally illegal, most banks — like, all banks — have elected to stay away rather than absorb a modicum of risk. If you listen to banks, which have for years taken deposits from drug-trafficking organizations and war criminals, doing business with a cannabis dispensary could expose them to a money-laundering or racketeering charge. %related-post-3% Lawmakers in Washington have recognized this absurd state of affairs. But a few weeks before Congress set about the greatest transfer of wealth (aka tax “reform”) in modern American history, Republican leadership blocked debate on legislation that would have allowed marijuana businesses to use banks. Note that, and note it well: They didn’t vote against allowing cannabis retailers, cultivators, and other participants in the billion-dollar legal marijuana trade to use banks — they voted against talking about it. As recreational retail sales begin in California and continue to steadily increase in Colorado and everywhere else marijuana is sold, calls to fix this risky and inefficient method of conducting business will only increase. 2018 might be the year of the checking account. Marijuana Tax Reform Separate but related are the additional hoops marijuana outfits must leap and squeeze through during their annual exercise with the taxman — and the price the marijuana industry must also pay in order to fund the Trump tax cuts. There was brief hope that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) would throw a bone to cannabis entrepreneurs with the Republican tax-cut bill, and include a provision reforming Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code. A cocaine cowboys-era effort to make life harder for the real-life antagonists of Miami Vice, 280E prevents drug sellers from claiming luxury items like yachts and platinum-plated guns on their taxes. It also prevents dispensaries and cultivation operations from claiming common cost-of-doing-business expenses, forcing them to pay an effective tax rate of as much as 70 percent, according to Forbes. %related-post-4% However, at the last moment, Gardner experienced a change of heart and did not offer the 280E reform to his colleagues for a vote — possibly because fixing dispensaries’ tax bills, and drawing a distinction between them and El Chapo’s empire would cost $5 billion. So that’s where the year will end: A tax bill, meant to create jobs and stimulate the economy, will not do anything to relieve pressure on a rapidly expanding segment of the economy, which is creating jobs. This will absolutely be an issue in 2018. The Battle for Facts Here’s our early frontrunner for person (or thing) of the year, in the year 2018: Truth, as in, “What’s real — and what’s not?” Real, accurate data is reportedly a popular thing — everybody wants data! — and yet when we have it, the squabbling begins. Better to seek counsel from trusted sources who won’t challenge your narrative. Just look at the trend in teen marijuana use in Colorado following legalization: Exhibit A, click here. Exhibit B, click here. Here we have two sources, debating a similar release of data, drawing widely divergent conclusions. Seems like youth use of marijuana has declined since legalization, if you believe the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. But that federal data cited by Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Kevin Sabet shows that youth weed use has remained constant since the 1990s, which means, as he said, that it’s going up… wait, what? As the country’s ongoing struggles with recognizing reliable information reveal, confirmation bias is a potent cocktail. All the data in the world won’t matter if otherwise sensible human beings act on their motive to deny and obfuscate. Convincing the unwilling of the truth of what’s right in front of them may be the most formidable challenge yet. And there you have them. Five marijuana issues we'll all be hearing plenty about in 2018.
Politicians use their first 100 days in office as a timeframe to institute new policies. But can legalization of New Jersey marijuana happen that fast? While the idea of legal recreational marijuana has seemed like an impossibility during the regime of prohibitionist Republican Governor Chris Christie, Democrat Phil Murphy’s victory in the New Jersey governor’s race last month could signal real reefer reform for the Garden State. %related-post-1% Throughout his campaign, Gov.-elect Murphy has openly promoted the idea of making New Jersey marijuana available for recreational use for people 21 and older, even pledging to sign legislation legalizing pot within 100 days of his Jan. 16 inauguration. Although there is a very good chance that Murphy will be able to fulfill that pledge, it’s too early to say how long it will take for recreational weed to reach consumers. While public support for legalization has increased in New Jersey and across the nation since 2010, the amount of time it could take to get the state’s recreational cannabis industry up and running could come close to how long it took medical marijuana legislation in New Jersey to move from signature to sales. How Long Did Medical New Jersey Marijuana Take? New Jersey became the 14th state to allow medical marijuana when the state legislature passed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act on January 11, 2010. Then-Governor Jon Corzine signed the act into law a week later, and, after some stalling tactics by his successor, Chris Christie, the state’s first alternative treatment center finally began dispensing the drug to qualified patients in December 2012. %related-post-2% Not much progress was made toward legalization under Christie, who has called legalizing recreational pot “beyond stupidity,” as well as a public health hazard that could contribute to the use of opioids and heroin. Will the Bill be Ready? Luckily, Murphy doesn’t agree. The governor-elect supports — and has pledged to immediately sign — a bill introduced in May by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, that would allow state residents age 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. The drug would be taxed at the point of sale, bringing in an estimated $300 million in revenue for the state. As App.com reports, Scutari’s bill only requires a minimum of one marijuana license for each county, with enough total establishments to “ensure that there are adequate licensed premises to serve the market demands of the county during the peak seasons.” Since a mere six dispensaries currently serve all of New Jersey’s 15,000 medical marijuana patients, existing businesses — like vape shops, paraphernalia stores, and those same six dispensaries — might leapfrog new businesses when it comes to obtaining recreational licenses. %related-post-3% After Murphy Signs, Then What? While Murphy has pledged to sign legalization legislation within 100 days of taking office, the process could actually take longer than that. Legislators are expected to begin working on amendments to Scutari's bill within the first few weeks of Murphy’s term, and a series of committee hearings are also scheduled in the months after the bill is introduced, meaning the bill likely wouldn’t be voted on until at least March or April — though it’s possible the bill might not actually be voted on and signed until June. Then, once the bill is signed into law, it could still take a while before state residents can legally buy and smoke New Jersey marijuana. “It’s going to take some time. It will take a long time to review the applications for licenses, then they have to find a place they can operate that’s consistent with local zoning rules,” Kate Bell, a cannabis industry analyst who has been involved in New Jersey’s legalization efforts, told App.com. “Then they have to put plants in the ground – and it takes at least 90 days to grow a crop.” Having to wait 90 days — or even two years — under Governor Murphy might be a hassle, but it’s still better than waiting forever under Governor Christie.
With marijuana legalization in Canada right around the corner, pot advocates have much cause for celebration. However, three big questions still remain. While medical marijuana is legal in Canada, recreational cannabis has been illegal in Canada for more than 90 years. That prohibition hasn’t stopped the nation’s youth and young adults from using it at a rate on par with the highest rates in the world, however. Prompted by this seemingly irreversible amount of usage, as well as growing support for legalization nationwide, Canada gave itself a deadline of July 2018 to make recreational marijuana legal across the nation. %related-post-1% The legislation for marijuana legalization in Canada essentially splits the responsibilities for legalization between Canada’s federal and provincial governments. Ottawa will regulate production, the licensing of producers, and the safety of the nation’s cannabis supply, while the provinces will determine how the drug will be distributed and sold. With July creeping up quickly, there are many questions regarding specific details of the new legislation. Here are the three biggest: Where Will Canadians Be Able to Buy Cannabis? As MerryJane.com reports, each province can establish its own rules regarding public, private, and online sales. From the details released so far, it looks like those rules will be all over the map. (Pun intended.) Per the Financial Post, cannabis sales in the provinces of Manitoba and Nova Scotia will be regulated by the provinces’ liquor commissions, while the liquor commissions in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island will sell pot though standalone dispensaries. Similar plans in Yukon and Quebec are awaiting approval from voters. Newfoundland and Labrador will allow private sales in stores. Alberta will allow private sales, as well, but the retailers must be physically separate from retailers that sell alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals. British Columbia plans to have both public and private retailers, but private dispensaries will be required to get their supply of cannabis from the same government wholesale distribution system used for alcohol. %related-post-2% While Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia intend to allow online cannabis sales, Alberta and Quebec have been more specific in their intent to control online sales. Saskatchewan, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories are still consulting the public regarding policy specifics. It should also be noted that while the federal government has established a minimum age of 18 for marijuana buyers, provinces can set the legal age higher if they wish. Those provinces who have outlined their plans so far have all set the legal age at 19. How Big Will the Demand for Recreational Marijuana Actually Be? In August 2016, Deloitte estimated that Canada’s demand will be 600,000 kilograms next year. The Parliamentary Budget Officer projects a demand of 650,000 kilograms. According to one influential research firm, however, demand for weed will be much higher those estimates. According to Denver-based Marijuana Policy Group (MPG), Canadian demand for pot could surpass 900,000 kilograms (992 tons) next year — 40 percent higher than previous estimates. “In our view, demand has been underestimated because the number of heavy users in Canada had been underestimated,” Miles Light, MPG co-founder and partner, told Marijuana Business Daily. %related-post-3% Light points out the the number of heavy users has been underestimated because five years passed between the PBO’s projections and his firm’s projections — a span that saw projections of heavy users jump from 12 percent of total users to more than 25 percent. Canada’s black market for pot is (including exports) is an estimated CA$22 billion per year. That’s more than the nation’s annual private sector and government-owned alcohol sales of CA$21.3 billion. As more people have access to legal pot — and consume less alcohol as a result — that gap could increase even more. Will Canada’s Legal Pot Sales Launch on Time? Despite the excitement surrounding recreational marijuana legalization in Canada, there is still a lot of work to do — work that could realistically push the planned legislation well past its planned July launch date. Each and every aspect of the bills must be discussed in parliamentary committees, and the federal government must negotiate the legislation with each of the country's provinces. As Lift News reports, parliamentary bills C-45 and C-46 are currently at second reading in the Senate, after working through the House earlier this year. The debate around both bills in the Senate has been limited to this point, however, with a little less than three hours spent debating C-46, and roughly one hour debating C-45. If the entire process isn’t sped up, there is concern that marijuana legalization in Canada could be delayed well into 2019. And, many would agree, that's no good.
Marijuana and gun laws don’t exactly go hand in hand. Actually, they’re more like oil and water. Why? It all goes back to the late-1960s. If you are a law-abiding citizen living in anywhere in the United States, you can legally own a gun. There are also 29 states (along with the District of Columbia) where you can legally obtain medical marijuana. There are no states, however, where you can legally possess both at the same time. Legal gun ownership doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, and as the number of states legalizing marijuana — as well public support for cannabis legalization — continues to expand, so will the discussion about how to marry these two freedoms. For now, however, the rules are pretty clear. %related-post-1% Current legislation forbidding anyone from possessing a gun if they use or are addicted to cannabis dates back to the Gun Control Act of 1968. That law bans anyone who is “an unlawful user of or addicted to marihuana” from possessing a firearm, and since marijuana in all forms is still technically illegal at the federal level, those unlawful users include anyone who is legally permitted to use the drug by their state. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — just like heroin, LSD, and other hallucinogens (*eye-roll*). "There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana used for medicinal or recreational purposes," says Special Agent Joshua E. Jackson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, D.C. Back to 2011, a legally registered medical marijuana patient in Nevada named S. Rowan Wilson tested the federal regulations by attempting buy a gun for self-defense. As Green Rush Daily notes, Wilson said she didn’t consume medical cannabis regularly, but was nonetheless an active supporter of medical cannabis in the state and accepted a medical cannabis card as a political statement. When the gun store owner refused to sell her a firearm, she filed a lawsuit challenging the law. %related-post-2% Wilson’s case was heard by 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where Chief District Judge Gloria Navarro ruled that the federal government’s ban of gun sales to lawful, state-legal medical marijuana patients did not, in fact, violate the Second Amendment. "It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior,” justices wrote in the ruling. But things didn’t stop there for the marijuana and gun laws debate. According to Leafly.com, the Ninth Circuit Court ruling prompted the ATF to add a warning to the Firearms Transaction Record, or Form 4473, amending the question regarding whether or not the prospective firearm owner uses or is addicted to marijuana: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.” While the surge in legal marijuana users — and states — may eventually prompt lawmakers to take another, more lenient look at weapons legislation, some states have already begun acting on the for-now irreconcilable relationship marijuana and gun laws by taking steps to take guns out of the hands of pot users. %related-post-3% Police in Hawaii have sent letters to medical marijuana users, telling them that they will need to surrender their weapons within 30 days of receipt, while authorities in Ohio and Pennsylvania have issued public statements making sure citizens of their respective states know that medical marijuana users would not be allowed to purchase or technically possess of a firearm under federal law. As numerous attorneys and lawmakers — as well as gun and cannabis rights activists — point out, there is a definite conflict between state and federal law on this issue. Where is the line between protecting lawful cannabis users’ right to own guns for, say, hunting or self-defense, and the public’s right to be protected from individuals who handle firearms while under the influence of marijuana or other potentially harmful substances? Society and the courts will ultimately decide the relationship between marijuana and gun laws. Stay tuned for updates.
Will the current U.S. Attorney General listen to one of his predecessor's advice that the war on weed is a waste of time? Here's to hoping. With 94 percent of the country supporting medical marijuana and 29 states and the District of Columbia having legalized pot for medical purposes — and still more moving in that direction — it would seem as if it’s only a matter of time before pot is legal in every state in the nation. %related-post-1% Of course, considerably fewer states have legalized recreational marijuana, and pot of any kind is still technically illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act. If you were to poll legalization advocates, however, you’d likely find them less concerned about those roadblocks than they are U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his prohibitionist views toward the drug. Sessions has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and he discounts the benefits of medical marijuana, as well as research indicating the drug’s effectiveness in combating opioid abuse. And while Sessions hasn’t yet moved to reverse the trend of increased legalization, Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general during the administration of President George W, Bush, says Sessions would be wasting his time if he carried out his possible plans to prosecute medical marijuana distributors in states where pot is legal. According to Gonzales, there are many more important issues that need addressing than the fighting a war on weed. “With respect to everything else going on in the U.S., this is pretty low priority," Gonzales told Newsweek. Due to the Justice Department’s limited resources, Gonzales says, the agency needs to be focusing on bigger problems. He also points out that attorneys general don’t operate in a bubble when it comes to setting agency agendas. “What people often fail to understand or appreciate, is that the attorney general works for the president,” he says. “While the attorney general has a great deal of say about law enforcement policy, so does the White House. When Jeff Sessions makes something, he responds to the White House.” %related-post-2% As of late, Sessions’ interactions with the White House have been dominated by other matters. As ABC News notes, President Trump took issue with Sessions — and still might fire him — for his “weak” handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Also, as the New York Times reports, the president berated and humiliated Sessions in the Oval Office after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was tapped to lead the FBI investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump said little about cannabis on the campaign trail, and has been similarly quiet about it since taking office. And while in April Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review Obama-era marijuana policy and offer suggestions for possible reforms, the task force failed to come up with anything. As a result, Sessions says Obama administration policy that allows states to legalize weed without interference from the feds will remain in effect. How long will the policy remain in effect? Well, as Forbes reports, during a Senate hearing in October, Sessions conceded that allowing more researchers to legally grow more cannabis for scientific studies would be a “healthy” thing to do. Maybe the current attorney general is starting to see eye to eye with the former attorney general. A war on weed is a waste.
Cannabis legalization isn’t a hot topic only in the U.S. — just look north of the border. Medical cannabis is currently legal across Canada, and nation-wide recreational legislation is currently working its way to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s desk. Because the rollout of Canadian marijuana laws could influence the United States at some point, it’s worth paying attention to how things progress up north. Canada will soon be legalizing cannabis for adults — will everyone be ready? On July 1, 2018, full adult-use cannabis legalization will likely go into effect in Canada. But is everyone ready for this change to Canadian marijuana laws? Perhaps not. First of all, when new regulations regarding a certain product or substance go into place, regulators and law enforcement must be well trained on those rules. It’s essential they know exactly what’s legal and what’s not, but also how to detect possible infractions. %related-post-1% According to several sources, police chiefs don’t believe law enforcement will be ready for legalization in July 2018. At the same time, some members of the medical community — namely psychiatrists — are also worried about the rush the government seems to have. Police chiefs as well as several psychiatrists fear an increase in impaired driving. The proposed law would allow people above the age of 18 to purchase and consume cannabis, and four plants per household would be allowed for personal use. That said, Canada’s individual provinces will be allowed to change several aspects of the law, such as raising the minimum consumer age. Those provinces also get to make decisions regarding distribution and sales within their own borders. The upshot of this will likely be the implementation of different rules in every province; a hodgepodge of Canadian marijuana laws; some more restrictive than others. Some examples: In Manitoba, it’s likely that cannabis will not be allowed to be sold in the same stores as alcohol. Alberta announced a system in which private businesses will be allowed to sell cannabis in dedicated stores in which no tobacco, alcohol or pharmaceuticals will be sold. New Brunswick will probably create a maximum of 20 government-run stores in which advertising nor window displays will be allowed. Having all these laws finalized and synced by mid-summer will take loads of work and coordination. Apprehensions and possible solutions According to a recent poll by researchers of the Dalhousie University in Halifax, about 68 percent of Canadians are in favor of cannabis legalization. Yet at the same time, many are given pause by the rapid pace at which the matter is progressing. %related-post-2% To address apprehensions, the Canadian government recently announced a new investment of $36.4 million (over the next five years), in addition to the earlier announced $9.6 million for education and awareness campaigns. Not only youth, but also pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as people with mental illnesses will be educated about the possible risks of cannabis consumption, according to the Canadian government. To that point, Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor said: We are tackling the issue of cannabis use with long-term investments in our education and awareness efforts. We want to make sure all Canadians, particularly our young adults and youth, understand the health and safety risks of cannabis. These efforts also aim to equip parents and teachers with tools to have meaningful discussions with young Canadians about the risks of cannabis use. Public- vs. private-owned dispensaries As mentioned earlier, Canada’s provinces will have some influence on the regulations they’ll apply. One of the most significant examples is the ownership of the dispensaries. Will they be public-owned (by a province’s government) or private-owned? Now that we’re getting closer to the end of 2017, and to the legalization launch date as well, provinces are starting to reveal pieces of their plans. Even though some provinces seemed to have figured much of it out, others seem to be struggling to find the best way to do things. Many entrepreneurs want to see provinces allow private-owned dispensaries. But for now, it seems like many of them will be sidelined, and local governments will take control of the sales. Ontario for example, will most likely let the Ontario Liquor Control Board run the stores. Manitoba, however, might allow private stores to sell cannabis, but the province will act as the wholesaler. %related-post-3% Over in Saskatchewan, the government there is apparently leaning toward a model in which dispensaries will be private-owned. Newfoundland is expected to follow a model similar to Saskatchewan’s. While offering an opportunity to entrepreneurs, the province will avoid being forced to cover many of the costs of selling cannabis, such as renting stores and hiring staff. Since there are only about 344,000 adults in Newfoundland, offloading overhead costs could be a big plus for the province, which will, of course, benefit entrepreneurs ready to invest in the market. What about the online sales and delivery? Online sales shouldn’t be forgotten, and will probably be very lucrative since consumers are used to buying all sorts of stuff online. But like the public- vs. private-owned dispensary debate, online sales opportunities could possibly exist in the same province-by-province rules scenario. E-commerce sites in some provinces could be owned and operated by the government while private entrepreneurs might manage those matters elsewhere. What this means is the buying process in Saskatchewan might look very different than in, say, Quebec, both in person and online All these Canadian marijuana laws are, of course, changing almost daily. Don’t worry, we’ll keep an eye on it for you.
