The 2021 Election and the Decriminalization of Psychedelics in Canada

The decriminalization of psychedelics in Canada is arguably the next logical step after the legalization of cannabis. However, drug reform was not a major highlight of the most recent Canadian elections. To be fair, it almost never is. Nevertheless, it continues to disappoint to see major political parties yet again ignore the popularity and potential […]

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Italy to hold cannabis decriminalization referendum in 2022

Could cannabis legalization in Italy be on the horizon? A new proposal seeking to legalize cannabis for personal use while easing criminal penalties is making waves in the country of love. In just a week, #referendumcannabis garnered well over 500,000 online signatures. It’s the first referendum to ever do so fully online, writes a post […]

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Canadian Cannabis: A Love Story, or International Rights and Legalization

International rights form the foundation for modern nation-states. Insofar as states are considered civilized, they adhere to human rights more, not less. Decriminalization continues to make marks on the international stage. Since 2001, cannabis has been legal for medicinal use by Canadians. Also, since October 17, 2018, cannabis has been legal in Canada, which remains […]

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Cannabis Decriminalized in New Orleans, Pardons 10,000 Cannabis Convictions

Cannabis Decriminalized in New Orleans On Thursday, August 5, New Orleans took a historic step. The New Orleans City Council passed a series of articles to pardon cannabis-related charges and any future charges. Effectively aiming to decriminalize cannabis, the city is making an effort to work with the NOPD to end the war on weed. […]

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The MORE Act Aims to Legalize Cannabis

The drive to legalize cannabis at the federal level continues with the reintroduction of a bill to remove marijuana from the nation’s list of controlled substances and invest in communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. The measure, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act), was introduced on May 28 by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and five of his Democratic colleagues.

Nadler, who serves as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, originally introduced the bill last year. The measure was passed with overwhelming support in the House in December but failed to receive action in the Senate under the leadership of then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler said in a statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”

Social Equity Key to Bill

Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill also establishes a 5% percent tax on retail cannabis sales, which would climb to 8% over three years. Revenue raised by the tax would be invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies that lasted decades.

“This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry. We are on our way toward true justice,” said Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a co-sponsor of the legislation and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

An Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. In a change to the previous version of the bill called for by social equity advocates, those with prior felony convictions would no longer be barred from participation in the cannabis industry.

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said that the “failed war on drugs began almost fifty years ago when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one. Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others. Too often, the dividing line between these neighborhoods has been race. The MORE Act will help right these wrongs and bring to life the principle of liberty and justice for all.”

Additionally, an Office of Cannabis Justice would be established to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be tasked with creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.

Amazon on Board 

Following the reintroduction of the MORE Act, Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, announced that it was eliminating cannabis drug testing for applicants for most of its U.S. jobs. Amazon CEO Dave Clark said in a blog post that the company would also lobby for passage of legislation to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.

“And because we know that this issue is bigger than Amazon, our public policy team will be actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) — federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities,” Clark wrote. “We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”

Nadler’s bill also has the support of cannabis policy reform advocacy organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project. Tahir Johnson, the group’s director of social equity and inclusion, commented on the impact that cannabis prohibition has had on communities of color.

“Cannabis prohibition and its ensuing over-policing, unequal enforcement, and criminalization stripped millions of Black and Latinx people of their vote, access to education, employment, and housing, creating cycles of poverty and marginalization in their communities,” Johnson said. “The MORE Act promises to address many of the harms caused by prohibition using an equity and justice-centered framework that allows the communities most harmed to access the health and economic benefits of the cannabis industry. This is the approach to legalization that our country needs.”

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The MORE Act – Will Cannabis Be Legalized Federally This Month?

On Friday, May 28, 2021, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was reintroduced in the U.S. congress. Back in December 2020, it passed the House of Representatives but didn’t advance in the Senate. This year, with a new senate majority leader, the cannabis industry is more hopeful and numerous organizations and advocacy groups are pushing for another vote by the end of June. Will cannabis become legal in the U.S. this month?

Cannabis laws are constantly changing. Although legalization is the ultimate goal, there are many legislative steps we must take in order to get there. To learn more about the MORE act and other regulations, make sure to subscribe to the CBD Flowers Weekly Newsletter – your source for all the most up-to-date cannabis information, as well as access to exclusive deals on flowers and other products.

What is The MORE Act?

One of the most important things to remember with the MORE Act is that it will NOT legalize cannabis. If passed, H.B. 3884 would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis from its current position as a schedule 1 narcotic. For a drug to listed under schedule 1 of the controlled substances act, it needs to meet the following criteria: no currently accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

In case you were wondering how absolutely asinine the drug schedules are, consider the fact that cannabis and magic mushrooms are categorized as schedule 1, which is reserved for the most dangerous drugs, whereas cocaine and methamphetamine are listed as schedule 2. Other drugs like codeine, ketamine, and steroids are schedule 3. So, since we know that cannabis has many therapeutic uses, and it’s not dangerous nor is it addictive, removing it from the list of schedule 1 narcotics is a very welcomed change.