While they still lag behind other states, southern states in the U.S. are finally softening their hardline marijuana prohibition stance. When it comes to championing legal weed in the United States, the East and West coasts have long led the charge. All states on both coasts have some form of legalization, while other parts of the country like the Midwest and, especially, the South continue to lag far behind. While Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida have legalized medical cannabis, Alabama and Mississippi only allow it for those suffering from severe epileptic conditions. Virginia has had a law on the books for years allowing individuals to possess marijuana if they have prescriptions from doctors, but since federal law prohibits physicians from prescribing cannabis — they can only recommend it — the Virginia law is invalid. Georgia has a limited law that allows people suffering from a small list of condition to use low-THC extracts. Recreational marijuana is illegal in all southern states, while Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not permit legal cannabis of any kind. %related-post-1% Things are starting to change, however. With a majority of Americans now favoring legalization for the first time in history, we are now seeing a nationwide shift from marijuana prohibition to progress happening in all 50 states. Here are a few examples of how the push for legal weed is picking up steam down South: Residents of Florida can now get medical marijuana at approved dispensaries. As the Sun Sentinel reports, patients must be suffering from qualifying “debilitating medical conditions” like cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or Crohn’s disease. They also have to wait a while, as they first must be entered into the state’s medical marijuana registry, then wait months for a medical marijuana card. Patients can receive a 70-day supply day at a time, but must then visit their doctor in order to get a refill. They also have to pay out of pocket, too, as insurance can’t cover any part of the process. Medical marijuana is now more popular among residents of Georgia than the governor, the state legislature, Obamacare, or same-sex marriage. According to a new Georgia College survey, 78% of adults support medical cannabis, and while the legislature and governor haven’t moved to expand legalization, some progress had been made. A tiny number of people in Georgia can get low doses of cannabis for a limited number of conditions, and Atlanta recently enacted an ordinance decriminalizing low-level pot possession. Savannah is considering a similar move. Last fall, voters in Arkansas passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. And while lawmakers have been working ever since to implement regulations and licensing requirements for the state’s growers and dispensers, a new poll shows that those who voted for it disapprove with the rate of progress to this point. Unsurprisingly, those who didn’t vote for the amendment are happy to see it stumbling out of the gates. %related-post-2% According to FBI data cited by Rep. Jeremy Faison, Co-Chairman of Tennessee’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis, Tennessee is one of the Top 5 states in the nation for growing marijuana. Since weed is already there, regardless of the state's marijuana prohibition, Faison reasons he and his fellow committee members plan to file legislation calling for the formation of a commission to be appointed by Governor Bill Haslam and others. The bill would only legalize cannabis oil-based products, and the commission would be in charge of regulating every aspect of licensing, production, research, and distribution. Faison plans to invite officials from the DEA and FBI to provide input at future committee meetings. Things are a bit more urgent in Kentucky, where Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says she wants to see medical marijuana legalized by 2018. She plans to personally lead a task force to iron out implementation and regulation in order to “help Kentuckians who are hurting.” While Governor Matt Bevin has previously rejected any legalization proposals, he has softened to the idea as a means of dealing with Kentucky’s billions of dollars in pension debt. Check back for future updates on marijuana prohibition and legalization efforts across the South and the rest of the nation.
Strict permitting in new medical marijuana states is bad for consumers, but great for the lucky few who become state-ordained marijuana millionaires. Anyone with a combination of money and interest in marijuana has been staring for months at the state of Ohio, where more than 185 groups of entrepreneurs have staked fortunes and their futures on the outcome of a process beyond their control. %related-post-1% This sounds like bad business. Worse — it sounds like straight-up gambling, like stuffing all of your investors’ cash into a slot machine, crossing your fingers, and pulling the handle, leaving the path towards perfidy or fortune up to the one-armed bandit — until you consider that their wager is banking on the promise of government-guaranteed munificence: Membership in an official marijuana millionaires oligopoly. The Ohio model The national bellwether, the decider of presidential contests, Ohio has also been a point of national obsession in cannabis circles since it decided to serve as judge, jury, and award presenter in a high-stakes game of “Who wants to be a guaranteed marijuana millionaire?” You may channel David Byrne for a second and wonder how we got here. It’s like this: Scared straight by the threat of marijuana-friendly voters going too far with a ballot initiative, Ohio lawmakers took the unusual step of legalizing medical marijuana through the legislative process in 2016. (Most states do not do this.) Going that route allowed the state to go slow — the first medical-marijuana dispensaries won’t open for business until September 2018 — and for state authorities to choose the cannabis industry’s entrants carefully, from a large pool of contestants, the best of whom would be selected based on their appearance on paper and granted a license. %related-post-2% Carefully … and selectively. Under the “strictly regulated” medical-marijuana plan Gov. John Kasich signed into law — the same John Kasich who’s dealing with an apocalyptic opiate crisis and believes cannabis has no role in pain management — licenses to grow cannabis will be rarer in Ohio than Jim Harbaugh sympathizers. A total of only 24 licenses to cultivate marijuana throughout the state of Ohio will be issued under the current scheme. And even these chosen few won’t have to worry about competition. Permits are all regional. No more than two dozen companies will receive the right to service a select and discrete portion of a population of more than 11 million. Like loyal feudal lords receiving bounteous fiefdoms from the king, each best-sounding company would be given the right to cultivate for a specific region, without fear or worry of trouble from an unexpected quarter. Winner(s) take all Befitting the high-roller table at Caesar’s Palace, this was a high-stakes game not everyone was invited to play. Non-refundable application fees cost as much as $20,000 — plus the time, energy, and lawyers and consultants required to put the application together. (Just like a casino, the house already won big.) For the winners, that ante will pay itself back many times over. Business publications noted that the competition for the chance at entering a “multi-million dollar industry” was fierce. That only tells part of the story. This wasn’t competition — that’s something that happens on the free market. This was pre-competition, a political and popularity contest, in order to enter a controlled market without much competition. The first 14 winners were announced on Nov. 3. Eleven companies won licensing; one company won the right to grow cannabis exclusively in three regions. They’ll now have nine months to get up and running. %related-post-3% Ohio officials insist the process wasn’t rigged. And they may be right — companies were selected based on how their proposals met certain criteria, a process anyone who’s bid for a public contract would recognize. But not unlike the two-man energy company briefly tasked with rebuilding hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, all these companies have something in common: They’ve never done this before. And unless they commit some terrible crime or fail miserably at delivering their goods, they’ll have plenty of runway. Hard to worry too much about a good product when all the other producers are relegated to the black market. Florida's license stranglehold There is some precedent. In most of the states legalizing medical marijuana in the past decade, authorities have strictly limited the number of permits awarded to some arbitrary number. The results are predictable to anyone familiar with how artificially constricted markets work. Think housing in California. 900-square foot bungalows aren’t going for a $1 million because of the view. Scarcity means speculators are going wild, man. As of August, Florida’s estimated $1 billion medical-marijuana market was controlled by only seven moguls. Realizing what it had done — enriched private enterprise through public action, textbook regulatory capture — the state hurried to add a few more licenses, but not before the artificially scarce marijuana licenses were valued at $200 million each, according to the investment in one made by a Canadian marijuana giant. Let’s be frank: Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the Florida company in which Canadian company Aphria made that significant investment, did not have $200 million worth of fungible “stuff” on hand. It did not have $200 million worth of real estate, property, or patents. That was an option bet, a calculated risk based on the company having a giant slice of legal business all to itself thanks to government regulation. %related-post-4% And this is the same roadmap Ohio is following. And in Pennsylvania, where the same script is playing out as if it was rehearsed. And Arkansas, where permits to grow will be limited to five. Why do states follow this model? By now, you, a reasonable and sane person, is probably asking, “Why?? What purpose does strictly limited permitting serve?” The answer is one you know by heart. It’s reefer madness, my dear. Most states approaching weed with great trepidation, only after caving to the will of voters — not because they want to, but because they have to. You could blame Jeff Sessions and the feds, but this was going on when Hillary Clinton staffers were still ordering office furniture for the State Department jobs they were sure were theirs. No, this is because Americans might love the idea of weed, but maybe not so much in practice. They fear it. They don’t understand it — and they think that by limiting it while still allowing it, they check all the boxes. Enough weed to help sick people, not too much weed to let in “an unsavory element.” It’s great policy, if you’re one of the lucky few to win a permit. Less great if you’re a patient stuck with all the consumer choice of a town where the only retail option is a Wal-Mart. In that way, this monopoly-creating approach to weed is very familiar.
Could German marijuana legalization happen soon? Near term political needs in Berlin could impact the trajectory of the matter. Last year, the German cabinet unanimously approved medical marijuana legislation. As Forbes reports, however, cannabis reform might not stop there for the European Union’s most populous country. %related-post-1% The law, which went into effect in March, lets “seriously ill” patients get the drug on a case-by-case basis. The country started with 10 licensed medical marijuana producers, and will import cannabis from numerous Canadian suppliers until domestic suppliers can meet demand. According to a recent report, the legislation has already vaulted the fledgling German marijuana market to the top spot among all European countries. The market has a current value of €10.2 billion ($11.9 billion), and could reach an estimated €14.7 billion ($17.14 billion) if Germany legalizes recreational marijuana and hemp. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she does “not intend to make any changes” to the country’s current medical-only marijuana legislation, voters’ unprecedented support for German marijuana legalization, as well as Merkel’s record of making surprising political moves, could set the stage for even bigger cannabis reform. Despite garnering the most votes in Germany’s September election, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its ally, the Christian Social Union, actually lost seats and currently do not have a clear majority. Needing the support of other parties in order to actually be able to govern, they are negotiating the formation of a coalition government with the Free Democrats and Greens. Part of that negotiation appears to be a deal to fully legalize marijuana. %related-post-2% If the deal goes through, German newspaper Stuttgarter-Zeitung reports, recreational marijuana would be fully legalized and made available for sale in pharmacies and licensed dispensaries. Fritz Becker, Chairman of the German Pharmacists Association, says the nation’s pharmacies are ready to distribute cannabis, adding that the regulated storefronts would provide “advice on risks and side effects, good customer service and ensure clean goods.” As Marijuana.com notes, Merkel’s political aspirations have traditionally outweighed her adherence to dogmas. As long as she can benefit politically, the site points out, she is more than willing to abandon conservative positions. With cannabis reform now more popular among German voters than in all former election campaigns, expect Merkel to make another (not-so-)surprising move.
From opponent to ally. Behind the Utah Republican’s seemingly bizarre marijuana conversion. Orrin Hatch is the Republican Party’s senior statesman in the U.S. Senate. At a venerable 83 years old, Hatch has been in the Senate since 1977. His lawmaking career has spanned almost half of his long life. It began before more than half of Americans living today were born, and it’s been spent in the true and faithful pursuit of core conservative values. Before his marijuana conversion, Hatch was an anti-marijuana hardliner As befits someone who came to power when the Republican Party was applying Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy, for most of his four decades on Capitol Hill, Hatch has also been a staunch supporter of the drug war, and all its racist, harmful, authoritarian multitudes. %related-post-1% After California voters approved medical marijuana way back in 1996, Hatch, as a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quick to deploy Bill Clinton’s own drug dogs as interference. Marijuana is “more cancer-causing than tobacco,” he said at the time. It’s no accident it took many more years before widespread access to cannabis was a reality. But now it appears Sen. Hatch is singing a new tune on marijuana. Whistling a new tune on marijuana What can we say, except that the age of 83 is apparently a fine time for a reinvention. Orrin Hatch, staunch Republican. Orrin Hatch, Trump guy. And Orrin Hatch, voice for medical marijuana in the U.S. Senate. In September, Hatch introduced legislation in the Senate that would lift current draconian restrictions on medical-cannabis research — and used no less than eight exhausted puns in the accompanying press release. He is quite the humorist, said his spokesman — who in all likelihood wrote the release — in an interview with CNN (though the lighthearted tone taken with a serious issue led some cannabis advocates to question his sincerity). And last month, Hatch managed to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his old Senate colleague, to admit that there should be more than one single source of government-approved marijuana for medical research. %related-post-2% What has happened? What snapped in Hatch’s brain? There are two ways of looking at this metamorphosis: As a cynic, or as a pragmatist. A cynic's take on this marijuana conversion The cynic would step back, look at the record — and note Hatch’s continued opposition to legalized recreational marijuana — and declare that Hatch is merely evolving with the times. Utah is close to legalizing medical marijuana, and may have done so already were it not for classic obstructionism at the state legislature. A majority of Republicans, and 61 percent of all Americans, support marijuana legalization. And support for medical marijuana is an overwhelming 83 percent. Any halfwit can look at the polls, realize how the tides have turned, and adapt accordingly. What a courageous opportunist — and if he’s serious about this, why isn’t he out there criticizing Jeff Sessions from the right, not just on the Justice Department’s obstructing cannabis research, but on Sessions’ scaremongering campaign against state-legal cannabis, a clear-cut violation of conservative principles? That would be helpful. (Most marijuana-friendly mainstream Democrats deserve no laurels, either: They, too, waited until public opinion had safely swung in weed’s favor before making the jump.) But what about a pragmatic view? Now, enter the pragmatist, whose memory is too short to bear grudges and who is happy to see any progress from any corner, no matter how slight. The pragmatist will say that anyone holding pro-legalization views in the 1990s was a wild and crazy outlier, a ranting hermit fresh in from 40 days in the desert — and that Hatch has had twenty years to listen to science and to hear testimonials from cannabis patients, more than enough data for him, a reasonable person, to change his views. %related-post-3% The pragmatist will note that Hatch is merely following a trend set by other Republicans holding office. The co-sponsor of a (failed, but still symbolically important) bill to reschedule marijuana’s classification in the Controlled Substances Act was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents one of the most conservative districts in the country. At the polls last November, cannabis won more votes than Donald Trump. Gaetz can see this. Hatch is seeing it. It’s long overdue and it’s still not quite enough, but Hatch’s evolution is of a piece. The pragmatist would look at all this and predict, rightly, that it will only be a matter of time before a bill rescheduling cannabis (and, after that, legalizing it outright) crosses the desk of the president of the United States. Only the cynic would cross his arms, frown, and ask — however righteously — what took so long.
Marijuana approval ratings in the United States have never been higher. In 2001, roughly one-third of Americans supported marijuana legalization. According to a new Gallup poll, however, that number is now approaching two-thirds. Last year, another Gallup poll found that a then-record of 60 percent of Americans supported ending marijuana prohibition. The latest poll measuring marijuana approval ratings shows that 64 percent now support legalization — a number that has more than doubled since 2000. Correspondingly, the percentage of those opposed to legalization has dropped to an all-time low. %related-post-1% While there is a gap between the number of Republicans and Democrats supporting legalization, the majority of both Democrats (72 percent) and Republicans (51 percent) — the first-ever such majority of Republicans — now think the use of marijuana should be made legal. As FiveThirtyEight notes, Republicans and Democrats are much closer on the issue of marijuana legalization than they are, say, abortion, gun control, or health care. While the two parties may never see eye-to-eye on the latter issues, the comparative lack of polarization between the two parties when it comes to marijuana legislation is encouraging. More than half of the states in the United States have some form of legalized form of cannabis, and if public opinion continues its current trend, we could conceivably see cannabis become legal in all 50 states — even in red states which have, to this point, been most opposed to the idea. As Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project outlined in a recent statement, widespread legalization just makes sense. “It makes sense that support for ending marijuana prohibition is increasing," said Fox. “Americans are tired of wasting resources arresting hundreds of thousands of individuals every year for using a substance that is safer than alcohol. In the five years since the first states made marijuana legal for adults, it has become increasingly clear that — unlike prohibition — regulation works. Adult-use marijuana laws create jobs, generate tax revenue, and protect consumers while taking the marijuana market out of the hands of criminals." %related-post-2% So, if marijuana approval ratings reflect that the majority of the American population wants legalization, what’s the hold up? Politicians, says FiveThirtyEight. Despite the drug’s appeal, the site points out, neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump vocally supported legalization during the 2016 election, even if politicians as a whole might be completely aware of how much — and how quickly — public sentiment has shifted on the issue. As legal marijuana continues to enhance the lives of more and more people from all political persuasions, more and more people will want access to it. The candidates most willing to help provide that access will be the candidates most likely to be rewarded at the polls.
After nine months without finding the right candidate, it looked like the Trump drug czar search might finally come to a conclusion. The search will have to continue, however, after President Donald Trump’s nominee, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrew his name from consideration following damning reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. According to Leafly.com, the reports shined a light on Marino’s involvement in a 2016 law, signed by President Obama, which weakened the federal government’s authority to block companies from distributing opioids. As we have reported before, an American Society of Addiction report cited by Leafly, shows that 33,091 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2015. That’s 91 deaths every day. And the numbers are growing. %related-post-1% Trump has equated the opioid crisis with a “national emergency,” and it’s clear that nominating anyone as drug czar who may have even indirectly contributed to the problem would send the wrong message. The day after the reports, Trump told reporters that if he thought Marino’s nomination was “1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change.” The next day, during an interview on Fox News Radio, the president said Marino told him that “if there’s even a perception that he has a conflict of interest...he doesn’t want anything to do with” the job. “He felt compelled,” Trump added. “He feels very strongly about the opioid problem and the drug problem and Tom Marino said, ‘Look, I’ll take a pass.” As of the time of this writing, Marino hadn’t spoken publicly, nor had the next Trump drug czar nominee been named. According to STATnews.com, however, names of possible contenders are starting to circulate. Outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might be the leading remaining candidate. He has chaired the president’s commission on the opioid crisis since March, and has also unveiled a $200 million program to address the epidemic in his state that has been lauded nationwide. As of now, Christie has not been offered — or expressed an interest in — becoming czar. %related-post-2% Another potential choice is Bertha Madras, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, who currently serves on a presidential commission dedicated to helping the federal government fight the opioid epidemic. Madras says she is currently focused on wrapping up an Opioid Commission report, and won’t be to “focus on the future” until it’s finished. Also mentioned as possible candidates are Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general and a member of Christie’s commission, and Richard Baum, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. However, past pay-to-play allegations against Bondi and Baum’s institutionalist reputation could bar them from serious consideration. We’ll keep you posted on how the Trump drug czar search develops.
Denying Massachusetts marijuana sales-tax revenue to communities that ban legal cannabis sales is only fair. Which, is why it probably won’t happen — and wouldn’t exactly work, even if it did. Parables aimed at children aren’t generally accepted as valid bases for systems of governance or the rationale behind key decisions affecting millions of people. (When choosing intellectual foundations, here in America we rely on morality tales aimed at adults.) Yet in the push in Massachusetts to deny marijuana sales-tax proceeds to the more than 100 cities and towns that have chosen to ban recreational cannabis sales, the lesson of the Little Red Hen is happily (and seriously) repeated. %related-post-1% Why should places that at almost every turn have tried to halt marijuana legalization in its tracks — and, failing that, attempting the same blockade of legal marijuana commerce — enjoy any of its proceeds? Massachusetts’s plan to divide the legalization spoils currently looks like this: There’s a 17 percent “effective tax” on commercial pot, according to the Boston Globe. State sales taxes go to the state and are absorbed into the general budget. Not so with the two local cuts. Three percent of retail sales and 3 percent of a locally-based marijuana company’s revenue stay with a local government, provided they afford a place for legitimate weed businesses. This provides some incentive to allow marijuana firms to operate in your community. But some Boston-area cannabis activists and entrepreneurs want to go even further and deny marijuana-related money to places that deny a place for commercial marijuana. They plan to introduce legislation in January that would (somehow, in some as-yet undefined; little key details like this are just that, crucial details) reduce each weed-banning localities’ share of state-collected Massachusetts marijuana sales taxes. As logic goes, it’s hard to beat. (That’s the simple brilliance of schoolyard philosophy at work.) It’s only fair. It’s hard to find a reason why parties who share none of the supposed burden and perform none of the work should enjoy the same benefits as those that do. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” is in fact the earliest working political theory in English-speaking America. %related-post-2% But as analogies go, it’s not perfect. First, nowhere in the Red Hen’s patient efforts to convince the other farm animals to join in and assist in her bread-baking labors was she met with outright sabotage or well-organized and well-funded anti-bread campaigns — only to be asked for a slice of toast from someone heretofore gluten-averse as soon as she opened the oven door. In her world, her obstacles are merely sloth and greed, not hostility. Cannabis enjoyed no such casual indifference. Only 52 percent of Massachusetts voters backed Question 4, the ballot initiative that legalized recreational cannabis for all adults 21 and over in the state last November. Opponents included nearly all of the state’s political establishment, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. So desperate were the state’s deciders to beat legalization that they were happy to lie, and lie wildly and irresponsibly: House Speaker Robert DeLeo once claimed that there was a clear link between casual marijuana use and opiate dependency, despite clear scientific evidence that cannabis availability reduces opiate abuse and overdose deaths. It didn’t work, and it doesn’t matter. These same fellows now get to figure out how to spend an extra $150 million a year, the estimated sales-tax haul by 2020 from the Massachusetts marijuana market. And these are some the same fellows who will be asked to approve a plan in the Legislature to deny their areas tax money if those same areas also banned marijuana. What lawmaker would do that? That’s one clear problem to overcome. Another is logistical: Sifting through the state budget, figuring out how much each area is "owed" solely from Massachusetts marijuana money, then reducing each area's payout accordingly. Yet another is that there’s no precedent for this, anywhere. %related-post-3% Advocates point to Oregon and California as examples of places where localities pay a price for banning weed. Baked into those states’ legalization laws are provisions denying some money gleaned from legalization from locales that strongarm marijuana businesses — emphasis on “some.” In Oregon, most of the proceeds from legalization are earmarked for schools, who get the cash no matter what local leaders choose to do. The rest — less than $8 million a year, or $3 per person — isn't much to make a difference. In California, cities and counties that ban marijuana businesses are ineligible for some grant funding — but they will still enjoy funding from state sales taxes. And these are also grants that are specifically meant to help “implement” legalization — meaning, unlike the Red Hen's neighbors in the barnyard, California cities without a single cannabis retail outlet will still get to pay their cops and pave their roads with the money from places with a booming weed retail sector. What there is precedent for, as the Globe noted, is similar inequality. Take the state Lottery. Tickets for the lottery, a key source of state funding, are disproportionately sold in poor and working-class areas. Yet when it comes time to divide up the proceeds, they’re divided “equally,” meaning richer areas take in more than their people put in. (These richer areas, with their higher property taxes, also enjoy better schools and ritzier civic improvements.) It’s not fair. But that’s simply how it works. That’s the way it is: The brutal logic of resignation to life’s slings and arrows learned in the workplace, replacing the utopian ideals of youth. Unless the Massachusetts marijuana-legalization law is drastically rewritten as to direct the majority of money to localities and not to the state, this is how it will be. To do that would require prying money from some of the same hands that tried to prevent that money from appearing in the first place. That sounds fair — but that’s not the principle driving most lawmaking in America.
The U.S. Army has found itself in a tight spot when it comes to recruiting. They need to lure in some 80,000 new soldiers, but are finding it tough to fill all those vacant spots. Uncle Sam is still saying "I Want You," but he’s having a hard time finding enough folks to take him up on the offer. Well, let’s put a qualifier on that last sentence. He’s having a hard time getting enough qualified folks willing to join the ranks. Why? Some observers point to the fact that a strong economy is pulling the more qualified potential recruits into the private sector. Selling a stint or two in Afghanistan to someone who has numerous other — possibly more lucrative — options at home is proving an uphill battle. %related-post-1% To that point, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, who oversees Army recruitment, recently told USA Today, “(we’re) in an environment where unemployment is 4.5 percent. We’ve got our work cut out for us.” So, what to do? In order to meet its quota, the Army has decided to relax some of its criteria for joining up (including military exam performance), they’re offering more sign-on bonuses, and — here’s a big one — they’re forgiving past marijuana use, which used to be an automatic disqualifier. Now Uncle Sam is saying "I Want You" (yes, even if you’ve smoked pot in the past). As reported by USA Today, the new stance reflects the fact that more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. But there is one catch: even if the Army is accepting those who’ve consumed cannabis in the past, those fresh recruits must swear off future use. Here’s Maj. Gen. Snow again: “The big thing we’re looking for is a pattern of misconduct where they’re going to have a problem with authority. Smoking marijuana in an isolated incident as a teenager is not a pattern of misconduct.” It certainly is not. The U.S. military still strikes a troublesome stance on marijuana, especially when it comes to veteran PTSD treatment options, but at least this is a step in the right direction.
Giving veterans marijuana access should be an easy, commonsense move, right? Everyone supports the troops. Of course they do. To say otherwise is anathema for anyone in public office. In all but the most progressive jurisdictions on in the U.S., criticizing the military — including questioning the mission, or, far worse, the conduct of service personnel — is a form of political hari-kari. Look at Bernie Sanders. Vehemently and proudly anti-war, the most successful left-leaning presidential candidate in most voters’ lifetimes nonetheless supports the notion of a “robust military” at the ready at all times. But do we really fully support the troops, specifically veterans, in the U.S.A? %related-post-1% If we did, we wouldn’t have warehoused soldiers and Marines maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a rat-and-cockroach infested slum located an Uber ride away from the halls of Congress — and that scandal at Walter Reed Hospital wouldn’t have been followed within a decade with yet another criminal embarrassment at the Veterans Health Administration. If we did care about the veterans and wanted to support them — all 2.3 million women and men who went overseas to pursue missions that are still incomplete almost two decades later — we’d listen to them and to the American Legion, arguably the most conservative veterans’ organization in the county, and give veterans marijuana priviledges. As many as one in five veterans of the country’s two 21st-century wars have post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 360,000 have some form of serious brain injury. Add them to the veterans of Vietnam and the “small-scale” conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s, and by sheer numbers alone, you have what should be a national health emergency. Stories of veterans using marijuana in some form instead of a shopping list’s worth of pharmaceuticals — some of which are habit-forming, others of which have terrible side effects, yet others which just don’t work — are everywhere. There seem to be more cannabis organizations founded by and designed for military veterans every day. %related-post-2% And yet here are House leaders, killing proposals to allow VA doctors to prescribe cannabis to veterans without so much as a vote. And here’s the VA, doing what it can to block one of the most significant marijuana-related research projects in existence, what would be a groundbreaking study into cannabis’s value in treating PTSD, were it allowed to go forward. As a result, there are military veterans breaking the law, risking imprisonment and treated like cartel-level criminals solely because they took matters into their own hands in order to go through a day or two without chronic pain and psychological torment. It should be a simple thing to give military veterans marijuana. They really don’t ask for much, just what everyone asks for: decent health care, decent job opportunities, to be remembered and cared for rather than forgotten after their service expires. Giving them that much is supposed to be the deal. It’s the civilians who have a hard time fulfilling their end of the bargain. Good things happen when we actually support the troops. The GI Bill is considered to be one of the single most successful policies to emerge from the federal government. Opportunities for education and home ownership afforded to returnees from World War II and Korea laid the groundwork for a new middle class that lasted for at least a generation. Bad things happen when we don’t: homelessness, suicides, never-ending wars. The good news is that this can’t go on forever. There is simply no way that elected officials can say with a straight face that they’re pro-military and deny combat veterans marijuana access without suffering real consequences themselves. %related-post-3% This time around, if we give vets some agency and pay attention, we’ll see the first steps towards ending the war on drugs. Wounded vets using cannabis to heal their wartime scars are crucial to nationwide efforts to legalize marijuana. Once Congress finally eases marijuana restrictions, it will absolutely be in no small part thanks to the vets. It’s already breaking that way. States with ridiculously limited medical-marijuana programs are being shamed into adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions — and others are proving wise enough not to impose such pointless and harmful restrictions in the first place. As has been demonstrated time and again, medical cannabis is the first step. Once people accept the plant as a legitimate wellness tool, decades of anti-pot propaganda starts to dissipate. Look at Florida, where more than 70 percent of voters approved medical marijuana, and where one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress is now a champion of medical pot. Maybe he’s doing it solely out of political expediency. It doesn’t matter, though. The worm is still turning. Conservative states including Tennessee aren’t so conservative when it comes to cannabis policy. Cities like Nashville have already pushed municipal decriminalization efforts. Within two hours’ drive is Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division. You can bet that everyone on base knows that weed will help them through their lives once they’re discharged. And they'll act on it, whether legal or not. Patriotism as politics cuts both ways. Vets vote. And vets spur lawmakers into action. When marijuana is legalized in your area, when medical cannabis becomes acceptable for you to use, make sure you thank a vet.
Note: Since the original publication of this article, the Peruvian congress voted to legalize — 68 votes for, and only five votes against — medical marijuana, and Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski signed the bill into law. While North America might be far outpacing Latin America when it comes to legal marijuana, sentiment and policy across Latin America is slowly but surely trending toward legalization. Some form of legalization exists — or is right around the corner — in Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Argentina. Now, many are wondering: Will Peru legalize marijuana next? The development stems from the police raid of a makeshift cannabis lab in February. The lab was run by mothers attempting to use the drug to treat their sick children, and the raid has sparked considerable public outcry and legislative efforts to legalize medical cannabis. %related-post-1% President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski initially proposed the legislation upon learning about the mothers’ plight. Peru’s Congressional Committee on National Defense approved a bill to legalize the drug, which will now go before the full Peruvian Congress for debate. Congressman Alberto de Belaunde says, if approved, the legislation would legalize the production and importation of cannabis oil for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. De Balaunde says that since a formal text of the initiative has yet to be released to the public, it is unclear whether smoking cannabis will also be allowed. According to IPSOS (an opinion research firm), 65 percent of Peruvians now favor the legalization of medicinal marijuana — a number that is considerably greater than the rest of the region, and could lead to an affirmative answer to the question: Will Peru legalize marijuana? A recent study by the International Journal of Drug Policy shows that more than 40 percent of respondents in some parts of the region support legalization, while other, more conservative areas are seeing far less support. Even in those areas where there is support for legalization, there is a gap between support for medical marijuana and support for legalizing the drug for recreational use. Peru mirrors that trend, as only 13 percent of Peruvians are in favor of legalizing cannabis for adult use. That said, Peru’s path toward legislation mirrors similar momentum elsewhere in the region: %related-post-2% In 2013, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legalize the consumption, sale, and cultivation of marijuana. The nation’s recreational users and medical patients can now grow marijuana at home or visit their local pharmacies for up to 40 grams of cannabis a month from local pharmacies. Marijuana was approved for medicinal use by Argentina’s legislature in March. Mexico’s Senate passed a medical marijuana bill last December, which is now pending approval from the lower house. The personal possession and use of pot in Costa Rica is no longer considered a crime, and those growing marijuana for personal use are not subject to any criminal or economic penalties. Both Chile and Colombia have legalized medical marijuana in recent years. Colombia is also getting ready to roll out a crop substitution program that would help farmers of illegal coca crops cultivate legal marijuana instead. So, will Peru legalize marijuana next? We could find out by the end of 2017.
It has never been easier for Americans to legally buy weed than it is right now. While for years a cannabis consumer’s only options were to grow it themselves or buy it on the marijuana black market, today 205 million Americans live in states where weed is now legally available for either medicinal or recreational use. This current trend toward legalization is certainly encouraging. More people than ever before are able to buy marijuana without fear of arrest. The trouble is, however, another 120 million Americans live in one of 21 states where marijuana is still illegal. If you want to buy pot in one of those states, you have to get it on the black market — a market that is thriving, and one that will continue to thrive until marijuana is legal across the nation. %related-post-1% In theory, the legalization and regulation of marijuana should bring the industry out into the open, where cannabis can be taxed and the marijuana black market essentially shuts down. Marijuana is still illegal in nearly half of the U.S. states, though, and smugglers are using the disjointed, hodgepodge nature of laws to their advantage. In Oregon, for example, state police estimate that legal marijuana accounts for just 30 percent of Oregon’s total marijuana market. Consumers in Oregon aren’t buying anywhere close to all the pot that the state’s growers produce, so much of the excess — between 132 tons and 900 tons — is likely being sold illegally out of state. This practice is called “diversion,” and, as Cannabis Now explains, it’s the inevitable result of market forces where marijuana is illegal. Weed can be grown in Oregon and wind up in Detroit. Or be snuck out of California and be up for sale in Memphis. The potential profits are simply too irresistible. For example, a pound of pot that fetches $2,000 in Colorado could fetch three times as much in a city on the East Coast. According to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, criminals are buying houses in her state where they can grow pot, then harvesting the plant and shipping it elsewhere. Law enforcement officials in California say that foreign cartels have largely given up smuggling pot across the border, and are instead growing thousands of plants in the open on public lands in the state. Not only do the cartels no longer have to worry about getting past border security, but if their crops are discovered, they only face misdemeanor charges. %related-post-2% Black market sellers can also see profits even if they never send their product across state lines. In legal states, their weed is often cheaper than the weed sold in stores because they don’t have to pay overhead in the form of employee salaries and taxes. Not surprisingly, legal pot businesses can often struggle to compete. Pot is still technically illegal at the federal level, and while President Trump has given no indication that his administration will crack down on the marijuana industry, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has informed the nation’s governors that he is monitoring the illegal flow of weed across state borders. Sessions says that the diversion issue could lead to states violating the Cole Memo, the non-binding, Obama-era policy that gives legal marijuana states legal protection against federal prosecution. Despite his threats, Sessions appears to be fighting a losing battle. Not only do an increasing number of Americans think marijuana use should be legal in the U.S., but the number of people in his own political party who support legalization is now higher than the number of those who don’t. Making marijuana more difficult to get is not the answer. As long as there are pockets of prohibition across the U.S., there will be incentive for marijuana black market sales. Make pot legal everywhere, and that market goes away almost entirely. As the USA today noted, “sure, some people still make moonshine, but the vast majority of us buy legally made — and taxed — alcohol.”