Also, take note that decriminalization is very different from full legalization, but I’ll cover more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at the most important points of the bill. First and foremost, the bill intends to address various social justice issues that have been plaguing the cannabis industry for decades. For example, the MORE act would establish a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

People with felony cannabis convictions will no longer be barred from obtaining business permits. The Small Business Administration would establish the Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program, which would provide any necessary aid to businesses owned and operated by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” Additionally, this bill would prevent the federal government from denying benefits and social services to cannabis users, as has been the case in the past.

The MORE Act would also impose a 5% tax on all cannabis products, and the revenue would be deposited into a trust fund that would support various programs and services for individuals and businesses that have been most impacted by the war on the drugs. According to a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), people of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession than white people. The ACLU estimates that taxpayers pay approximately $3.6 billion each year on the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.

“The whole intention and vision behind this bill is that it would repair past harms of drug prohibition,” said Maritza Perez, national affairs director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit working to reform drug laws. “We’re hoping that another successful House vote would continue to pile on momentum.”

Decriminalization vs Legalization

The terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. The ultimate goal is full legalization of cannabis, or the act of removing most legal prohibitions against it (age restrictions would still apply, like with tobacco and alcohol sales). If cannabis is completely legalized, individuals found selling or possessing it for personal use will not be subject to criminal OR civil penalties.

On the other hand, cannabis decriminalization would mean that it is still federally illegal, but criminal penalties would not be enforced. Instead, users would face civil penalties such as fines and forced rehabilitation. Records may be kept in a local tribunal, but they will not affect employment, housing, or travel opportunities. If an individual is court-ordered into a rehab program, and they chose not to attend, it’s possible that criminal penalties would be imposed at that point.

Decriminalization is a completely pointless step in between prohibition and legalization that allows for too much “interpretation” of the law. For example, in a decriminalized state, a police officer can take your cannabis, fine you, and send you to court where your case will end up getting thrown out if it meets the criteria of a legal decriminalized amount. So, you’re out the money you spent on flower that remains confiscated, the city doesn’t get any additional money from you because the case is tossed out in court, and the entire ordeal is a mega waste of time for everyone involved.

Marijuana/marihuana vs Cannabis

One more thing that I did not mention above is that the MORE ACT will change up the lingo we’re currently familiar with. Statutory references to marijuana and marihuana would be officially replaced with the word “cannabis”. To some, this may seem pointless (and ironic considering the name of the bill still uses the word “marijuana”), but it is a significant change.  

Now remember, the word for the entire plant and all of its parts is Cannabis. For legal purposes, marijuana is used to describe cannabis with more than 0.3% THC and hemp is used to describe cannabis with less than 0.3% THC. From this point, Cannabis can be broken down into three additional subtypes: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These subtypes can apply to both marijuana and hemp. This vocabulary is the most common way to differentiate between cannabis types at the regulatory cutoff point. However, the word itself, “marijuana“ (or “marihuana” as the government likes to call it), is a loaded one historically.

Before 1910, the word “marijuana: did not exist in American culture. Instead, “Cannabis” was used when discussing the plant as a medicinal remedy. Back then, Bristol-Meyer’s Squib, Eli Lilly, and other current pharmaceutical giants used to include cannabis extracts, and sometimes even whole plant matter, in their medicine formulations. After 1910, the United States started getting an influx of legal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who were seeking refuge post-war. It was during that time that the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally was becoming ingrained within the American mainstream culture. Up until then, it was used mostly therapeutically.

Fast forward to the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the newly established Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched his war against “marijuana”. Although “cannabis” has been part of United States history since the very beginning, “marijuana” was viewed as this new dangerous substance that lurked in the shadows of America’s counterculture. If there was one thing Anslinger was good at, it was without a doubt, media manipulation. During his numerous public appearances, some of which were to promote his trademark film Reefer Madness, Anslinger made sure to use the term “marijuana”, to keep people from making that connection with medicinal cannabis.

To sum it up, the word itself is not racist, it’s actually Spanish. But the word “marijuana” was adopted by a racist individual who used it alongside targeted fear mongering and prejudice against Hispanic immigrants, as the central focus of his campaign against the Cannabis plant. Today, the industry is taking the word back, using it in a professional manner that’s more rooted in science, not politics. However, until now, all government documents that discussed cannabis in any form have been referring to it as “marihuana”, which incorrect and incredibly outdated.

Taxation of Illegal Goods in the United States

Another confusing point for many people is probably the 5% tax. If a product is decriminalized, it’s still technically illegal, and how can you tax an illegal product? While that may sound like a catch 22, in the United States it is actually very common to tax illegal goods, services, and other enterprises.

Taxation of illegal income in the United States arises from the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), enacted by the U.S. Congress mainly for the purpose of taxing net income. As such, all taxable income will be subject to the same Federal income tax rules, regardless of whether the income was obtained legally or illegally. So basically, the government cares less about what you’re doing if you make sure to give them a cut of the money you’re making.