The bad news is that some people still ask this question: Is marijuana a gateway drug? The good news is that the marijuana-as-a-gateway myth has been chipped away at over the years. The better news is that a new line of thought is emerging: Marijuana may actually be an “exit drug” for those addicted to hard substances. Where We Stand Today While President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis wants to expand medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, the commission — which is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, “a notorious anti-cannabis hardliner,” according to Leafly — doesn’t include cannabis on its list of drugs that can actually help people addicted to opioids. %related-post-1% And as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions tells it, the drug shouldn’t be on that list because using marijuana to combat opioid dependency is merely trading “one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.” Given Sessions’ hardline stance on legalization, his comments here should be no surprise. They should also not detract, however, from an irrefutable fact: Cannabis is helping to save the lives of people addicted to opioids. Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug? Let's Flip That Question Upside Down While marijuana has long been labelled a gateway drug, studies show that alcohol and nicotine — and not pot — are the most common drugs first abused by those who move on to harder and more dangerous substances. Opioids are one of those substances, but, instead of encouraging people to dabble in opioids, marijuana can actually help people overcome them. Some 2.6 million Americans (roughly the equivalent to the combined populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Washington D.C., and Alaska) deal with some sort of opioid addiction. While marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance limits its ability to be studied by researchers — likely contributing to the continued and widespread debate about its true medicinal benefits — there is increasing evidence highlighting marijuana’s effectiveness as an exit drug. Marijuana as an Exit Drug According to a recent study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma, cited by Leafly, 90 percent of post-operative patients who used medical cannabis during their recoveries believed that it helped to alleviate their pain, while 81 percent believed it cut down on how much opioid pain medication they wound up using. %related-post-2% More importantly, a 2014 study found that states with legal medical marijuana saw 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdose compared to states where the drug is illegal. Leafly also cited qualitative data that illustrates cannabis’ effectiveness as an exit drug for drug rehab patients, military veterans, and everyday people going through recovery. According to an American Society of Addiction report, 33,091 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2015. That’s 91 deaths every day. And the numbers are growing. (By the way, how many Americans died from cannabis overdoses in 2015 or 2016? None.) A Straightforward Argument When it comes to describing marijuana’s usefulness as an exit drug, Joe Schrank, the co-founder of a California-based recovery center, perhaps says it best: “We’re trading drugs that will kill people for a drug that will not kill people.” While Sessions, Trump, Christie, and others are free to push for hardline policies that limit — or eliminate — Americans’ access to medical marijuana, public sentiment trends toward legalization. Until they can make a more compelling argument than Schrank, it will continue to do so. So, is marijuana a gateway drug? Hardly. To the contrary, it can help get people off harder substances. And it won't be long (hopefully) until that question is no longer posed.
Yes, senior citizens and marijuana could easily form a political powerhouse. Here's how. If it impacts me directly, it's important politically Adam Smith was not a cynic. He was a realist. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” wrote the modern era’s first economist wrote in Wealth of Nations. Aside from providing the general, unlearned public with rudimentary bromides to deploy over dinner and in barrooms — if anyone knows anything about economics, they will know this principle of self-first survival, or maybe the “invisible hand” of the free market — Smith also delivered a fundamental political lesson. The question all voters ask, and the one all supplicants for their votes must answer is: What’s in it for me? %related-post-1% Appeals to reason, justice, or emotion will find their effectiveness limited at property lines. In other words: A foreign war or a public good is an abstract thing, an innocuous thing, until it affects your taxes or your home values — and then watch it become a Matter of Great Import. In order to do the right thing, a voter must believe it is the right thing for herself. When it comes to voting, senior citizens call the shots This can be a challenging equation to balance at the ballot box. It’s Millennials who will (someday) inherit the world from the Baby Boomers (eventually) — yet it’s the Baby Boomers who are shaping the future by turning out to vote and selecting choice-makers for us. With this in mind, they can help us move toward a more verdant future by voting to legalize marijuana. And they should. Senior citizens and marijuana make for a great match. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> Until now, voters over 50 have been the reliable bulwark against marijuana legalization. According to Gallup, there’s wide majority support for marijuana legalization across all generations, with one exception: That’s right, voters over 55. You can probably thank senior citizens for marijuana legalization’s loss in Arizona, the lone failure on Election Day last year. This is ironic, considering senior citizens have been for some time the fastest-growing demographic among marijuana users. There’s decades of propaganda to unlearn, sure. But then again, people around the age of 60 or 65 or older were the people who made cannabis a central part of the American counterculture. Senior citizens and marijuana have been cozying up According to one survey, marijuana use among Americans 65 and older has increased by 250 percent. Data like this isn’t the most reliable — a survey’s value relies on people telling the truth, and since people lie to their doctors about how much alcohol they drink, and it’s legal, how honest are they about drug use? — but at least some of the smart money is following it. %related-post-2% Marijuana companies are converging on senior centers and retirement homes to find new customers. Since aging includes some of the very ailments medical marijuana is most effective at treating — among them sleep issues, chronic pain, and wasting syndromes associated with cancer — the appeal is obvious. The pitch makes perfect sense. Here’s something that’s relatively benign, available in formats that require no smoking — thus, no negative health impacts — with limited side effects, and profound medical value. And, yes, the fountain of youth potential. As mentioned above, initial results from a study conducted on mice revealed that THC may reverse or at least slow the cognitive decline associated with aging. Would you like to enjoy — and remember — those golden years? Of course you do. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> It’s no accident that medical marijuana was overwhelmingly approved in Florida, land of of the snowbirds and Sun Belt retirees. Until now, much of the taboo and reluctance to embrace cannabis has been about “the children.” This, too, is ironic: It’s been kids, stricken with intractable epilepsy and other illnesses medicine is helpless to heal, that have convinced state lawmakers in red areas like Georgia and Texas to allow sick people to access high CBD, low THC oil. When senior citizens and marijuana come to terms, prohibition will end You’ll notice that no matter who is in office, no presidential administration and no Congress have been able to raid Social Security or gut Medicare. In addition to owning property and significant wealth, seniors also wield significant political power. If seniors collectively realized tomorrow that cannabis was good for them, Congress would end marijuana prohibition within a year. You can bet on that.
During Tennessee’s last legislative session, a bill that would have made Tennessee medical marijuana legal failed because, as one of its sponsors chided, the Senate was “scared” of passing it. That fear might be subsiding, however, as legislative leaders have announced that a special joint committee of the Tennessee General Assembly will be studying the possibility of legalizing the drug for medical use. Last session’s unsuccessful bill, was co-sponsored by State Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville physician, and State Rep. Jeremy Faison, a lawmaker from the state’s mountainous eastern region who has travelled to Colorado multiple times to research medical marijuana. The Faison-Dickerson bill would have set clear guidelines for who could obtain a prescription for Tennessee medical marijuana, as well as place a strict limit on the number of growers in the state. %related-post-1% The bill also would have allowed marijuana to be prescribed for those suffering from cancer, HIV/ADS, ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and seizures. Revenues generated from the legalized pot sales would be split up among various state departments and groups, including K-12 education, law enforcement agencies for use In “drug training,” and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for “drug intervention.” Dickerson was moved to tout legal Tennessee medical marijuana as a way to fight the state's opioid epidemic after a study found that there are more prescriptions written for opioids written in Tennessee than there are Tennesseans. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, who is running for governor, also cites the drug’s ability to combat opioid abuse as a reason why she is now “open” to legal medical cannabis in the state. Her sister, a resident of Colorado, was prescribed opioid painkillers after hurting her back in yoga class. She called Harwell and said she had to stop taking them because she had “no doubt” that she would become addicted to them. Harwell’s sister then switched to cannabis mixed with coconut oil, and took it for four or five days until the pain was gone. %related-post-2% Harwell, along with Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, have appointed members to the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis, which will be co-chaired by Dickerson and Faison. While the pair thought last the bill introduced last session had the votes to pass the House, it was blocked by the Senate. "The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said after taking the bill off-notice. As J.R. Lind points out on Patch, the senate block was a surprise to Faison and Dickerson since they, and many observers, thought the bill would pass due to the state’s growing opioid epidemic, the fact that the state had already given a thumbs-up to cannabis oil for medical use, and because the bill was being pushed by two Republicans. During one committee meeting, Faison noted the ideological shift regarding medical marijuana, citing a Tennessee for Conservative Action poll that showed 52 percent of respondents — who he called "hardcore tea party Republicans" — supported medical marijuana. Perhaps the new joint committee will produce similar revelations. Like a supportive Senate, for example.
The current global trend toward legalizing marijuana is a great thing. Increased access to legal marijuana can help slow drug trafficking, reduce drug-related crime, help people deal with illness, and boost economies around the world. Those are the goals, anyway. While increased legalization is great, it’s only one factor contributing to the expanding marijuana market. Legislators and citizens might happen to agree that legalizing marijuana is a good thing, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll agree on much else — or anything else, for that matter — when it comes to details like pricing, taxation, distribution, possession limits, or enforcement. Both sides love to haggle about those things, and the longer they do, the longer the positive effects of increased legalization are delayed. Take Massachusetts, for example. %related-post-1% Massachusetts making a slow go with marijuana details As USA Today reports, after a long period of “red tape, delays and legislative infighting as Massachusetts lawmakers fiddled with the state’s cannabis legalization plan,” adults in Massachusetts will finally be able to buy, sell, and smoke pot legally in July of next year. Well, in theory they will. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has filled the final five slots on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board, the board that will be responsible for helping to oversee the state’s recreational marijuana industry. The 25-person advisory board is made up of five appointees each from the governor, attorney general, and state treasurer, as well as 10 additional members with expertise specific to the marijuana industry. The board will work in conjunction with a five-member Cannabis Control Commission to help the Commission develop regulations and oversee marijuana production and trade in the state. How well will they work together? Who knows. If the board and commission take as long to iron out all the details regarding implementation as lawmakers took to pass legalization measures in the first place, July 2018 will wind up being more of a joke than a realistic street date for those looking to buy marijuana. And things are starting to look dicey north of the border, too. %related-post-2% Will Canada be canna-ready by mid-2018? Canadians are supposed to be able to legally buy marijuana by this time next year, but, as The Globe and Mail reports, few have any idea what the country’s new recreational pot industry will actually look like. While Canada’s proposed federal Cannabis Act designates that government as being ultimately responsible for all aspects of the country’s marijuana trade, the finer implementation and regulatory details of the legislation are very much up in the air. According to noted Queen’s University economist Allan Gregory, the legislation contains no rules for creating “a fair and orderly market.” As a result, Health Canada will be tasked with creating that framework, and while the agency is adept at regulating medicines and overseeing food safety measures, it’s not quite as well versed in implementing large-scale commerce efforts. Not only is it unknown how much medical cannabis producers can grow, some would-be producers have been denied licenses with little explanation as to why. Even if grow limits and licensing requirements were set in stone, however, some provinces say they will be unable to set up retail distribution networks in before the scheduled launch date. On top of all that, Canadians are widely divided on where marijuana should be sold — in a government outlet, pharmacy, or someplace else — as well as whether the legal age to buy pot should be 18 or 21. %related-post-3% Mexico's murky marijuana legalization For all of the roadblocks legalization faces in the United States and Canada, however, progress is happening even more slowly south of the border. While you can now buy pot in drug stores in Uruguay, that accessibility is not the norm for the rest of Latin America. As Minnesota Public Radio reports, spurred by tens of thousands of deaths in its war against drug traffickers, Mexico, for example, is taking steps — very, very slow steps — to legalizing marijuana (medically first). While marijuana cultivation and consumption was once banned in Mexico, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled that the ban violated fundamental human rights. Later, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke at the United Nations about the nation’s bloody fight against drug traffickers, and in June, he approved a law calling on the country’s Health Ministry to devise rules for the use of medical marijuana. Despite the president’s long-term optimism, however, given Mexico’s prohibitionist, tough-on-crime past, experts say that, for now, his efforts will likely result in little more than increased access to hemp oil. Until then, many of those who need medical marijuana will likely risk going to the black market to get it. And everyone in Mexico will continue to go about their lives in the middle of drug war. Legalizing marijuana is a great step forward. But as we can see, there are usually many more steps needed.
While we’re seeing continued progress when it comes to legalized marijuana, as long as pot is not completely legal, we will also continue to see people come up with creative ways to smuggle the drug past border agents, customs officials, and law enforcement. So what are some of the weirdest marijuana trafficking attempts? Here are some accounts that definitely caught our attention. %related-post-1% Two delivery drivers were arrested after smuggling more than £750,000 (that's roughly $970,000 in the U.S.) of cannabis into Britain by hiding it in rolling pins and packets of Turkish Delight, and then delivering the packages to fake addresses. The plan was ultimately foiled when border agents discovered one of the fake packages in a post office. Eventually, a National Crime Agency Investigation found that, between June 2015 and July 2016, the delivery drivers created false records for 57 deliveries on the Parcel Force system. The drivers were eventually sentenced to jail terms of two years and two years and four months in jail, respectively. The scheme mirrors similar plots in which smugglers have attempted to bring pot into the United States in a wide variety of product containers, including coffee cans, potato chip bags, and jars of peanut butter. But the marijuana trafficking creativity doesn’t end there. Here are some other examples of smugglers’ efforts to sneak weed into the country: %related-post-2% Customs officials once found a sizable amount weed in the shape of a decorative donkey. A 19-year-old man pretending to be disabled was once caught with at the U.S.-Mexico border with a wheelchair stuffed with marijuana. A New York man was once arrested at a bus station for smuggling two grams of pot (as well as a half-gram of cocaine and LSD) inside — get this — a stuffed animal wearing a D.A.R.E. T-shirt. (In case you don’t know, D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program designed in the 1980s to educate young people about staying away from drugs, gangs, and violence.) Smugglers have used T-shirt cannons to shoot pot-filled canisters 500 feet over the border into California. Go long! Mexican police once confiscated an improvised cannon made of PVC pipe that mounted to the back of a pickup truck. Each shot of the cannon was used to hurl 13kg worth of marijuana packets across a border fence. Go long(er)! Speaking of hurling marijuana, National Guard troops have seized numerous weed-firing catapults over the years. %related-post-3% More than $1 million in pot was smuggled from Mexico into the U.S. in Mexican-made Ford Fusion sedans. Who wants a test drive? In 2010 alone, 288 aircraft were caught smuggling pot into the U.S. from Mexico. Last year, a pilot confessed to using his skydiving planes to deliver nearly a ton of pot to buyers in Texas and Minnesota. But what are the best marijuana trafficking schemes? Well, chances are we don’t know — because they probably haven’t been caught yet. Seriously though, a hat-tip to law enforcement for doing their jobs. And kudos to the smugglers, as well, for the humorous reminder of the need for marijuana reform.
“Marijuana devastated Colorado. Don’t legalize it nationally,” is the linkbaity headline of a recent marijuana editorial, published on Aug. 7 in USA Today. The faulty marijuana editorial was penned in apparent response to Sen. Cory Booker’s proposal to legalize marijuana via Congress. The piece puzzled many, including some Coloradans. Isn’t Denver booming? Aren’t marijuana sales taxes funding college scholarships and allowing towns to build new civic centers? Didn’t Colorado just top more than $1.3 billion in legal marijuana sales? Aren’t there 18,000 new jobs in Colorado thanks to the marijuana industry? Subsequently reprinted in parent company Gannett’s other properties from Detroit to Nashville, and elsewhere in the U.S., the item has gone bona fide viral, with more than 106,000 Facebook shares within a few days’ time. This was the screed anti-legalization sympathizers have been waiting for. Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the organization that benefited from pharmaceutical industry cash to defeat that state’s legalization measure last fall, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the anti-marijuana advocacy group chaired by a former staffer in the Office for National Drug Control Policy, all responded with predictable cheers. As they should, since the marijuana editorial parroted many of the same cherrypicked data points they’ve been repeating for months, which form the intellectual foundation (such as it is) for supporting marijuana prohibition. The author of this hot content is one Jeff Hunt. Hunt is the vice president of public policy at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado, where Hunt chairs the “Centennial Institute,” the school’s official think tank. What Sen. Booker is proposing to do, Hunt writes, is to visit upon the entire United States the ravages that marijuana legalization has wreaked on Colorado since voters legalized the drug in 2012. %related-post-1% The carnage includes the highest marijuana use rate among youth in the U.S.; an increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths and emergency room visits; an increase in marijuana-related arrests, particularly of black and Latino youth; and no perceptible benefit in the way of jobs or sales taxes. “We’ve seen the effects in our neighborhoods in Colorado, and this is nothing we wish upon the nation,” Hunt summarizes. It’s another “sad moment in our nation’s embrace of a drug that will have generational consequences.” Hunt’s marijuana editorial points are lifted straight from what’s become the Bible for marijuana prohibitionists: A 2016 report from the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The nation’s many HIDTAs, remember, are part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which itself is prohibited by Congress from advocating for marijuana legalization. Hmm. That smells like a bias. In this case, the bias comes at the expense of…well, everything. As Forbes and Reason.com columnist Jacob Sullum has pointed out, HIDTA reports overwhelm the reader with charts and data that make legalization look like an apocalypse — and bury caveats needed to accurately interpret the data, such as “inferences concerning trends…should not be made” and “that does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident,” deep in tiny footnotes. According to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the HIDTA report presents “incomplete and unreliable data,” which — along with its institutional bias — is why it’s become the document of choice for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his fellow travelers. Hunt also produces a quote from Harry Bull, the superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District: “So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana,” says Bull, who has been seeding this soundbite in the media since at least early 2016. %related-post-2% Like Hunt, Bull is being disingenuous in several ways. Several reviews have found that marijuana use among teens in Colorado has either remained flat or dropped since legalization. And under state law, the first $40 million worth of marijuana sales taxes go to capital improvements in impoverished and rural school districts. Cherry Creek School District is in Arapahoe County, which encompasses Aurora, Littleton, and other well-off communities in suburbs east of Denver. Fewer than six percent of people there live below the poverty line, so Cherry Creek doesn’t qualify as impoverished. At all. But what do other commentators without institutional biases think? “Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes,” wrote scholars from the libertarian Cato Institute — the think tank funded by one of the Koch Brothers — in their review of legalization’s impacts published last fall. “The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.” Thing is, Hunt has been banging this exact same drum for months — using almost the exact same language. “The legalization of marijuana has devastated Colorado,” Hunt wrote in a January 11 Facebook post, in which he went on to repeat (verbatim) all the greatest hits from the HIDTA report. Apparently, Hunt waited until Booker introduced his legislation, and then used that as his news hook when shopping his op-ed around to anyone who would published it. Among the hopeful homes was Denver’s alt-weekly, Westword. Westword declined Hunt’s offer, and instead published a response: “Dear USA Today: Marijuana Hasn't Devastated Colorado,” the paper wrote. (The paper sought Hunt’s input, but for some reason, Hunt was nowhere to be found.) So why did USA Today take a bite at this stale old garbageburger? The short answer, judging by other recent contributions, is that they’ll publish almost anything if it generates web traffic. Most of the comments on Hunt’s marijuana editorial — and on his Facebook page — repeat many of the same facts we’ve asserted above. It’s not honest. It’s not convincing. It’s not even fresh or interesting. It’s just an inflammatory polemic! But you clicked on it, whether it was to ponder or to vent. We all did. We’ve all been played — you, me, USA Today, and Jeff Hunt.
During the 2015 election campaign, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party pledged to “legalise, regulate, and restrict access” to marijuana in order to keep drugs "out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals." Trudeau followed through on that promise in April, introducing legislation to open up Canadian cannabis laws, legalizing the retail marijuana market by 2018. The legislation, which closely follows recommendations laid out in a federal task force report late last year, would allow anyone over the age of 18 to carry up to 30 grams of dried or fresh marijuana, and let consumers buy or grow as many as four marijuana plants at home. Canada’s provinces will take the lead on controlling the price, as well as setting up sales, distribution, and enforcement systems. Other items, like taxation, have yet to be determined. Also unclear is where all the pot is going to come from. While Trudeau is aiming for the legislation to take effect by this time next year, there might not be a big enough supply of Canadian cannabis to meet demand. %related-post-1% A cannabis shortage? According to Health Canada, the number of Canadians registered to use medical marijuana rose to almost 130,000 in March of this year — double what it was just a year ago — and that number continues to increase every month. The medical marijuana market is growing so quickly, in part because more insurance companies are now covering the drug, says Greg Engel, chief executive officer of Organigram Holdings Inc., one of Canada’s few large marijuana producers. Engel says Organigram and the country’s other leading producers are already struggling to keep up with the existing demand for medical marijuana, and will have an even tougher time keeping up when the adult recreation market starts next summer. “There are the top six or seven companies, that we’re one of, that are doubling, tripling, if not quadrupling production,” he says. “But there’s new companies coming into the space as well, in anticipation. The challenge is they may not be ready when the market starts.” Potential fixes to a possible canna-shortage Health Canada pledged last month to speed up its approval process for applicants seeking a license to grow marijuana. And while the agency has sped up approvals, it still takes up to a year for a new producer to ramp up production and reach the marketplace, says Cam Mingay, a senior partner at Cassels Brock who follows the marijuana industry. “I don’t know what anyone can do about it — you can’t force the plants to grow faster,” he said, adding that any companies whose licenses are approved likely couldn’t be in production “in any meaningful capacity” until the end of 2018. Back in April, federal ministers reiterated that the ultimate goal of the legalization is to shrink or kill completely the black market for marijuana. If demand for legal pot continues to outpace production, however, or if the tax incentives are unbalanced, the black market could take over Canada’s marijuana trade — regardless of the legislation. %related-post-2% Worst case shortage scenario According to Jason Zandberg, an analyst at PI Financial, companies are still trying to ramp up their facilities and production, and initial sales will likely take place online and by mail, as it wouldn’t be possible for producers to stock all of the government dispensaries across Canada. Zandberg says everything would have to go “perfectly” for producers to meet the projected demand — something that is not likely to happen. “There will be a shortage initially,” he says. “My concerns are that if that is used as an excuse to push the date of recreational legalization back, there’s a danger that it slips into the next election cycle and doesn’t actually happen.” Let’s hope the Canadian cannabis shortage only lasts a short time.
While the United States and numerous other countries across the globe are rethinking the fight against marijuana, none has done more than Uruguay — yes, Uruguay — to legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana. But before you plan a tourist trip to enjoy the benefits of Uruguay's marijuana legalization, there are a few things you should know. A beacon of stability Despite past periods of economic and political upheaval, Uruguay has become a beacon of stability. Known for its affluence, advanced education, social security systems, low crime, and liberal social laws, the country also has one of the highest per capita incomes — and lowest levels of inequality — in the region. Uruguay has parlayed fairly high taxes on industry into the first welfare state in Latin America, and its economy has been bolstered by robust offshore banking activity and a growing tourist industry. That economy will now also be further bolstered by the marijuana trade. %related-post-1% Inspired by state-based legalization in the United States and other governments’ soul searching when it comes to the war on drugs, Uruguay is now the first nation in the world where the production and sale of recreational marijuana is fully legal. As the New York Times reports, supporters of the move say Uruguay’s stability, economic well-being, and progress makes it a model for what future drug policy in the region — and the rest of the world — could look like. “This follows from increasing momentum by leaders in Latin America in calling for alternatives to the war on drugs,” said Hannah Hetzer, an analyst at the pro-decriminalization Drug Policy Alliance. “What’s so important about this is it takes a debate about the need for alternatives and provides an actual proposal for an actual policy.” Uruguay's marijuana legalization happened in stages The path toward state-controlled production and sale of pot In Uruguay hasn’t been a slam dunk, however. It took years to roll out. One of the main architects of the new legislation was Sebastián Sabini, a young lawmaker and occasional pot smoker, who introduced a bill back in 2011 shortly after being elected to Congress. Sabini said the law was needed because Uruguay’s poorest citizens bore the brunt of the country’s drug policies. Uruguay’s then-President, former guerrilla leader and political prisoner Jose Mujica, agreed with Sabini’s assessment, and pushed for legalization as a way to help those unfairly punished and, more importantly to him, to combat drug traffickers. “Worse than drug addiction is drug trafficking,” Mujica said in a 2014 interview with a Spanish news network. The people agreed, and voted to pass Uruguay's marijuana legalization in stages. %related-post-2% First, after the law was passed in December 2013, users could register with the government for permission to grow up to six plants in their homes for personal use. “Clubs” of as many as 45 people could also operate grow houses with up to 99 plants for their members’ personal use. Seeking to allow but not promote marijuana use, the government also decided to partner with pharmacies — which already have medication safety and disbursement control measures in place — to coordinate commercial sales of the drug. Before you plan a canna-trip to enjoy Uruguay's marijuana legalization, read this: Today, if you want to buy marijuana at a pharmacy in Uruguay, you must first register with the government and the scan your fingerprints at the counter. There are also strict quotas in place to limit how much you can buy. Oh, and if you’re not a Uruguayan citizen or legal permanent resident, you can’t buy or grow any at all. While that certainly is a buzzkill for the marijuana tourism business, Uruguay’s laws could present a blueprint for nation’s weighing their own legalization implementation stances and strategies. For example, Uruguay not only limits how much pot consumers can buy in a week, but it also makes sure to aggressively undercut the prices charged by dealers on the black market. Marijuana advertising is also banned, and a percentage of all sales In Uruguay are directed toward addiction treatment programs and public awareness campaigns warning about the risks of drug use. While government officials want to prevent Uruguay from become a worldwide mecca for pot users, global marijuana advocates should bow down to that country for its legalization efforts.
Island paradises are popular vacation spots with mainlanders for a reason — because, well, they’re paradise. Why else would pasty-looking people flock to them? But there’s a glaring omission from the all-inclusive's list of earthly delights: Legal cannabis. So where to go for beach themed marijuana vacations? Make no mistake: Weed can be found everywhere fruit-based cocktails with paper umbrellas are served without irony. Whether or not you’ll be able to find some is another issue. Until this month, when Las Vegas turned on the green light at its recreational cannabis stores, over-the-counter cannabis tourism was a privilege reserved for places that enjoy cold, rain, and snow, like Denver, Seattle, Portland, even Anchorage. Out on the islands, the drug war has died a slow death. %related-post-1% But since most of the expensive island getaway destinations also happen to be stone broke, there’s a strong push to reform marijuana laws from elected leaders as well as the hoi polloi. But like the mainland, progress can be measured in island time. This also applies on American soil. Here are the best candidates for an irie island experience. Jamaica The most obvious choice for marijuana vacations is the island synonymous worldwide with cannabis culture. But not only isn’t there a legal dab bar in Montego, Jamaicans don’t even get to enjoy official Bob Marley-branded marijuana — which is produced and sold in legal states on the American mainland. But since the island needs money from something other than tourism and export-based agriculture like coffee, Jamaica is keen to cash in on the wave of marijuana business sweeping the mainland. The island is not the least bit apologetic about looking to marijuana to provide another excuse for tourists to get off the cruise ship, or as an anchor for wellness-seeking ecotourists. Jamaica decriminalized possession of two ounces or less in 2015, and has talked about allowing tourists to load up on local herb at the airport. Sounds nice, until you keep in mind that while Jamaicans enjoy medical cannabis in theory, it’s taken until 2017 for outfits wishing to cultivate government-approved ganja to be issued permits. In the meantime, demand is met by a still-thriving black market. And since laws are far, far more relaxed than they were in the not-so-recent past, a ganja-seeker can afford to be choosy with the sketchy strangers who appear offering drugs. Puerto Rico The hard times in America are hardest in Puerto Rico, where the local government owes mainland banks $72 million and where as many as half of working-age people are out of a job. Puerto Ricans are American citizens but can’t vote in presidential elections, and get no votes in Congress — and their raw deal extends to cannabis, still a target for the DEA and FBI, which absolutely have local offices on the island. %related-post-2% Even so, Puerto Rico’s sovereign government has pushed forward with medical marijuana, handing out a license to almost anyone with the permit fees. Yet a few years on, fewer than 4,000 of the island’s 3.5 million people have signed up as patients. And these select few who managed to navigate a bottlenecked approval process have had terrific difficulty actually accessing any cannabis. Growers have had difficulty producing adequate supply, and when the same government publishes tweets comparing using cannabis to “smoking LSD,” as Puerto Rico’s Senate did earlier this year, the atmosphere isn’t exactly welcoming. But things are looking up. In July, Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed an updated medical-marijuana bill, and stated at the same time that there’s “absolutely” support in the legislature for legalization. Can the industry adjust? Will San Juan have a Calle Verde? Maybe, but for now, if sun-filled marijuana vacations are what you’re after, you’re probably better off going to Vegas. Hawaii The most obvious place for palm trees and coconuts to serve as a backdrop for swaying fields of green is America’s most remote state. Hawaii has had medical marijuana for years, after all — but it’s also been years that patients, of which there are fewer than 16,000, have been waiting for dispensaries to open up. Sales were supposed to begin in 2016, but as of July 2017, the state was still a ways away from approving labs and dispensaries to open their doors. And despite relaxed island vibes — everyone in the legislature wears Hawaiian shirts to work! — there’s a decidedly conservative bent to drug-policy reform. Relaxed marijuana laws struggle to get past the committee stage. The best method for a Hawaiian vacation involving pakalolo is probably to bring your own from the mainland, as the natives still suffer through punitive pot laws. %related-post-3% Florida (Mainland and Keys) Key West is closer to Havana than it is to Miami — but it’s also still in Florida, which is a good thing for anyone wanting to visit Hemingway’s house with a joint stashed in a pocket. Florida is a red state, but it’s quite possibly the most marijuana-friendly red state. After a large majority of Florida voters approved medical marijuana last fall, deep-pocketed dispensaries are opening for business in places like Tampa. To add dispensaries to the mix in liberal, LGBT-friendly places like Key West is a no-brainer. For now, there are only delivery services, but as the rest of the state opens up to the cannabis industry, storefront dispensaries will follow — and from there, it’s only a matter of time before full legalization hits the ballot. If we had to bet on a warm-water destination to master the art of letting adults buy marijuana first, we might put money on Florida. Beach themed marijuana vacations make almost too much sense. Let's hope they become a (legal) reality soon.
While the availability of legal marijuana isn’t quite on par with, say, the availability of alcohol, cigarettes, or pharmaceutical drugs, things are certainly trending in a positive direction. And as legalization spreads, monies collected through marijuana taxes will benefit more people. As we’ve previously mentioned, medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, and adults in eight states can now use pot for recreational purposes. Three out of four adults believe states should have the power to establish their own marijuana laws, and only 14 percent think the Justice Department should bypass state legislation in order to enforce federal laws and prosecute marijuana laws. %related-post-1% Part of pot’s path toward increased legalization in the U.S. is the result of strong advocacy efforts, especially regarding the drug’s ability to help people suffering from a wide variety of health conditions. An even bigger factor, arguably, is marijuana’s ability to generate money — and lots of it. While America is the global leader when it comes to growing legal marijuana, producing the highest quality marijuana, and having the largest market for marijuana, we are being outpaced by other countries when it comes to research, science, and trade. As CNBC points out, numerous countries around the world are using a top-down approach of legalizing pot at the federal level, as opposed to our state-by-state, bottom-up model. Canada, for example, has already launched a federal medicinal marijuana program, and will launch a full recreational program in 2018. Right now, our neighbors to the north have the world’s second largest market for marijuana at $500 million. When their recreational program is launched, that number that will grow to an estimated $618 million in 2018 and $22 billion by 2020. Elsewhere, the Dutch government generates more than $600 million in marijuana taxes annually from its coffee shops, and Spain, Mexico, Australia, Italy, Colombia, South Africa, and Israel each see varying levels of pot profits each year. England would rake in an estimated £1 billion in new taxes if it legalized pot, and while the U.S. market for marijuana was $7.9 billion in 2016 — and will likely hit $21 billion by 2020 — it could be astronomically higher if both medical and recreational legalization were to spread nationwide. And with the tax revenues, jobs, and projects marijuana is already funding, it will likely be only a matter of time before even the most anti-pot lawmakers see the light about letting people light up. %related-post-2% Consider These Numbers: Marijuana taxes netted Colorado more than $105 for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and more than a half billion dollars since 2014. These funds go largely toward public health programs, housing for at-risk residents, student scholarships, anti-opioid treatment, and the rebuilding of crumbling public schools. The cannabis industry contributes a total annual economic of more than $1.2 billion in Oregon. An estimated 12,500 pot-related jobs have been created there with cumulative annual wages of $315 million. When recreational marijuana is finally available for purchase in Massachusetts in 2018, it could be subject to as much as a 28 percent tax, with a portion of that tax revenue going to fund substance abuse treatment. Legalizing recreational marijuana could help the deficit-plagued state of Connecticut pay down its debt, as well as fund its pension obligations and health-care expenses. It’s already common knowledge that legalizing marijuana can help to slow down drug trafficking, reduce drug-related crime, and help people deal with illness. But as the above figures indicate, it can take our economy to new highs, as well.