One interesting example of this would be drug tax stamps. Say you go out and buy some meth from your local dealer, your next move would likely be to go home and consume it, but according to the government, you should first pay taxes on your illegal purchase. In case you’re wondering how, it’s quite simple. All you need to do is go to your state’s Department of Revenue website and purchase your prepaid drug tax stamps (the government says it’s completely anonymous but I’m honestly not sure if I trust that), which serve as proof of your tax payment.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not very common for people to actually pay these taxes voluntarily. As of now, only 17 states are still imposing the stamps. However, in those states, if you get arrested for drug possession, you will likely face harsher civil or criminal penalties for “tax evasion”, and you might get stuck paying double what you would have paid if you did it up front.

This probably sounds like a way for the greedy government to get extra money, and it is. But on the flipside, people paying taxes on their ill-gotten gains are also eligible to claim deductions for any “ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on a trade or business,” as stated in section 162(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. Yeah, our government is pretty strange.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, it seems unlikely that the MORE Act will pass as it is currently written. It’s very likely that Senate republicans may use the filibuster to block this bill. Many conservatives have expressed concern over some of the language in this bill, stating that it is not as economically-oriented as they would like it to be, and that it lacks provisions for veteran business owners. Although it seems largely symbolic, the MORE act is still being hailed as positive step for cannabis reform.

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. “Our federal laws must keep up with this pace.”

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U.S. House of Representatives Cori Bush and Bonnie Watson Cole introduce bill with health-centered approach to drugs

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” which history would later reveal was in actuality a war on Black people, the anti-war left, and hippies. Nixon’s drug war later became President Ronald Reagan’s battle in the 1980s. Over the decades, the war on drugs has ravaged the criminal justice system, wasted billions of dollars, and ruined the lives of countless Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income communities. Although it looks different from Nixon and Reagan’s crusade, it’s a war that continues today. 

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s war declaration, U.S. House of Representatives Cori Bush (D-MO) and Bonnie Watson Cole (D-NJ) just introduced the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA). This federal bill would, according to a press release, would enact the following: 

  • End criminal penalties for drug possession at the national level 
  • Place authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) 
  • Expunge records and provide resentencing
  • Eliminates many of the life-long consequences of drug arrests and convictions
  • Reinvest in alternative health-centered approaches  
  • Promote evidence-based drug education

Alongside the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which was a strategic partner in the development of the bill, the legislation also looks to address many of the overlooked repercussions of a drug arrest and conviction, such as the denial of employment, public benefits, immigration status, drivers’ licenses, and voting rights. The DPA provided expertise and counsel in drafting the DPRA, which included the DPA’s 2020 proposal: Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework

“Growing up in St. Louis, I saw the crack-cocaine epidemic rob my community of so many lives,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO) in the press release. “I lived through a malicious marijuana war that saw Black people arrested for possession at three times the rate of their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar. As a nurse, I’ve watched Black families criminalized for heroin use while white families are treated for opioid use. And now, as a Congresswoman, I am seeing the pattern repeat itself with fentanyl, as the DEA presses for an expanded classification that would criminalize possession and use. This punitive approach creates more pain, increases substance use, and leaves millions of people to live in shame and isolation with limited support and healing.

“The United States has not simply failed in how we carried out the War on Drugs – the War on Drugs stands as a stain on our national conscience since its very inception,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) in the press release. “Begun in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon Administration, the War on Drugs has destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families. As we work to solve this issue, it is essential that we change tactics in how we address drug use away from the failed punitive approach and towards a health-based and evidence-based approach.”

“Every 23 seconds, a person’s life is ruined for simply possessing drugs. Drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the United States despite the well-known fact that drug criminalization does nothing to help communities, it ruins them. It tears families apart, and causes trauma that can be felt for generations. The drug war has caused mass devastation to Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income communities, and today we say, ‘Enough is enough!'” said Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager for the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. 

I asked Bridget Hennessey, Weedmaps’ V.P. of Government Relations, her thoughts on the significance of the bill ahead of the 50th anniversary of the War on Drugs: “”The five decades-old war on drugs was never won. And the casualties are almost too monumental to comprehend. Untold numbers of individuals, families, communities, and opportunities have paid dearly. We need more than a Marshall Plan to right all the wrongs caused by the misguided leadership and ill-conceived policies that are the hallmarks of this war.”  

She also praised the DPA and Rep. Coleman and Bush on the boldness of the bill. “Before we rebuild anything, we’ve got to rethink and reimagine everything. Working closely with the expert staff and leadership of the Drug Policy Alliance, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and Rep. Cori Bush have done exactly that,” Hennessey said. “Yes, this legislation may seem unorthodox. But it’s sensible at its core. Despite the fact that it includes programs and policies that health activists and other stakeholders have championed for years, critics will call it radical and out of the mainstream. This bold legislative proposal turns conventional wisdom on its head.” 

The DPA also hosted a virtual press conference with Reps. Coleman and Bush to announce the unveiling of the bill this morning. 

Featured image by W. Scott McGill/Shutterstock. 

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