Nevada marijuana advocates have been fighting for legalization in their state for nearly 20 years, and less than eight months after Nevadans voted to legalize the substance, dozens of stores across the state have finally begun selling recreational marijuana legally. However, while the people lined up outside the state’s dispensaries were dancing in the streets on July 1, the high taxes and overreaching regulations Nevada officials have imposed, alongside the more permissive legislation, will possibly help preserve the same black market for pot they’ve been fighting for decades. Nevadans first voted to legalize medical marijuana use in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the Nevada Legislature voted to allow regulated access to medical cannabis. After the state’s first medical dispensaries opened in the summer of 2015, Nevadans then voted to allow recreational marijuana use for anyone over the age of 21 by approving Question 2 on the state’s ballot last November. %related-post-1% With the vote, the state joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., in allowing marijuana to be legally purchased for recreational use. Nevadans 21 and older can now possess up to an ounce of marijuana or as much as one-eighth of an ounce of cannabis concentrate. And while state officials waited until eleventh hour to finally comply with the legislation, Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, made the first purchase of recreational Nevada marijuana at midnight on July 1. Segerblom, who pushed for legal medical marijuana dispensaries that would be eventually allowed to sell the drug for recreational use, purchased some Segerblom Haze, a variety pot named after him. A steady stream of ecstatic consumers followed him to the register. “You don’t have to hide in the corner anymore and feel bad about it,” Pam Mateo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal as she left the dispensary with her purchase at around 1:30 a.m. Local ordinances required dispensaries to close between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., but when doors opened again a few hours later, people once again stood in long lines — this time, in triple-digit heat — to make their pot purchases. Greg Fuller, 32, of Charlotte, North Carolina, couldn’t get over the fact that he was really about to legally buy Nevada marijuana. “It’s just so weird,” Fuller said. “You don’t go to the store and buy weed. This is a hell of an experience.” A hell of an experience, indeed. As Reason points out, however, the limited number of allowed retailers and super-high taxes people are paying to get high will possibly push many customers back to the easier and cheaper black market once the initial buzz wears off. Federal marijuana laws, as well as Nevada’s zoning and state casino regulations, are conservative and strict. Dispensaries can’t open anywhere near a casino, which means the Las Vegas Strip is off-limits. As CNN reports, the 12 or so dispensaries that parallel to the strip are several blocks away and nowhere in sight. So, not only are they sort of a pain to get to, but (at least for now) the lines are really long. %related-post-2% Even if customers think going through the hassle of lining up at a tucked-away dispensary is worth it — did we mention home delivery is illegal, too? — the taxes they will pay once they get there might change their minds. The high taxes pot buyers face in Colorado and Washington has kept the black markets in thriving in those states, and the same might be expected for Nevada marijuana. According to the Las Vegas Sun, state retailers generated $3 million in sales during the first four days that Nevadans could legally purchase pot. Per the report, those sales generated $500,000 in taxes for state. As Reason calculates, however, the state actually raked in much more: “Allowing for rounding, that only accounts for about 15 percent of sales — which is the state excise tax on the first wholesale sale. Nevada also imposes a 10 percent retail excise tax on recreational sales, and then adds in sales tax, which varies from just under 7 percent to over 8 percent according to where you are. Let's call the total tax take about 32 percent of legal recreational marijuana sales. That's a really high tax rate to impose on any industry — especially one that was thriving (albeit illegally) and entirely untaxed less than two weeks ago.” Will Nevada learn from Colorado and Washington and adjust its regulations, or are the new regulations simply a money grab? Nevada is expected to generate $60 million in tax revenue in the next two years. While lowering the taxes on pot — as well permitting more dispensaries and allowing home delivery — would cut into Nevada’s tax receipts, it would also go a long way toward dismantling the black market for pot in the Silver State. The next few months (or years?) will determine whether Nevada’s lawmakers are really serious about legal marijuana, or if they’re just blowing smoke.
What a time to be alive. More Americans than ever approve pro-marijuana policy changes — 64 percent in a recent Gallup poll — and new states are joining the legalization wave at an unprecedented pace. However, all that green mojo aside, even if you live in a state where cannabis enjoys legal status, you can still be fired for a positive marijuana test. Bummer. Why Can You Be Fired If Pot Is Legal and You’re Not High? According to Will Patterson in the the Portland Mercury (Oregon) “Ask A Pot Lawyer” column, “discriminating against cannabis consumers, even medical marijuana users, is perfectly acceptable.” And why is that? %related-post-1% He explains that “because cannabis remains detectable in the body for a while after use, there is no generally accepted technology available to test for impairment.” So essentially, if cannabis is in your system there’s no way to know if you’re high of not, so many employers err on the side of precaution. Which, from the employer standpoint makes plenty of sense. Few employers aware that one of their, say, welders has THC in their system would think “yeah, let’s put em’ out on the shop floor today with all that heavy equipment.” Or a taxi driver. Or a pilot. Or a medical professional. “Scalpel, please.” Better safe than sorry seems to be the popular line of thinking when it comes to positive marijuana results. And then there’s this: “employers that either contract with or receive funds from the federal government are required to enforce strict zero-tolerance drug policies under the Drug-Free Workplace Act.” Can You Challenge a Workplace Termination In Court? Sure. This is America after all, and we love going to court. Still, the odds at winning a favorable decision as an employee are slim. Writing for Bloomberg BNA’s Labor and Employment blog, Erin Perugini tells that “an employee facing disciplinary action for marijuana-related conduct might seek protection under state law, but there are not a great number of cases falling in favor of employees, and courts consistently side with the employer in cases of termination.” Citing two attorneys familiar with pot-related employment cases, Perugini says that courts tend to view the matter through the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. %related-post-2% Yet, like most things marijuana, circumstances can be different state-by-state. For instance, in one Colorado Supreme Court case, while “Colorado law prohibits employers from firing workers for engaging in lawful activities outside of work, the court said off-duty use of medical marijuana didn’t qualify for protection because such use, while legal in Colorado, is prohibited under federal law.” But over in Arizona, state law protects medical marijuana cardholders who have positive marijuana results, so long as they consumed the product outside of work. The whole matter can be confusing for both employers and employees. As one of the lawyers in Perugini’s article put it, “until the tension between federal and state law is addressed, some of these questions will remain unanswered.” In the meantime, let’s just say it’s better to pass that marijuana screen.
Florida medical marijuana advocates received great news recently, as Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that establishes how patients can qualify and receive cannabis under an amendment to the state’s constitution. Back in November 2016, 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment, which allows Florida medical marijuana patients to purchase either low-TCH cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana to treat chronic pain related to one of 10 qualifying conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. Despite voting against the amendment, Scott eventually agreed to sign the bill. And while he issued no statement upon signing it, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, Scott voiced his support for the bill just a few weeks ago. “The constitutional amendment was passed overwhelmingly, and I’m glad the House and Senate were able to come together for a bill that makes sense for our state,” he said. %related-post-1% Per the new law, patients suffering from qualifying conditions can be prescribed marijuana by a doctor. Those doctors, however, must complete two hours of training before they can be certified by the state to authorize such prescriptions. Florida also plans to set up a registry of eligible patients, which doctors will be required to cross-reference before prescribing the drug. In addition to granting patients access to medical marijuana, the new legislation also allows them to use cannabis pills, edibles, oils, and “vape” pens with a doctor’s approval. It will also allow 10 new companies to become licensed as growers by October 2017, capping the statewide total at 17. (There are seven companies already in operation.) Each license holder is allowed to operate a maximum of 25 dispensaries, and each additional batch of 100,000 new eligible patients will trigger the release of an additional license. Not all legalization advocates are exactly thrilled with the new law, however, as many say it comes with overly restrictive rules. For example, prominent Tampa businessman Joe Redner plans to file a lawsuit because the new law prohibits people from growing their own plants. John Morgan, a trial lawyer from Orlando who funded the the amendment’s campaign, has filed a lawsuit because the new law bans the smoking of marijuana. %related-post-2% As the Huffington Post points out, the opposition to smoking brought up during the legislative process centered on questionable research around lung disease and cancer, and comments alluding to it being “an unhealthy habit.” However, the real reason smoking was banned — the HuffPo surmises — is that it’s simply easier to determine if a patient is using a high-THC product by noticing if they are smoking it. Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith has publicly recommended that Florida be sued over the smoking ban, and while Morgan plans to move forward with such a lawsuit, he recognizes that some progress is, indeed, still progress. “It’s not perfect,” he told the Miami Herald. “I’m going to sue for the smoking, but I know there are sick people who will see relief starting in July.’’ For now, Florida medical marijuana advocates can take heart that the matter is moving in the right direction.
Democracy is a loud, divisive, and ponderous task. This is true when the parties involved mostly agree. Undoing a lifetime’s worth of failed policy — even a vastly unpopular policy that benefits only a privileged few, to wit: marijuana prohibition — is a titanic undertaking, akin to melting a glacier with a hair dryer. But legalizing marijuana is something legislatures have been tinkering on for some time. With how quickly Americans’ attitudes have shifted on drug policy, it’s easy to forget how long and torturous a path the movement to allow adults to use cannabis without fear of arrest has trod. Remember: California voters rejected legalizing marijuana recreationally in 2010 — after medical cannabis production and sales had been legal for more than a decade. It took another seven years (and three other states going first) before the state at last legalized in November 2016. Do you have that kind of patience? Thankfully, it won’t be required. If anything like the following is going on in your state, legalizing marijuana will likely come much sooner than seven years. %related-post-1% You already have medical marijuana You gotta walk before you can run, you gotta hum before you can sing — and you have to have CBD oil available to kids with epilepsy, former NFL players with head trauma, and senior citizens with chronic pain before you can walk into a dispensary and cop a handful of pre-rolled joints. Every state to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over has had medical marijuana in place first — and in most cases for a very long time. In Oregon, medical preceded legalization by 14 years; in Maine, it was 17 years. And it shouldn’t be some mythical, “medical marijuana in name only” situation where only hemp-derived CBD oil is allowed or where dispensaries are as rare as unicorns. In both Maine and Massachusetts, where legalization passed by the smallest margins in November, retail storefront dispensaries had been open for a few years. Ask any monorail salesman: There’s nothing like a real-life demonstration to win over the unwilling. Medical cannabis sales normalizes the concept of incorporating the drug into society, and provides tangible proof of the benefits. This bodes well for Michigan, where dispensaries have been in operation for several years, patients have been able to grow their medicine at home, and the Marijuana Policy Project is currently organizing and fundraising for a ballot initiative. Decriminalization is happening A good first step towards allowing something is ending the practice of punishing it severely. Most medical marijuana measures have been preceded by decriminalization, where cannabis possession, once a misdemeanor crime punishable by arrest and incarceration, becomes a violation akin to a traffic ticket, punishable by only a fine. This is another example of social conditioning: it’s hard to convince people to start collecting taxes on conduct that’s still criminal, but it’s a much easier sell to regulate and tax when cops grow so bored with writing tickets for a relatively harmless activity that they stop bothering. And this is happening all over… albeit slowly. Embarrassed by arrest statistics so spectacularly biased it’s a wonder they didn’t earn a statue in New Orleans, pragmatic lawmakers and law-enforcement officers in Houston and Nashville moved to decriminalize possession — though in Nashville’s case, the good turn was undone by state lawmakers, who recognized the first step towards legalizing marijuana when they saw it. %related-post-2% You’re broke Necessity is the mother of invention, desperate times call for desperate measures — pick your pablum: it applies to the dire straits Illinois finds itself in. The state is an apocalyptic $9 billion in the red, a budget deficit so bad it makes California’s subprime crisis-era fiscal hole look like a molehill. Residents are fleeing, and a political impasse means no new tax money is coming anytime soon. It’s no accident that Democratic lawmakers in Springfield are now floating the idea of legalizing marijuana as a ready and easy moneymaking solution. Together, Colorado and Washington collected about $455 million in tax revenue from the sale of cannabis. Together, the two states have a smaller population than Illinois, which could net as much as $700 million with regulated and taxed cannabis sales. Cannabis cash has allowed one Colorado town to pave its streets and build a new city hall and civic auditorium. Marijuana revenue won’t solve longstanding systemic problems like population imbalances (hi, Baby Boomers) or high fixed costs like healthcare, but it’s an untapped source of revenue. There aren’t too many of those around. There won’t likely be any bailouts from Washington in the Trump era, and with hard-up citizens unlikely to volunteer to pay more income or property taxes, turning a black-market economy into something that can fund schools, roads, and public-employee pensions is one of the only remaining cards yet to the played. Lawmakers are finally doing their jobs If our elected representatives were truly interested in working for us, cannabis would have been legal a long time ago. More than 90 percent of Americans support medical marijuana; more than 60 percent of all Americans believe recreational marijuana should be legalized. Cannabis is more popular than Donald Trump, and has better-attended inauguration parties. Yet, to date, legalization has only come through the citizens’ initiative. You can blame special interests, you can blame political deadlock — either way, lawmakers aren’t doing their jobs and making laws the people want. In Florida’s case, lawmakers took forever to do the job they were constitutionally bound to do, simply because that job involved weed. %related-post-3% So if notoriously risk-averse politicians are willing to publicly say it’s time for legalizing marijuana, it’s probably well past time. And judging by the reaction state lawmakers in New Jersey are triggering from human roadblock Gov. Chris Christie with their proposal to legalize cannabis in the state, it won’t be long before a Legislature votes to legalize. This follows a similar formula as above: first medical, then legal, and a host of state houses have already passed medical cannabis and successfully convinced the governor (most of whom in America are Republicans) to affix his (most are men) to the bill. And even setbacks like Vermont’s, where the governor declined to sign a just-passed legalization bill, came with the caveat that the only problem was the details, not legalization itself. The real progress, however, would come if Congress called one of the more than a dozen cannabis-related bills introduced this session for a committee hearing. Once that happens, legalization will be imminent everywhere in the country. Take heart: It’s already inevitable.
Longtime political power player and Donald Trump associate Roger Stone most recently made headlines when it was announced he would be testifying before the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge regarding any contacts between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. Stone, who had wanted a public hearing, told Politico that he relishes the opportunity to appear during the closed hearing so he can rebut Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s “serial lies” that he had any advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks’ hacking of Podesta’s emails. While Stone’s testimony isn’t likely to reveal any bombshells, it will be taking place just days before the deadline Attorney General Jeff Sessions set for a Justice Department task force to review the nation’s marijuana policies. Stone has been very critical of Sessions’ apparent desire to “turn back the clock to the 70s” when it comes to marijuana legislation, and has launched (with cannabis supporter John Morgan) the United States Cannabis Coalition with the goal of, among other things, urging President Trump to stick to his campaign promises to leave the question of legalization to the states. %related-post-1% Stone’s stance on legalization is a curious shift for the lifelong Republican operative. Roger Stone urged Trump to launch his political career and launched the pro-Trump super-PAC, the Committee to Restore America’s Greatness. Before that he helped Ronald Reagan get elected after being mentored by Richard Nixon, the original driving force behind the nation’s current war on drugs. Despite his rigid beginnings, Stone says he is now “a libertarian convert” when it comes to legalization and has been speaking out in favor of it for years. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states, and eight states now allow adults to use pot for recreational purposes. According a Survey USA poll cited by the Washington Times, three out of four adults believe states should have the power to establish their own marijuana laws, and only 14 percent think the Justice Department should bypass state legislation in order to enforce federal laws and prosecute marijuana laws. As the Times also points out, Trump said on the campaign trail that states should establish their own marijuana laws, and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said in February that legalization “is a states’ rights issue.” Stone wants to see tide toward wider legalization continue, and plans to hold Trump’s feet to the fire for his statements regardless of Sessions’ seemingly opposing goals. “Attorney General Sessions has threatened to reverse the Cole Memorandum and I think people who depend on cannabis for medical relief would no longer have access and we would reinvigorate the cartels,” Stone recently told Forbes. “That would, in turn, bankrupt a number of states who are getting millions of dollars in revenues from the legal sales and cause the loss of jobs.” %related-post-2% While Stone’s coalition will do some lobbying, he says its main purpose is protecting legalization in the states where marijuana is already legal, remove the drug from its excessive Schedule 1 status, and push for additional funding for unbiased research into pot’s potential medical benefits. Even if Sessions does try to move things in the other direction, Roger Stone says, he believes that Congress would vote to bypass Sessions and legalize marijuana anyway. And while it’s unclear how closely (or recently) Stone has talked to Trump about the issue, he plans to join forces with anyone who will help him to keep his word. "I am going to be working with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to persuade the president to keep his campaign pledge, and to remind the president that he took a strong and forthright position on this issue in the election," Stone said at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo. Does Stone have a chance of getting through to the president? He thinks so. “He’s interested in what works. He’s a pragmatist,” Stone said of President Trump in the Washington Times. “I think nothing is out of the question.” We’ll see. Roger Stone has to get through his testimony first.
Praise be! Your state allows legal medical marijuana. Now the beneficial effects of America’s most helpful, yet illegal, plant can be enjoyed by patients sorely needing it. Or, at least that’s what you’ve been hoping would be the case, in some places, for quite some time. The fact of the matter is that even when states make medical marijuana legal, that’s often the first step in what can be a painfully long process of many...many...many steps. Not to mention a bundle of, what might seem to be, counterintuitive rules prohibiting worthy patients from getting their hands on high quality medication. Circumstances vary by state, but here are four examples of states that have passed canna-friendly legislation that are yet to yield patient-friendly results. %related-post-1% Hawaii Just four years after California allowed legal medical marijuana, their neighbors wayyyyy to the west followed suit. Actually, what Hawaii did was a first in America — they were the first to legalize marijuana through the bill-to-law process, rather than through a ballot initiative as did California. 17 years later, though, it’s no easy task for patients to access their canna-meds. Just how hard? In the nearly two decades since legal medical marijuana became a thing in Hawaii, not a single dispensary has opened on the islands. Get that? Zero. Zilch. The problem, explained by Motherboard, is that Hawaii originally allowed “medical use of marijuana for registered patients, (but) it didn't specify where these patients were supposed to get their supply.” It wasn’t until 2015 — a decade and half later — that “the state passed a law opening the door for a small number of licensed dispensaries to open up shop.” At the time this was written, two massive hurdles still existed. While the state granted eight licenses to marijuana companies, in true bureaucratic fashion Hawaii has been taking quite some time identifying and guiding each piece of the required business structures. To boot, the state requires each license holder to manage the entire seed-to-sale process, which is extremely expensive — especially for companies trying to acquire funding in an industry that is still federally barred. Cobbling together the necessary capital can be extremely time-consuming. Ohio In early June 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill permitting legal medical marijuana. But as Cleveland.com notes, “patients still can't buy legal marijuana here, and doctors can't become certified to recommend it. No licenses have been awarded to marijuana cultivators, processors, testing labs or dispensaries.” Woof! That doesn’t seem to bode well for patients. However, state officials have long-told of a two-year process to get the legal medical marijuana program off the ground. And according to Ohio watchers, the state appears to be on track to meet that timeline. When it launches, Ohio will boast up to 24 licensed growers, 40 processors that will turn marijuana flowers into various derived products like oils, edibles, and patches, and 60 dispensaries. While they wait to legally purchase marijuana, the state has created a stopgap for patients in the form of an “affirmative defense letter,” a form physicians can issue to a patient “intended to allow patients to use medical marijuana without being prosecuted for possession.” %related-post-2% New York In the case of the Empire State, though many celebrated the expansion of New York’s legal medical marijuana program to include sufferers of chronic pain — many who are elderly — the state’s online registration process has been problematic. In an OZY article, Nick Fouriezos writes that “while more access came as a needed salve for many ailments, it also served as a new twist on the old story of health care disparities between urban and rural communities.” Compounding that divide is the fact that the number of doctors who will actually “certify” a patient to get on the legal marijuana registry dwindles substantially outside the bigger cities. As Fouriezos tells it, there are some 400 such doctors in New York City alone, but outside the metropolitan areas, patients “with chronic pain sometimes drive two and a half to three hours to get certified.” Georgia The Peach State has some of the tightest medical marijuana restrictions in the country, though the Georgia program was recently expanded to cover patients of AIDS, Alzheimer’s, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. Essentially, qualified patients can possess cannabis oil containing no more than 5 percent THC. But here’s the catch: they can’t purchase it or make it. For that matter it can’t be sold either. So, you might wonder, how does a patient get their hands on their medicine? Enter the strange story of Georgia State Rep. Allen Peake, on whose front porch magically appears a shipment of cannabis oil once a month. Peak then distributes the oil to approved patients, free of charge. One of the patients that Rep. Peake delivers to told the Associated Press, “It shouldn’t be this way. You shouldn’t be meeting at a gas station or a Target parking lot to get medicine to somebody. You should be going to the place where it is produced and tested to get it dispensed to you in a regulated manner, but this is what we’re forced to do.” We agree. Legal medical marijuana laws are a work in progress in the United States, but as advocates will tell you, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, for the sake of patients, we get there sooner than later.
While the short-term future of marijuana legislation might be subject to the whims of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pot’s long-term progress will ultimately be decided by the people. For the first time in the nation’s history, the number of Republicans who support legalization (45 percent) is bigger than the number of those who don’t (42 percent). And even if Republicans disagree with legalization in principle, more than half (54 percent) don’t think the government’s current efforts to enforce marijuana laws are worth the cost. So far, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow medical use of marijuana, and if a new medical marijuana legislation bill filed in the U.S. House and Senate is successful, the nation’s laws will be even closer to matching the will of its people. %related-post-1% In June, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives introduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislation that would block the federal government from interfering with medical marijuana activity legal at the state level, permit Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis, remove cannabidiol from the Controlled Substances Act, and expand research on marijuana. Initial sponsors of the bill are: Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mike Lee (R-UT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rand Paul (R-KY), Al Franken (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The House version will have similar bipartisan backing. The legislation is similar to legislation that garnered considerable support in both chambers last Congress. In order to build on that support, this new version drops earlier provisions that would have rescheduled cannabis and helped marijuana-based businesses gain access to banks — provisions that are currently addressed by separate pending bills. “A majority of states now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, and a supermajority of Americans support letting patients access cannabis without fear of arrest,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement addressing the proposal. “It’s well past time for Congress to modernize federal law so that people with cancer, multiple sclerosis and PTSD don’t have to worry about Jeff Sessions sending in the DEA to arrest them or their suppliers. The diverse group of lawmakers behind this new legislation shows that medical cannabis is an issue of compassion, not partisan politics.” If the legislation is enacted, lawsuits like one filed recently in Kentucky would be unnecessary. %related-post-2% According to the suit, Kentucky’s criminal ban against medical marijuana violates state constitutional privacy protections. As the suit rightly points out, more than half of the states in the nation allow patients suffering from chronic pain and other conditions to use medical marijuana as an alternative to "often dangerous and addictive" prescription drugs. It is also touches on the effectiveness of marijuana in helping people overcome opioid addiction. There are protections in place that keep the Department of Justice from using taxpayer dollars to block the sale of medical marijuana. And while it might remain to be seen if bans like Kentucky’s will remain in place, Sessions wrote a letter to congressional leaders in May asking Congress to remove the protections that block him from using money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. While Congress hasn’t granted his wish, the fact that he made such a request, coupled with the July 27 deadline he set for a Justice Department task force to review the country’s marijuana policies, would seem to indicate that the battle over legalization is far from over. Hopefully, the lawmakers who are promoting the latest bill are up for the fight.
Marijuana legalization is gaining favorable steam on across America's political right. Will it continue? Noted conservative commenter, author, and blogger Michelle Malkin made headlines recently when she penned an article describing why she — once a strong supporter of the government’s war on drugs — now supports medical marijuana legalization. While marijuana legislation still has a long way to go in the United States, stories like Malkin’s, as well as the overall shift in Republicans’ views toward the drug, offer a clue as to the future of marijuana legalization in this country. Canna-support grows on the Right As Vice recently pointed out, Republicans might not be the first group you think of when it comes to those openly supporting legalization, but according to new research by YouGov, the number of GOP members who support it is now higher than the number of those who don’t. While only 28 percent of Republicans were in favor of legalization in January 2014, the latest YouGov poll shows that 45 percent now support it, compared to 42 percent who are opposed — a shift that’s unprecedented in U.S. history. Even more Republicans — 54 percent — think the government’s efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they’re worth. *Since this article first published, a new Gallup poll showed a majority (for the first time ever) of Republicans favor legalization. How has this shift happened? %related-post-1% Medical success stories are changing minds In Malkin’s case, a neurologist suggested that she try cannabidiol oil to treat her daughter’s epilepsy. CBD, one of hundreds of chemical components found in cannabis plants, is non-hallucinogenic and nonaddictive, and was far more effective in helping Malkin’s daughter than other medications she had been prescribed previously. There was a catch, however. “This doctor had other young patients who used CBD oil with positive results, but she could not directly prescribe it because of her hospital affiliation,” says Malkin. “So we did our own independent research, talked to a Colorado Springs family whose son had great success using CBD to treat his Crohn's disease symptoms, consulted with other medical professionals and friends — and entered a whole new world.” Malkin found two doctors who signed off on her daughter’s application for a medical marijuana card. With that, her daughter became one of more than 360 children under 18 years of age to join Colorado's medical marijuana registry in 2015. She says “it flies in the face of current science to classify CBD oil as a Schedule I drug, as the feds did at the end of 2016.” She also thinks it makes no sense to block access to CBD if some patients and doctors believe that the benefits of using THC therapeutically outweigh the potential harm. “Our experience showed us the importance of increasing therapeutic choices in the marketplace for all families — and trusting doctors and patients to figure out what works best,” she says. Cannabis as a weapon to combat the opioid epidemic But Malkin isn’t the only notable conservative who’s has a change of heart concerning marijuana legalization. Three years ago, South Carolina lawmakers passed strict legislation allowing patients with severe epilepsy, or their caregivers, to legally possess CBD. Marine veteran and South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield voted against it. %related-post-2% Later, however, after his eldest son’s six-year battle with opioid addiction ended with a overdose, Bedingfield changed course and co-sponsored medical cannabis legislation. He is now optimistic that medical marijuana can replace opioid painkillers, helping curb an epidemic he's seen destroy families of all economic levels — including his own. "My mindset has changed from somebody who looked down on it as a negative substance to saying, 'This has benefits,'" Bedingfield said recently. Unlikely D.C. cannabis advocates Also recognizing marijuana’s benefits is Bedingfield’s fellow South Carolinian, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham has been one of the biggest backers of the CARERS Act — aka the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act of 2015 — which, if passed, would do a number of things, including reclassifying marijuana to maximize its medical value, allow banks to handle money from legal marijuana businesses, and prevent the government from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs. “I am open-minded to the idea that the plant may have medical attributes that could help people,” Graham told Politico. “I’m convinced that we should, as a nation, research the medical applications of the marijuana plant. It could be life-changing. I just want to do it in a scientific way…and the current system doesn't allow for the research that we need.” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has also become a canna-advocate as 2017 progressed. If Lindsay Graham and Orrin Hatch, both stalwart conservatives, think further research into medical marijuana is needed, it can be safely assumed that real change is around the corner. As Malkin says, “Let the scientists lead. Limited government is the best medicine.” Marijuana legalization is gaining new friends...fast.
The Department of Justice’s new marijuana task force is supposed to submit a list of federal marijuana policy recommendations to Attorney General Jeff Sessions by July 27. Will the marijuana task force recommend bolstering the nation’s continued, gradual move toward increased legalization? Or will the committee push for a reversal of existing legalization instead? Nobody except those involved knows for sure. And they’re not talking. A super secret task force Not only is little known about the inner workings — or even the identities of the members — of the task force, but also unclear is how closely the committee’s recommendations will echo the wishes of Sessions and how much Sessions will push for policies that closely match his own views. %related-post-1% The closest we can come to predicting pot’s legal future is by taking a look at what Sessions has already said (and done) regarding the matter, and by listening to those closest to Sessions’ ear. Sessions’ take on Holder’s marijuana memo In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. sought to reform America’s prisons via simple changes to the way drug cases were prosecuted. He issued a memo — called the Cole Memo — aimed at preventing decades-long prison terms for people who were arrested with a small amount of drugs and weren’t dangerous, hard-core, and habitual criminals. Holder rolled back the default position of the harshest possible jail term in all drug cases, while keeping the option available in cases involving, say, defendants who were devoted to a life of crime as part of a large-scale drug trafficking organization, cartel, or gang. As we mentioned previously, Sessions recently issued a memo overturning Holder’s sweeping reform, directing federal prosecutors instead to charge defendants with the most serious, provable crimes carrying the most severe penalties. Despite overturning the Cole Memo, Sessions told Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in April the memo wasn’t “too far from good policy,” and also reportedly told the governor, “You haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?” when Hicklenloper asked him about his master plan. Still, Sessions’ dislike for marijuana is no secret. He says that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” %related-post-2% And, according U.S. News and World Report, Sessions discounts the benefits of medical marijuana, as well as research equating legal access with less opioid abuse. A copy of one of Sessions’ prepared speeches labeled marijuana use a "life-wrecking dependency" that's "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction. A couple of months later, the attorney general said there was "too much legalization talk and not enough prevention talk." Past that, there hasn’t been much talk from Sessions. So what will Sessions end up doing? Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says “it’s difficult to ascertain any clear information” about the inner workings of the task force and its related subcommittee. Members of the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading legalization advocacy group, also say they’ve had no contact with the subcommittee. And when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a proponent of marijuana reform and a member of the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, approached Sessions for a sit down, the attorney general refused to meet with him. “So far, [Sessions'] comments have not indicated a lot of willingness to work together toward common ground,” says West. So, what do we know? We know that more Americans think marijuana use should be legal in the U.S. We know that state-legal cannabis businesses took in roughly $6.7 billion in sales last year, employs tens of thousands of people, and generates millions of dollars in taxes. And we know that Attorney General Sessions could make all of that progress go up in a puff of smoke. We’ll see what happens.
When compared with the rest of the U.S., California marijuana laws are some of the most progressive in the country. In 1996 the state legalized medical marijuana, and 20 years later voters approved recreational sales and consumption by a margin of roughly 56 percent to 44 percent. Golden State legislators are trendsetting once again with California marijuana laws by passing a “marijuana sanctuary state” bill. What do you mean, “sanctuary state”? The phrase “sanctuary state” is a play on the expression “sanctuary city,” which is often used when discussing immigration policy. In that context, a sanctuary city is one that has passed municipal ordinances preventing local government and law enforcement from aiding federal authorities in their attempts at implementing national immigration rules. %related-post-1% Similarly, a sanctuary state is one that abstains — on a much larger scale — from assisting the federal government on a particular issue. In this circumstance, the California Assembly prefers to not help their federal counterparts when it comes to cannabis since California marijuana laws and federal marijuana laws are vastly incongruent. What’s in the bill and why was it drafted? In short, the bill (AB-1578) prohibits any state or local agency from assisting any federal agency’s attempts to implement federal marijuana laws that are incompatible with California marijuana laws. Only a signed court order from a judge can alter that. Here’s a passage from the bill itself: This bill would prohibit a state or local agency, as defined, from taking certain actions without a court order signed by a judge, including using agency money, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to assist a federal agency to investigate, detain, detect, report, or arrest a person for commercial or noncommercial marijuana or medical cannabis activity that is authorized or allowed under state or local law in the State of California and from transferring an individual to federal law enforcement or detaining an individual at the request of federal law enforcement or federal authorities for marijuana- or cannabis-related conduct that is legal under state or local law. According to the Associated Press, AB-1578 was introduced by Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles “amid uncertainty surrounding how President Donald Trump’s administration will deal with states that have legalized marijuana.” What’s next for AB-1578? The bill now heads to the state Senate and its Public Safety Committee for further consideration and intensified scrutiny. If it clears those hurdles, then Gov. Jerry Brown can sign it into law.
Will Connecticut marijuana legalization happen soon? To answer that, perhaps a different question should be posed first. What does the wealthiest state in the nation do when it has trouble paying its bills and it has exhausted its supply of rich people to tax? It considers other ways — including legalizing and taxing marijuana — to make up the shortfall. A $400 million budget shortfall After two decades of healthy fiscal growth, Connecticut predicts that its income tax revenue will drop by roughly $400 million in fiscal 2017 — its first drop since the recession. As the Wall Street Journal reports, about $200 million of the drop was connected to a drop in fortunes among the state’s top 100 earners who typically contribute a huge percentage of the state’s revenue. Many of the top earners work for hedge funds, which are going through a downturn of their own. Not only that, but President Trump, who campaigned on promises to lower taxes, wants to repeal a state tax deduction, which would greatly affect both high-income earners, as well as states looking to tax them more. %related-post-1% Taxing the rich (more) not an option Not only does this news do nothing to reverse a budget crisis that’s caused all three major ratings firms to downgrade Connecticut’s credit rating, but even Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration concedes that, after two failed tries, the state simply can’t increase taxes on the wealthy yet again to try to get back in the black. “You can’t go back to that well again,” says Kevin Sullivan, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Revenue Services. “The idea that there is yet another significant amount, in terms of long-term stability, to get out of that portion of the population is just not true.” While Connecticut has the highest per capita income in the nation according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a recent report issued by Standard & Poors includes the state among seven at risk for severe fiscal problems despite the broader economy’s “gathering momentum.” In a recent downgrade, Moody’s Investors Service highlighted the state’s shrinking population since 2013 as a key contributor to Connecticut’s lagging housing market and poor job numbers. Increases in the state’s pension obligations, health-care expenses, and debt services are expected to lead to a $5.1 billion deficit over the next two fiscal years. So, how can Connecticut turn things around? %related-post-2% How about a canna-tax fix? Well, while the state’s lawmakers have proposed building at least one more casino, adding highway tolls, and seeking additional concessions from state employees, House and Senate Democrats’ idea to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana has sparked a great deal of buzz. Though the idea hasn’t gone very far in past legislative sessions, the state’s current deficit-plagued budget could lead to serious progress when it comes to legalization. According to a report in the Miami Herald, Connecticut State Democrats’ estimate that legalizing the sale of marijuana could generate $60 million in this fiscal year, and another $180 million in the next. Lawmakers cite the obvious opportunity the legislation provides to regulate — and deliver considerable tax revenue from — a currently illegal industry. House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat, said the idea was presented in order to to “leave a lot of options on the table" to consider when it comes to finalizing a budget deal. Roadblocks to legalization in the Constitution State As much sense as legalization might make, however, hurdles remain. For starters, it’s unclear whether there’s enough support in the Connecticut General Assembly for such a move. Similar bills generated underwhelming support earlier this year, and not only is Molloy not a fan of the idea, but he also questions the projected revenue numbers. "There's no immediate amount of money to be had," he charges, citing Massachusetts, where residents can now legally possess, use, and grow small amounts of pot, but where there also won’t be any retail shops to tax until the middle of next year. Stay tuned for future updates on the state of the Constitution State.
While President Trump campaigned as “the law-and-order candidate,” his ubiquitous, tough-on-crime rhetoric was surprisingly lacking in details. But actions can, as the saying goes, speak louder than words, and it’s not what President Trump has said since being elected, but rather what he’s done — namely picking Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general — that has proven the biggest indicator of what his criminal justice policy will ultimately look like. And giving pause to all cannabis advocates, Sessions is bringing back mandatory marijuana minimum sentences. Jeff Sessions reverses Obama-era prosecution guidelines As we’ve mentioned before, Candidate Trump repeatedly vowed that, if elected, he would defer to states’ rights on the issue of marijuana. Attorney General Sessions, however, is clearly moving in a more aggressive direction. Sessions has set a July 27 deadline for a Justice Department task force to review the country’s marijuana policies, and while it’s unclear what actions, if any, he plans to take in regards to medical marijuana, Sessions recently issued a memo overturning the sweeping criminal charging policy reform of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., directing federal prosecutors instead to charge defendants with the most serious, provable crimes carrying the most severe penalties. %related-post-1% In 2013, Holder issued a memo intended to reform America’s prisons via simple changes to the way drug cases were prosecuted. His goal was to prevent decades-long prison terms for people who were arrested with a small amount of drugs and weren’t dangerous, hard-core, and habitual criminals. Recognizing that the details of two different cases can be drastically unique, Holder rolled back the default position of the harshest possible jail term in all drug cases, while keeping the option available in cases involving, say, defendants who were devoted to a life of crime as part of a large-scale drug trafficking organization, cartel, or gang. Sessions’ memo removes that distinction. Now, like prior to the Holder memo, someone arrested with even a tiny quantity of pot could receive a life sentence if they already have two previous drug convictions of any kind. Yes, that means mandatory marijuana minimum sentences could send someone to prison for life — a one-size-fits-all punishment that doesn't fit the crime. One-size-fits-all sentencing “By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” Sessions wrote. Bypassing individualized consideration of circumstances in favor of a one-size-fits-all approach that matches sentencing guidelines “affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” he wrote. While prosecutors can still decide that a particular case doesn’t warrant a severe sentence, the memo states, an Assistant Attorney General or their U.S. Attorney must approve the more lenient sentence in writing. Prosecutors could make those calls themselves under the Obama Administration. Prosecutors are now also directed to follow federal guidelines of sentencing — which can exceed mandatory minimums — unless they get permission from a supervisor to seek a lesser sentence. %related-post-2% “There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted,” the memo states. “In that case, prosecutors should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.” Tougher sentences, increased prison populations The Holder memo isn’t the only directive that Sessions has reversed. The new policy will likely spur more federal prosecutions, as well as an increase in the federal prison population. And Sessions seemed to anticipate the boost in conviction, reversing a directive in February from previous deputy attorney general Sally Yates for the Justice Department to halt the use of private prisons to house federal inmates. Although the memo is disappointing, it isn’t all that shocking. Sessions is a very active soldier in the war on drugs whose views have remained unchanged despite the nation’s increased move toward more lenient marijuana legislation. As a senator, he regularly pushed back against bipartisan Congressional efforts to pass sentencing reforms that would serve to unify the views of the two administrations, and he even hinted that he would reverse Holder’s sentencing directives during his confirmation hearings. The discrepancies related to marijuana legislation are already considerable, and the Sessions memo does nothing to close the gap.
So, who wants first dibs on the global marijuana market? America? No. Great Britain? No. Mexico? Hmmmmmm, no again. Next to the Netherlands, the United States’ northern neighbor is the only country getting a leg up on the global marijuana market that could eventually be worth a whopping $200 billion annually. O Canada, indeed. Will the U.S. legalize soon? While some cannabis optimists see legalization looming closely on the horizon in the States — U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has hypothesized that legalization could happen in as soon as five years — there is no shortage of hurdles standing in the way. And even if legal sales and consumption becomes reality in every state, even the boldest cannabis advocates aren’t sure what the federal government’s exact actions on those matters will look like. %related-post-1% In an April 2017 Inc. article, Rep. Blumenauer said, “I've stated and I strongly believe in five years every state will be able to treat marijuana like it treats alcohol.” Get that? He speaks of “every state,” not the actual federal government. And even if the U.S. government adjusts its stance on cultivation and sales, that and import/export legislation are completely different matters altogether. Canada’s first-mover advantage Which is something Canada has already worked out, and is why they have what Vanmala Subramaniam referenced in a recent Vice News report as the “first-mover advantage.” As Subramaniam puts it, that’s “when a few key players in a particular industry gain an advantage because they entered into the marketplace first. These companies are able to establish strong brand recognition, shore up the best sources of funding, and build a loyal customer base simply because there aren’t any competitors in the way during their first few years of operation.” And as of now, only two countries export cannabis for medical use: Canada and The Netherlands. So what that means is the four Canadian cannabis companies that export medical product — Cronos Group, Canopy Growth Corporation, Aphria, and Tilray — have a massive head start, laying the groundwork for global marijuana domination. Additionally, even though not all the regulatory wrinkles have been ironed out yet, Canada will likely legalize recreational marijuana nationally by summer 2018. Quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek in April, Canopy president Mark Zekulin stated, “the longer U.S. prohibition remains in place, the more dominant the Canadian companies will become.” It’s as simple as that.
As the number of states allowing some form of recreational or medicinal cannabis use continues to increase, so does the awkwardness of the legal situation facing marijuana businesses, as well as the banks attempting to serve them. A new bill co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives, however, would allow banks to serve marijuana businesses without fear of reprisal from the federal government. With no banking, mo money = mo problems There are currently 29 states and two U.S. territories that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Among that group, eight states and Washington, D.C., also allow recreational pot use by people over 21 years of age. That relaxed legislation has led to an influx of licensed and regulated marijuana businesses — businesses that lack traditional access to the banking industry. That lack of access hampers their ability to accept credit card payments, make deposits, or write checks for things like payroll and taxes. It also jeopardizes the safety of employees of those businesses — employees who are forced to transport mountains of cash and are potential targets for criminals in the know. %related-post-1% While more and more states are relaxing marijuana legislation, banks who services legitimate cannabis-related businesses can find themselves facing criminal charges and civil liability for “aiding and abetting” a federal crime and money laundering under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and the law enforcement guidelines left over from the Obama administration don’t do much to clear up the situation. Traditional banking access can (literally) save lives Citing the increasing need to align state and federal marijuana laws, U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), and Don Young (R-AK) have introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) — a bill that would allow financial institutions to service cannabis businesses without fear of penalties from the federal government. “With the majority of states now allowing for some form of recreational or medical marijuana, we have reached a tipping point on this issue and it’s time for Congress to act,” Perlmutter says. “Allowing tightly regulated marijuana businesses the ability to access the banking system will help reduce the threat of crime, robbery and assault in our communities and keep the cash out of cartels.” The bill, formerly known as the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, was previously introduced in 2013 and 2015, but went nowhere. Perlmutter and the other sponsors are optimistic that the bill would now be received favorably by Congress, however, citing the trend toward legalization, as well as the need to maintain the safety of those working in the industry. (Perlmutter cited the death of Travis Mason, a security guard who was shot and killed during the attempted robbery of a marijuana dispensary in Colorado last June.) “There’s just too much danger in the buildup of cash,” Perlmutter recently told The Cannabist. James Brush, CEO and president of California-based Summit State Bank, says he is personally “glad that marijuana has been legalized.” “I see a bright future for it,” he says. As a bank executive, however, Brush is forced to take a different stance. %related-post-2% Decriminalizing basic banking services Because cannabis remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, Brush and most other bankers refuse deposits of cannabis-related cash. Banks rely on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for depositor insurance, and if they accept the typically large amounts of cash that marijuana businesses generate, they are highly likely to appear on the radar of federal regulators looking to stop money laundering and other financial crimes. With that said, Brush told the North Bay Business Journal that he recognizes that some sort of legal resolution is needed to clear up the discrepancies. “What if you have a commercial building and there’s a grower in there? Do you bank that? What if you had a borrower who has a loan with you,” then that borrower switches course and enters the marijuana, he wonders. “That issue is going to be huge.” What’s next for the SAFE Banking Act? Until such legislation is legislation is resolved, the vast majority of marijuana-related businesses will continue to bring in more and more cash with no banks to bring it to. The SAFE Banking Act could be a step in the right direction. A companion bill is expected to be re-introduced later this legislative session in the Senate. Here’s a copy of the federal marijuana banking bill.
Add Mexico to the list of countries that are seeing the light when it comes to marijuana legalization. In a move driven, in equal parts, by the medicinal potential of marijuana and a pressing need to curb drug-related violence, Mexico's Lower House of Congress has passed a bill that legalizes the use of marijuana and cannabis for medical and scientific needs. What's in the new bill? Last year, the Mexican government started granting permits that allow some patients to import medicinal marijuana products. The country also decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and issued several permits for people to cultivate and possess pot for personal use. Those permits only apply to the individuals who applied for them, however, and not the entire country. %related-post-1% The new marijuana legalization bill would not only authorize cultivation of marijuana plants for medical and scientific purposes, but also makes legal the purchase, sale, import, and export of products with concentrations of 1 percent THC or less. The new legislation will also hopefully help reduce violence among drug cartels that has plagued Mexico for decades. According to Rep. Arturo Alvarez of the Green Party, the new legislation “is a step in the right direction of exploring new alternatives of regulated, legalized, and supervised use, and can open up a new front for authorities to combat addictions and the violence that arises from the illicit activities of drug growing, trafficking and consumption.” Awaiting the president's signature The legislation, which now classifies the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as "therapeutic,” passed easily by a vote of 374-7 with 11 abstentions, is expected to be signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto. As Reuters reports, Peña Nieto, once a vocal opponent of legalization efforts, has more recently called drug use a “public health problem,” and says that users should not be criminalized. Last year, he proposed a bill — now held up in Congress — that would permit Mexicans to carry upwards of an ounce of pot, and he says that Mexico and the United States should be unified in their marijuana legislation. While the two nations are still considerably far apart when it comes marijuana legalization, Mexico’s bill and recent rule-making in the U.S. have brought them closer together. %related-post-2% North American marijuana movement Last year, five states in the U.S. wound up legalizing medical cannabis, bringing the total number to 28. Also, the number of states where recreational marijuana is legal doubled from four to eight. A measure that would have made Arizona the ninth state failed by a mere 2 percent at the polls. As the Motley Fool notes, expanded access in the U.S., coupled with Canada’s healthy medical marijuana industry, boosted legal pot sales in North America to $6.9 billion — an increase of 34%. Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001 (with recreational legislation now being considered), support for nationwide legalization in the U.S. has never been higher, and Mexico appears to blazing a similar trail. If this trend continues, North America could soon serve as a model — and inspiration — for legalization across the globe.
During his campaign for president, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed that, if elected, he would respect states’ rights on the issue of marijuana legalization. However, President Trump’s choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has not only hinted that he’ll crack down on recreational pot use, but there are also serious questions regarding what actions he might take against medical marijuana, as well. While Attorney General Sessions has set a July 27 deadline for a Justice Department task force to review the country’s marijuana policies, the task force’s findings are likely to do little to stop the softening of attitudes about marijuana across the nation — especially among those in elected office. In fact, while private individuals and groups have been carrying the torch of legalization for years, legislators in the South are among some of the movement’s biggest faces. Here are a few of them: %related-post-1% TENNESSEE Marijuana legalization for recreational use might be years away in the Volunteer State, but medicinal marijuana could soon be legal in the state if State Rep. Jeremy Faison and State Sen. Steve Dickerson have anything to say about it. They are sponsoring legislation that would decriminalize the growing, manufacturing, dispensing, and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Supporting their efforts are Berlin Boyd, chairman of the Memphis City Council, and Terry Roland, chairman of the Shelby County Commission. Boyd calls the move “phenomenal,” and says “it's actually putting Tennessee in a position to be ahead of many other states that may follow." Roland, who says he didn’t support a local legalization ordinance because “it was hampering the efforts of the people in Nashville to try to get medicinal marijuana passed,” says he personally knows a cancer patient that “probably wouldn’t eat anything” without the help of medicinal marijuana. KENTUCKY Stores selling cannabidiol-rich products have been raided in Kentucky, and most of the state’s congressional members have been given poor ratings by NORML for their lack of support for any type of marijuana legislation. However, two Republicans, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, have been outspoken in their support of pro-marijuana legislation, and noted marijuana advocate and State Senator Perry Clark has been aggressively pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana. While Clark’s Cannabis Freedom Act bill failed to pass in 2016, he has filed two new marijuana legalization bills, SB76 and SB57, which, if approved by lawmakers, could eventually be voted on by the people of Kentucky. %related-post-2% GEORGIA In 2015, Conservative Christian lawmaker, State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, presented a bill (later signed by Gov. Nathan Deal) that established the state’s medical cannabis program, which now allows more than 1,000 people with qualifying diagnoses to possess cannabis oil containing less than 5 percent THC. He also drafted drafted a bill (awaiting Gov. Deal’s signature) that would expand previous bill’s list of qualifying conditions. On top of that, Peake, who is the CEO of one of the nation’s largest franchise restaurant businesses, now helps to shepherd cannabis oil to hundreds of sick people in the state who, according to state law, are allowed to possess it, but who have no legal way of getting it. Once a month, a box arrives filled with bottles of cannabis. Buying the cannabis directly would be illegal, so after he opens each box, Peake makes a significant donation — totaling roughly $100,000 each year — to a foundation in Colorado that supports medical cannabis research. Selling the oil would be illegal, too, so Peake gives it away, as there is no provision in the law prohibiting the gifting of cannabis oil. Peake says he doesn’t know who brings the oil into the state, and he doesn’t ask. And while he says he’ll never recover the money, he doesn’t care about that, either, as he says the satisfaction of helping people makes it all worthwhile. SOUTH CAROLINA Efforts to decriminalize marijuana in the Palmetto State date back to 2015, when Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, introduced legislation that sought to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. The pair had wanted to push for new legislation this year, but recognize that, despite definite progress on the issue, 2018 would be a better year to enact a new law. %related-post-3% At a recent news conference held by Compassionate SC, an advocacy group promoting medical marijuana legalization in the state, Davis said significant progress had been made during the 2017 session, and that even more will happen next year. “It’s a process that we’re in the middle of here,” he said. “And change doesn’t happen overnight. People’s preconceived notions of marijuana or cannabis are not changed overnight.” Rutherford’s words were even more blunt, as he believes it’s past time to change the law. “The FDA is moving too slow for those parents who have children that are suffering,” he said. “The FDA is moving too slow for those people who are suffering from cancer who are simply trying to have an appetite so that they can eat.” VIRGINIA Virginia might be lagging behind other states when it comes to legalization, but things are changing on multiple fronts. Jeff Fogel, an advocate for decriminalization who is currently running for Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney, has pledged that, if he is elected, he will not prosecute minor possession cases. In 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a law ending automatic driver's license suspension for first-time offenders, and also signed a bill permitting pharmacies to produce low-THC cannabis oil for patients with epilepsy. And in February, Congressman Tom Garrett introduced legislation aimed at federally decriminalizing marijuana. "Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California," Garrett wrote in a statement. Also, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, who once opposed decriminalization, now says it is “absolutely crazy that we continue to lock people up for possession of a modest amount of marijuana.” Norment was instrumental in convincing the Virginia State Crime Commission to launch its current decriminalization study regarding recreational use, medicinal use, and what other states are doing to regulate marijuana. It's not secret that marijuana legalization landscape is ever-changing. The Sugar Leaf will keep you up to date on notable developments across the South and the rest of the country.
Cannabis clubs are social venues where adults are permitted to consume marijuana and marijuana-derived products openly. Plenty of lingering questions remain about whether states that have legalized recreational marijuana should regulate these establishments. In April 2017, Colorado lawmakers decided to drop plans to regulate marijuana clubs, possibly due to the uncertainty of how President Trump’s administration plans to prosecute those operating in the recreational marijuana industry. Social cannabis clubs are facing roadblocks across the United States, not only in Colorado. Several other states appear to be hesitant about regulating cannabis clubs, even though they, like Colorado, legalized recreational marijuana use. %related-post-1% A “legal gray area” The legal gray area in which Pot Luck Events — the only cannabis club in Anchorage, Alaska — has been operating has caused the club to receive cease and desist orders that can be read as “wait and see” directives. Director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, Erika McConnell, issued a media statement, saying, “obviously there is a great deal of interest in social consumption of marijuana, and the Marijuana Control Board is evaluating methods to allow this, within the bounds of Alaska statute and regulation.” While the situation could possible change to favor cannabis clubs in Alaska, as well as in other states over the next few years, a Pot Luck Events manager hasn’t give up hope yet on the future, saying that “this is a retreat, not a surrender.” Popular arguments “for” and “against” In Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Clark County marijuana advisory panel put public marijuana lounges on the agenda of a meeting at the end of March 2017. Nothing has been decided yet, but there’s a proposition for a “pilot program that would let medical marijuana dispensaries test the idea of public consumption inside their shops.” The vision is to create an environment wherein all users can safely consume cannabis. This would lessen the burden on hotels where cannabis might not be welcome, as well as on law enforcement trying to stop people from smoking in public areas. The opinions of lawmakers don’t seem to be tied to partisanship. Some believe, like in Nevada’s case, that a social venue for cannabis consumers might be a solution to several potential problems, while others seem to prefer that people only consume privately in their homes. Another routine point of disagreement is related to the rules that would be applied to these cannabis clubs. Should they be allowed to sell marijuana on-site or should people bring their own? %related-post-2% Bring your own cannabis? The problem with a “bring your own cannabis” concept is that is could be more difficult to control the quantities and the quality of product brought inside an establishment. In a situation where people are only allowed to consume products bought on-site, however, authorities would likely have a much better understanding of what happens in each club, and be more comfortable with the quality of the products consumed. This way, not only consumers can be reassured, but also the local community. Neighbors might be prone to contest less if they know the authorities are supervising the cannabis club. The goal is, of course, to respect the rights of consumers, but also of non-consumers. When it comes to cannabis clubs, some ideas are more frequently debated than others. For instance, the creation of a taxi-like service to get people home, or back to their hotels, after consuming cannabis. It’s possible that when lawmakers start regulating these venues, this would become mandatory because public safety is an important issue. Of course the venues might also decide for themselves to create this type of service in order to protect their clients. A lot of ideas for regulation seem to exist, it will take some time until states decide to clearly regulate social cannabis clubs. One of the main arguments for regulating cannabis clubs is that without clear rules and guidelines, venues will most likely pop up illegally, possibly creating headaches for local citizens and law enforcement. There is also the argument that cannabis clubs will help keep people from consuming product in public. Educational Opportunities The safe and controlled environment would allow for education on the use of marijuana products as well. Staff members could be given an important role when it comes to helping consumers pick their products. Edibles, for instance, can be difficult to dose appropriately for an inexperienced customer. They would benefit greatly from some good advice. But as is the case with almost everything in the cannabis industry, the jury is still out on the future of cannabis clubs.